A NATIONAL MINDSET
Communalism versus Democracy

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It is often argued that in view of widespread communalism in India, reverting control over local resources and decision-making to village government will lead to vested interests controlling power and further abuse of the disadvantaged and the weak. This actually was a major issue of disagreement between Ambedkar and Gandhi. Ambedkar held that if village governments are thus empowered, it will further the exploitation of disadvantaged communities while Gandhi pleaded that only through such grassroots empowerment, social ill and discords will gradually give way to a self-reliant egalitarian society. Today, many politicians, academics and self-styled well-wishers of the common people vociferously argue that since communalism has greatly increased over the 50 years since independence, disadvantaged communities will experience extensive abuse at the hands of village governments, if they are empowered.
 
To facilitate rational analysis of this issue, it is necessary to understand the genesis of such exploitation. The 400-year experience of gram swaraj in India has forcefully demonstrated that wherever genuine grassroots empowerment prevailed, there was complete social harmony promoting a self-reliant and culturally advanced society. It is only where vested interests such as feudal lords, high priests and the state bureaucracy deriving authority from the state, started controlling power that abuse and communalism started raising their ugly head. The feudal lords connived with the state bureaucracy to control land, assign tenancy at will, and abuse farm workers. The high priests converted castes based on profession (similar to the Smiths and Carpenters of the West) to those based on birth, placed themselves on the top, and made the weak untouchable. All indulged in "begar", exclusion, and abuse of women.
 
Yet, till the nineteen century when in 1830, Sir Charles Metcalfe, the then British Governor General of India recorded his famous minute showering praises over the institution of the "tiny village republics of India", the gram panchayats were active and vibrant in most parts of India. The British imperial rule gave them the deathblow, transferred the control over land, water systems and forest to the state governments, instituted the patwari, thanedar and district collector at the local level, and made the cultivators the tenants of the state or of the feudal lords. After independence, our leaders abolished the feudal system but retained the rest. The feudal lords, however, used the bureaucracy and abused the centralised revenue and civil courts to retain control over land. The abuse has continued and exploitation and communalism has further increased during 50 years since independence.

Politicians, professionals and NGOs raise the bogy of communalism, as they feel threatened by referendums and local empowerment.
 
The antidote to communalism is, as stressed by Gandhi, true local empowerment. Local empowerment is a legal right of the people in a democracy. If the educated elite hold that the common people have no right to it, they will have to opt for some other form of governance such as the Chinese single party neo-fascism. They cannot have democracy to themselves and deny it to the majority.
 
The British Prime Minister at the time of independence, Clement Atlee, in his speech in the House of Commons on March 15, 1946, said, "We are mindful of the rights of minorities and the minorities should be able to live free from fear. On the other hand, we cannot allow a minority to place their veto on the progress of the majority". In reality, in the name of minorities, the nation and the people including minorities, all have been abused.
 
Before concluding, it may be mentioned that in this Constitution a non-political institutional mechanism, councils of stakeholders consisting of representatives of various interest groups, for resolution of conflicts at sub district and district levels, has been provided. The state and national politics that abuses social issues will have no jurisdiction over such issues.

PEOPLE FIRST

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