M.P. Prakash

It was Abdul Nazir Sab who brought panchayati raj into governance

BANGALORE: Mention Panchayati Raj and it is the name of Abdul Nazir Sab that comes to the mind. He believed governance from Delhi should be stopped and Panchayati Raj be put in place to strengthen democracy at the village level itself. He always used to say, “Halliyinda Dillige” (from village to Delhi). Also, he was popularly known as “Neer (water) Sab” for his massive initiative to provide drinking water to rural areas.

This stalwart, who hailed from Gundlupet in Chamarajanagar district, was himself a municipal president.

He was a voracious reader and often spent his leisure time in the Bandipur forest since he was an ardent lover of flora and fauna.

A follower of the late K.S. Nagarathnamma, he fell out with his mentor. The mandal panchayat (now gram panchayat) and zilla parishad (now zilla panchayat) was his brainchild.

When the Janata Party came to power in 1983, Nazir Sab was inducted into the Cabinet as Panchayat Raj Minister by Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde to implement the panchayati raj system. He was very fond of youngsters like us and he used to nickname his party colleagues. He used to call me ‘kempu bassu' (red bus) as I was heading the Transport Ministry.

The concept of mandal panchayat (now gram panchayat) was radical, and senior IAS officers used to be designated as Chief Secretaries of zilla parishads. Nazir Sab was particular about designating the top official of the ZP as chief secretary to signify that each district is a self-governing miniature State Government. The Chief Secretary of the zilla parishad was senior to the Deputy Commissioner of the district. But even then, he and other officers had to get the zilla parishad president's permission to take leave.

The President withheld assent for nearly two-and-a-half years when the panchayati raj Bill was sent to him. Assent was given finally when Nazir Sab threatened to stage a fast-unto-death before the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Fully aware of the implications of the decentralisation of power, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi directed all chief ministers to implement the panchayati raj system in their States and amended the Constitution to give power to people.

Twenty-seven departments were brought under the zilla parishads and the presidents of the parishads were given the status of Minister of State.

Nazir Sab's initiative has made all political parties realise that decentralisation of power will trigger development in rural areas. Since India is a vast country, where centralised administration cannot solve the problems of rural people, Mahatma Gandhi used to say, “We should have gram swaraj.” In the draft Constitution, no mention was made of the decentralisation of power and of the panchayati raj system. When this was pointed out to B.R. Ambedkar, he amended Article 40 of the Constitution.

It was unfortunate that Abdul Nazir Sab was laid down by cancer. During that time, I had the opportunity of looking after the files of the Panchayat Raj Department. After his demise, the portfolio was allotted to me by S.R. Bommai, who had become the Chief Minister then.

We will always remember and cherish the memory of Nazir Sab as a votary of giving power to the people. He has already carved a niche for himself in the annals of Indian politics. By remembering him, we bind ourselves to the decentralisation of power and also to the doctrine of “power to the people”. Though he is not with us, his work talks about his achievements. By implementing the enactment on panchayati raj, we pay our respects to this great soul.

(M.P. Prakash is a former Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister, and he was a ministerial colleague of Abdul Nazir Sab)