PREAMBLE

 Home | Contents | Next

 

Realising Gandhian Democracy
for Global Sustainability
by SK Sharma, People First


Prof. Shriman Narayan, earlier known as Prof. Shriman Narayan Agarwal was Principal, Sikasaria College of Commerce, Wardha, in the 1940s. He was an ardent follower of Gandhi and wrote various books on Gandhi’s thoughts. He deserves to be commended for putting together this book for otherwise Gandhi’s concepts of governance would have remained scattered in his various writings. Published by Kitabistan, Allahabad in 1946, the book is now mostly not available. Since it is a path-breaking document that can provide direction to the world in turmoil, People First procured its copy from the Parliament Library and is republishing it with annotations to clarify issues and provide a process for realising it..
 
This section fortifies Gandhi’s vision by establishing that the present Constitution lacks legitimacy. We have shown that what Gandhi advocated can be the only true universal democracy, and is, in fact, being largely practised in the best democracies of the world such as the Swiss. A powerful process for realising it has also been conceptualised.
 
As has happened to original thinkers all through history, the Indian leadership, influenced by the efficiency of the colonial administration and the then prevailing appeal of Soviet socialism, ignored Gandhi’s vision, and instituted a constitution three-fourth of which is based on exploitative colonial laws. The leadership also imposed the Soviet practices of centralised resources management and a controlled economy, thus creating a mixed economy in a mixed-up polity. In 50 years, it has led to all round social, environmental, economic and political degradation in the country.
 
Gandhi is still revered as the father of the nation. However, his memory has been frozen in attitudes such as wearing khadi, sweeping streets on his birth anniversaries, and using him on election posters.
Nothing that he preached can be realised unless a truly democratic societal structure in which power flows upward from the people is instituted.
 
Power having got centralised, it is now difficult to restore it to the people. Legislators who alone can amend the Constitution are unwilling to do so. A Frankenstein or Bhasmasur that is destroying its creator, the people, has thus been instituted. In a perverse way, the political leadership itself has become a victim of the system. Most educated elite familiar with colonial institutions, are unable to comprehend the meaning of democracy.
 
Leaders such as Vinoba Bhave, Balwant Rai Mehta, Jai Prakesh Narayan and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia tried but failed. Most Gandhians have now become disheartened, disillusioned and tired, and have apparently given up hope.
 
Some leaders contend that Gandhian Constitution ought to have been adopted after independence and that it is impossible to do so now because of the massive centralised institutions especially bureaucracy built up during the past fifty years. It is true that it is much more difficult to change the system now than it would have been soon after independence. However, we have no option. If we do not, we will, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, become ungovernable.
 
After half a century since independence, India is nowhere near self-reliance. The political system is incapable of dealing with the situation. It only reacts to short term internal pressures, or succumbs to foreign dictates having long term adverse implications for the nation. Political instability, social strife and lawlessness are now pervasive. If we do not change now, we will drift into anarchy and foreign economic dependence worse than colonialism.
 
Based on our research, we have come to the conclusion that except for fundamental rights that give a feeling of democracy, the Constitution, based on anti-people, exploitative colonial institutions, has basic structural flaws and lacks legitimacy. Power having got centralised, the political system is now unwilling to invert the power structure. The only method by which effective reforms can be brought about is by the sovereign people through referendums. People First has conceptualised an institutional mechanism for directing referendums. The legal and ethical issues are discussed in following three sections.


1. An illegitimate Constitution

The Constitution was authenticated in the name of "We, the people". What did we give to ourselves? We assigned all our resources to the union and state governments, authorised our elected representatives to take all decisions on our behalf, and allowed them to keep them secret from us. We enabled them to appoint an overbearing bureaucracy not accountable to us, and to abuse it to rule over us at the local level. We, the people, may be poor and illiterate, but would have to be morons to give to ourselves, such an anti-people Constitution. Based on exploitative colonial institutions, it was clearly imposed on us.
 
This is similar to an agent usurping property by fraudulently obtaining the thumb impression of the client. The people were betrayed.
The legitimacy of the Constitution, authenticated in the name of the people in violation of their trust, is questionable.
 
The colonial ghost still rules us. The elected servants have become the virtual masters, and the appointed servants behave as though they are the masters of the people.
 
Except for fundamental rights declared sacrosanct by the Supreme Court, the Constitution is intrinsically faulty. It is a fraud on the people of India. The nation kept degenerating since independence. Today, it is boiling. Unless the Constitution is corrected soon through referendums, anarchy will overtake us. "We, the people" have the responsibility to correct it.


2. Basic Structure of Universal Democracy

"The State represents violence in a concentrated and organised form. The individual has a soul but as the state is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned away from violence to which it owes its very existence". —
Mahatma Gandhi
 
Political science has failed as a discipline. It analyses democratic experiences but does not define democracy. Democracy can best be defined as how the common people would like the nation to be governed. Given the choice, the people would first retain resources with local governments for handling all local matters including administration of justice, police, education, healthcare, land, water systems and forests.
 
