Thirty-two years ago I came to this great country to study the Agricultural Credit
Cooperatives and Farmers Associations Program, popularly called the ACCAFA Program. It was
a most inspiring and instructive experience. The visionary Ramon Magsaysay, who had
initiated ACCAFA, was still alive. I really received my first Magsaysay award in being
able to study here at that time.
People like myselfengaged in the reconstruction of India, or in what Mahatma Gandhi
called the tasks of the second revolution, the first being liberation from colonial
dominationwere thrilled with the creative potential of your experiment. Nowhere in
the world had we come across such a well-conceived cooperative program, supported by the
state through effective legislation and policies, which aimed to support the rural people
in their endeavor to improve their lives.
Ten years earlier, on attainment of Indian independence, Prime Minister Nehru had awakened
our interest in cooperatives, which he regarded as the embodiment of social and economic
democracy and vital for reinforcing political democracy. Nehru also broadened our horizons
beyond national boundaries. A vibrant Asia, asserting its personality and potential, was
his dream. To achieve this dream he invited the leaders of Asia involved in the struggles
for national independence to the Asian Relations Conference, held in New Delhi in
1947 the first firm step toward Asian cooperation. Here, too, as I served on the
secretariat of this conference, I received an enduring gift: the awareness of greater
In the fifties an award such as the Magsaysay Award was accepted casually. Those were
times when all newly independent countries, and those recovering from the ravages of war,
were full of verve and the confidence that they could banish poverty and inequality. But
today's ceremony is a grim reminder that in the past thirty years, poverty and disparities
have continued to defy our prescriptions and methods. Today, when the promise of Gandhi's
second revolution remains still unfulfilled, which one of us can really feel comfortable
with this public honor?
Where do we turn for light?
In a village in Maharashtra a woman was elected as the president of the local village
councilthe panchayat, as it is called. At a recent meeting she told our
prime minister that when she assumed office there was no school in her village, no source
of safe drinking water, no road to link the village with the outside world. However, she
did not rush to the government to complain or plead for assistance. She gathered the
village people and asked: "What good are we if we let the lives of our children be
ruined without education as we have ruined our own?" The people, she said, were
spurred to action.
"But," asked the prime minister, "how could you mobilize the village
community? Is it not divided by conflicts drawn from caste, class, and family feuds?"
"Yes, it is divided, " she replied. "We have all these troubles and more.
But we talked and talked and talked. Then the people said, we have talked enough, let us
Responded the prime minister: "Surely that could not have ended your problems."
"No," the woman leader answered, "it did not."
"So what did you do?" asked the prime minister.
Said the panchayat woman: "Very simple, we talked more, we gathered again
and again and talked more till agreement was reached and then the action was swift."
The story of this woman leader is not an isolated one. In our state of Karnataka we have
some fourteen thousand women elected to village panchayats out of a total of some
fifty-six-thousand elected representatives who took office less than three years ago. They
have lit up the countryside. They have brought about a dramatic change in the mobilization
of local resources, in the purposeful and efficient use of these resources, and in the
promotion of equity. And all these accomplishments have been far better and more
satisfying to the village population than those achieved, in the preceding decades,
through reliance on the bureaucracy to deliver development and social justice.
These grass-roots institutions and their leadersnot always womenhave thus
broken the Gordian knot of Third World development.
The moral of the story is clear: while leaders have failed to dispel the darkness,
millions who have a real stake in building a bright future have been able to light the