ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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People’s Movement, Decentralisation and Rural Bihar

Last Among Equals: Power, Caste and Politics in Bihar’s Villages by M R Sharan, Chennai: Context, 2021; pp 217, `599.

Popular non-fiction on Bihar’s problems and Bihar as a problem make their appearance in the English-speaking world every now and then (Nambisan 2003; Thakur 2006, 2015; Sinha 2011; Singh 2015). Some of them, like the one review by M R Sharan, focus on Bihar’s positive shifts, after the advent of Nitish Kumar. The author, like Nambisan (2003) and Taru Jindal (2020), is conscious of his “outsider” status and discovers Bihar as a tricky, bewildering national puzzle, which needs to be fixed. In fact, such outsider accounts can easily form a subgenre within the broad field of Bihar studies, with their niche readership and market.

Sharan, a development economist interested in the study of wage systems in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Emp­loyment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), decentralisation and transparency in state policy, adorns the hat of a storyteller by writing this book. If we keep aside a few unsavoury metaphors (comparing people’s movements to a test match in p 57) and ill-informed comments on Bihari languages (for example, p 213, where he confuses a feature of the eastern group of languages with “genial impreciseness”), he has fairly succeeded in narrating the outlines of a people’s collective called Bihar MgNREGA Watch (BMW) and Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sangathan (SPSS) in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He bears witness to the everyday life of this rural collective and connects their successes and failures to questions of caste, decentralisation and democracy. The book also provides a scattered and occasionally moving biography of Sanjay Sahni, the chief architect of BMW and SPSS.

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Updated On : 4th Dec, 2022
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