A "silent revolution" is taking place in rural India where women are working side by side with men in panchayats in a way that is bringing about "great changes" at the grassroots, says Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shanker Aiyar.
"Women are today very well represented in Panchayati Raj institutions. In many states, there is reservation for women - 40-50 per cent. It is a huge change from the time they would remain in 'angans' (inside the house) and behind veils. Women are now coming out, campaigning, and playing a major role in society," Aiyar said.
"Women are now going hand in hand with men, it is a silent revolution, which is not being talked about much or getting the attention it deserves," Aiyar told IANS on the eve of the release of his new book, A Time of Transition - Rajiv Gandhi to the 21st century(Penguin).
In the book, a collection of selected articles and columns written over eight years (1996-2004), Aiyar recounts that though the P.V. Narasimha Rao government passed the monumental constitutional legislation on Panchayati Raj, it lost the "political will" to carry out the revolution on decentralization of administration.
"The Rao government passed the monumental Constitutional legislation, then lost the political will to carry the panchayat revolution," he says in an article in the book, "Sense without sensibility", which he penned Sep 28, 1996.
He writes that decentralization - the core of Panchayati Raj - was Rajiv's dream. The article also deliberates upon the inability of the Narasimha Rao government to translate its economic success into a political bonanza.
"The most important reason for the Rao-Manmohan Singh miracle failing to forestall political reverses is that the only valid, viable instrument for reaching poverty eradication programmes to the poor is elected institutions in which membership and leadership is determined by the poor: Panchayati Raj."
"States like Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Orissa were left unpunished for even flagrant constitutional delinquency. Without Panchayati Raj, the 'new' economic policy left the army of the poor without a commander in the field. They, therefore, found other issues to fasten on when it was time to vote."
In another article in the book, titled "Empowering the Unsuccessful Indian", Aiyar writes: "Rajiv Gandhi used to say that while we were, indeed, the world's largest democracy, we were also the world's least representative democracy."
The "time of transition" that Aiyar refers to in the book are the two decades since Rajiv Gandhi left office after the Lok Sabha elections of November 1989. The book is slated for release Feb 17.
"At the time of writing these columns, there have been amazing changes in government policies, democracy and economic policies. Therefore this is what my book reflects - a transition," Aiyar said.
Aiyar has dedicated the book in memory of Rajiv Gandhi, "the last great Nehruvian". This is his seventh book.
The cover of the book has photographs of Rajiv Gandhi and current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the top and bottom corners, while photographs of other former prime ministers who came in between - P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee - are interspersed in a lighter shade in the middle.
Talking about his experiences, which led him to write various columns in the Sunday magazine and the Indian Express, Aiyar said: "I have been both a witness to and a reluctant participant in the processes of change - whether as a joint secretary in Rajiv Gandhi's Prime Minister's Office, as an MP since 1991, and today as a cabinet minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
"Trying to capture the contentious changes, I have classified my columns under four themes - democracy, secularism, socialism, non alignment and neighbourhood policy," Aiyar said.
In an extract in another article - "Is Vajpayee another Nehru?" - written on March 16, 2004, Aiyar lashes out at the Vajpayee government: "More bogus than even the pretensions of the 'India Shining' campaign is the attempt by the BJP and a section of the media to project Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a second Nehru. "There is no comparison, only contrast."
Aiyar's previous books are Remembering Rajiv, One year in Parliament, Pakistan Papers, Knickerwallahs, Silly-Billies and Other Curious Creatures, Rajiv Gandhi's India and Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist.