India is electing a new parliament over the next few weeks. Despite the pride linked to being the “biggest democracy in the world,“ many Indians are sceptical of politicians and their destructive power games. Thomas Bärthlein visited an Indian village which has consciously said no to political parties -- and has managed to achieve great things.
Sharad Borade, the former headman and a grape farmer in Thergaon
At first glance, Thergaon in the state of Maharashtra seems a village like many others in India. There are an estimated million such villages -- with a good thousand inhabitants living on either side of one through road.
And yet Thergaon is very different -- something like a model village. The roads have been swept clean and they are full of blooming trees and bushes. Each house now has running water and toilets.
“We used to have to get water from the river because there was no water in the homes,” says Kiran Gaware, a local farmer. “People came down with all sorts of illnesses. But things have become much better in the past two or three years.“
Building toilets in return for public funds
Thergaon has changed considerably since it started taking part in a government development programme calling on villages to achieve certain things on their own -- build toilets, for example. In return, they received public funds -- for the water canalisation system, for example.
That everything went so well has a lot to do with the former sarpanch, the village headman, Sharad Borade. The young farmer exports grapes.
He was inspired by his father -- himself active in the Congress Party for 30 years -- to enter local politics. He and some other young people in the panchayat, the village assembly, decided to change the way the village was run.
Taking personal responsibility for problems
One crucial aspect is taking personal responsibility for solving problems. The women in Thergaon have set up small credit groups for saving money and are thus not dependent on banks.
A very new idea is the tantamukti samiti -- a group of villagers which resolves disputes on the spot. “Since we’ve had them, nobody from the village has gone to the police with a complaint,” says Gaware.
Bapu Ahire is the gram sewak -- the state representative. All decisions connected to the state development programmes in the village go through him. Having been there for ten years, he knows many villages in the area.
Not just waiting for government to do something
He has a simple explanation for Thergaon’s success: “Everyone here is jointly responsible for the development of the village. That’s the difference. In other villages, people just wait for the government to do something for them.”
The village unity can also be observed when it comes to politics, says Ahire: “There have never been any village assembly elections. That’s how there is cohesion. Elections always divide people in other villages!“
In Thergaon, the villagers put forward consensus candidates who represent all groups of the population. Political parties are taboo. They have neither campaign offices nor posters in the village, says Sharad Borade.
“We wanted to develop the village. If we had done it in the name of a party, then people from our party might have joined in; but nobody else because only we would have got the credit as it was our party programme.”
So although Borade is a card-carrying member of the Congress party, this is irrelevant to Thergaon village politics.