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Accepted Papers:

Locating leadership and 'political will' in social policy implementation: The story of India's MGNREGA  


Ujjwal Krishna (La Trobe University)
Chris Roche (La Trobe University)

Paper Short Abstract:

How did leadership and political will impact one of the world's largest employment-generation programmes? We contrast the performance of India's MGNREGA under the centre-left dispensation that introduced it and its right-wing successor, and explore the power dynamics surrounding its implementation.

Paper long abstract:

The term 'political will' is often used to explain the success or failure of the leadership of any policy or programme. It has emerged as the "sine qua non of policy success which is never defined except by its absence" (Hammergren 1998). Therefore, a structured examination of the term is necessary to operationalise it in the analysis of social policy and programming. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), enacted by India's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2005, offers a compelling case to examine the role of 'political will' in the implementation of a major government programme. The evolution of the MGNREGA, which has been described as the 'largest antipoverty state-run employment-generation scheme anywhere in the world' (World Bank 2014), depended significantly on the leadership and political commitment in the legislature and the executive, as well as their coordination and substantive engagement with civil society, represented through non-governmental organisations and activists. We explore the complex power relations between the range of actors involved in the MGNREGA's formulation and implementation, and the manner in which they played out. Through this lens, we gauge the impact of leadership and 'political will' on the implementation of the MGNREGA, as carried out by the UPA government between 2005 and 2014, in contrast to its successor dispensation, the National Democratic Alliance, from 2014 onwards. Furthermore, evidence from accountability mechanisms such as social audits is utilised to understand the nature of leadership involved in the implementation of the MGNREGA at the local level.

Panel P26
Critical perspectives on social protection and social policy reforms in developing countries