In the rural villages of North India, elected village councils are often super-imposed on entrenched power structures. In many places, these institutional efforts ultimately fail to displace the authority of traditional elites, and power relations continue to operate as they always have. However, in other places, these reforms have led to creation of democratic spaces for marginalized groups and poor. My dissertation seeks to ascertain why elite control declines in some places, while in other places elites manage to maintain the status quo.
While a large number of studies have shown that the great concentration of power in the hands of a small number of elites has adverse impact on economic growth and provision of public goods, our understanding about the impact elite control of local institutions can have on broader democratic processes, such as participation in decision-making, is rather limited. There is ample evidence to suggest that gram sabha [village assembly] meetings are not held regularly, sarpanchs [village council presidents] belonging to lower castes are not allowed to function propery, and very often decisions taken by the elected panchayat [village council] are overturned by traditional elites.