Brick By Brick: Democratising Local Governance in Kerala – Insights from the People’s Plan Campaign

Any debate on development is incomplete without critically engaging its power. People Power Campaign (PPC) was a bold initiative and was first in India with the motto of power to people– trans power.

#IMPRI Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a talk on “Brick By Brick: Democratising Local Governance in Kerala – Insights from the People’s Plan Campaign” under the series #LocalGovernance with Tikender Singh Panwar on December 1, 2021.

The speaker for this session was Prof Manjula Bharathy (Professor), Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. The discussants included Dr Mallika M. G. (Associate Professor), School of Development Studies, Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University, Kerala; Dr Biju T. (Associate Professor), Department of Commerce, University of Kerala. The moderator for the event was Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI, New Delhi.

Brick By Brick: Democratising Local Governance in Kerala – Insights from the People’s Plan Campaign


Tikender Singh Panwar started the discussion by stating people’s plan as a slogan for the left campaign and said this as a form in which the government model could be integrated with empowerment. He went on to discuss a few highlights from Prof Manjula’s book i.e the whole narrative of why we need people’s plans or what we witness in people’s campaigns.  Lastly, talking about the motto, he stated that one important note of people’s plan was not just power to people but to have more transparency, more equal distribution or democratization of the surplus that gets generated in the society.

The speaker, Prof Manjula Bharathy asserted that any debate on development is incomplete without critically engaging its power. She went on to discuss the feeling of participatory democracy as a dialogue offering interesting possibilities for negotiated escapes in emerging terrains of development discourses. She mentioned 9th Kerala Plan as a vehicle for deepening democracy and as a unique decentralization experience introduced by a left democratic or coalition party which attempted to transform decentralization from an exercise of mere administrative reform to understanding and mobilization for political mobilization. People Power Campaign (PPC) was a bold initiative and was first in India with the motto of power to people and by power she meant trans power. She also highlighted how people have unequal access to power. 

Prof Manjula then highlighted three main objectives which her book covers – first, Women Component Plan, second, Tribal Sub Plan and lastly, media plan. Talking about women and people power campaign she highlighted how despite the Kerala development model always considering women development, the status of women is not enhanced with respect to the given socio, political and cultural indicators. Kerala figures showed marginalization of women and post reforms deteriorating status of women have been found in Kerala. She then gave detailed insights into Kudumbashree Network which was the most important contribution of PPC to women and had almost 4.5 million women. She then stressed upon few marked changes with the introduction of PPC i.e women would now be considered as citizens rather than just individual, poverty eradication through holistic lens; enhanced recognition at personnel, social and familial positions; informed citizenry of women through massive training and many more. 

Moving on towards the Tribal Sub Plan she highlighted the presence of multiple ways of push and pull to alienate and exclude tribals in Kerala. Prof Manjula then gave few pointers on the important interventions by PPC among tribals – most important one being the Ooru Sabha (tribal gram sabha). Later, she discussed whether the media and PPC have a counter hegemony. Lastly, she explained the processes that hamper PPC in Kerala and ended her talk with a powerful anecdote by a grassroot women worker. 

Issues in PPC 

Dr. Mallika initiated by congratulating Prof Manjula on her book where she beautifully narrates the issues with data and provides theoretical understanding as well. She discussed a few issues related to Kudumbashree Network and SHGs. Firstly, the target groups have always been the less privileged section and it excludes the educated section or young generation which has great potential. She stated that inclusion of some sections should not result in exclusion of remaining sections. 

Another issue highlighted by her was that social activists who are selected also belong to the upper caste of tribal communities. This creates a divide as it is imparting economic benefits and power hierarchy. Few other problems mentioned were the communication problem for the tribal community as she mentioned that tribal departments are set in urban areas whereas tribal communities live in rural areas. She considered the book as an eye opener and path for future discussion. Lastly, she concluded by asking to consider studies related to Kerala separate from India and asked for more infrastructural development policies in Kerala. 

Critical Observation of Kudumbashree Network

Congratulating Prof Manjula on her book, Dr. Biju commented that PPC in Kerala is set as a model for India. He stated that the book was a good reference for rural, women development and local governance. Dr. Biju then mentioned a few critical observations. Firstly, there are two major bricks of decentralization in Kerala i.e., comprehensive legislation like Kerala Municipality Act, 1994 which adds as good reference and Kerala Government Order, 1995 which would materialize dreams of PPC. Dr. Biju added that institutionalization efforts in the 10th Five Year Plan would sustain PPC in Kerala. He suggested the need to increase participation level in future. He concluded by stating that women now are empowered and increasingly defeating men to stand for their position in Kerala.

Concluding Remarks

Concluding the discussion, Tikender Singh stressed upon the fact that we have a long way to go; there are many structures coming in or altered. He highlighted the fact that our entire hierarchy is more capital intensive and mobility driven which is now deeply rooted in our societal values and resulted in us being in complete mess. He called for the need to focus on the relation between values we have imbibed post new liberal capitalization that is driven towards quantification of everything.

YouTube Video: #LocalGovernance | E10 | Manjula Bharathy | Brick By Brick: Democratising Local Governance in Kerala

Acknowledgement: Sunishtha Yadav is a research intern at IMPRI.