The basic objective of this large-scale study is to reconstruct the contemporary history of decentralization in India. This is done with reference to the experiences of four states -- West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh -- which represent three generations of panchayats. It assesses the contribution of these institutions in expanding the social base of democracy and in deepening the process of democratization at the local level. Using interviews and discussions with all the actors in the field of decentralization, the author presents a comparative and detailed account of panchayat-centric democratic decentralization in these states. In doing so, the original objectives of the policy-makers are interrogated, and an assessment made of the intentions as compared to the ground reality. The author covers a host of important issues including whether The policy of reservations has created spaces for the weaker sections, including women Panchayats empower people and strengthen democracy at the local level The people are satisfied with the performance of panchayats Additionally, the book assesses the impact of decentralization on the functional efficacy of social sector institutions such as primary schools and health centers.