To prevent abuse of authority, they would institute their sovereign rights to information, consultation, participation and referendum.
 
They would devolve the remaining resources to the state and national governments for providing higher level infrastructure, support to regions with inadequate resources, and to coordinate, but not interfere in local decision-making.
 
The people would make the elected executives at all levels directly accountable to them, and not via the elected body, with the right to recall those elected. Legislators would perform watchdog functions, not assume executive authority.
 
The people would also institute effective mechanisms, such as departmental heads appointed on contract with the approval of the elected body,
thus making the bureaucracy directly accountable to them.
 
Along with certain rights regarded as fundamental to democracy, this can be said to be the basic structure of universal democracy.
 
Gandhi advocated such a democracy. He added some powerful features for containing consumption and promoting social justice and equity. These have today become highly relevant for global sustainability.


3. Gandhi’s Special Features
 
Based on Indian ethos and values, Gandhi added some powerful features for containing consumption and promoting social justice and equity. These are:
 
1 Village governments in which the village assembly controls resources and decision-making;
 
2 Decentralised production systems to curb distress migration to urban centres;
 
3 Self-sustaining local economies providing resilience to regional and global economic turbulence;

4 A low expense clean election system;
 
5 National governments accountable to local governance as a check against arrogance
of the state;
 
6 Industry as trusteeship of the people, reinvesting in production of goods and services and not indulging in ostentatious consumption; and

7 Religions integrated as a positive force at the grassroots level.


4. Conscience Keeper of the State
 
Thomas Jefferson observed, "I know of no safe repository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves". The key to good governance is to design a mechanism that ensures that people, not their elected servants, are truly the repository of the ultimate power of society.
 
All nation-states need a new institution, Sovereign Rights Commission with authority to direct referendums, except on issues fundamental to democracy or the integrity of the nation. There can thus be no referendum on the state being theocratic or a region seceding. These commissions will oversee that the sovereign rights of the people to information, consultation, participation and referendums are properly instituted and accessible to the people. They will, through referendums held along with local, state or national elections, as may be appropriate, correct faulty institutions of governance, and overrule undesirable decisions based on power and business politics and kickbacks, that degrade the society or the environment. They will thus provide a legitimate, non-violent process for revitalising the society.
 
Like the royal priest or raj guru of bygone days, such commissions will function as the conscience keeper of the state, based on the values of the society as a whole.
 
On approval by the people, the commissions will authenticate the proposal truly in the name of the people, appropriately phase it, and monitor its timely and proper implementation.
 
In Pakistan and Philippines, dictators abused referendums to legitimise their rule for life. Referendum is not a right of the representatives, but of the people to overrule their representatives.
 
The Constitution of Sri Lanka provides that the parliament can direct referendums. Recently, its President proposed referendum on granting local autonomy to the Tamil region. It truly is their democratic right. The opposition politicised and blocked it.
 
Independent commissions with authority to direct referendums, is clearly the best solution for safeguarding the four sovereign rights of the people. However, to guard against its members acting in collusion with political or business interests, the people can additionally provide that if 10 per cent of village or urban neighbourhood assemblies, through resolution, demand referendum on any issue, it shall be mandatory for the commission to process it.
 
The Economist of December 21, 1996 in an article "Full Democracy" observed that democracy shall be entering a new phase in the twenty-first century, bordering on direct democracy, through increasing use of referendums. The Sovereign Rights Commission is thus clearly a vital key institution of the future.


5. Supreme Public Interest

India’s lawmakers, busy abusing authority, have sanctified the colonial rule by retaining most of its exploitative laws and procedural manuals, many even of the nineteenth century. Most laws made after independence, including the panchayati raj amendments too are based on the colonial idiom that the state is best, knows best and people, being unreliable and untrustworthy, need to be ruled.
 
The lawmakers cannot be expected to do better now in the era of coalition politics. The only way out is to seek orders from the sovereign people through referendums. To facilitate this, an institutional mechanism for directing referendums is needed. To avoid wasteful expenditure, the existing Law Commissions at the union and state levels can be upgraded to independent Sovereign Rights Commissions with authority to direct referendums except on issues fundamental to democracy or the integrity of the nation.
 
According to Justice MN Venkatachaliah, referendum is the supreme sovereign right of the people, intrinsic to democracy, and exists even if not specifically provided for in a constitution. The issue is, can the people approach the superior courts seeking a writ for upgrading the Law Commissions to independent Sovereign Rights Commissions with authority to direct referendums? The courts clearly have no jurisdiction and it is only the prerogative of legislatures to do so. The people can however approach the superior courts seeking a writ directing a referendum on thus upgrading the Law Commissions. Since referendum is an intrinsic sovereign right of the people, the courts have jurisdiction to issue such a writ.
 
If the courts hold that they have no jurisdiction to direct even one such referendum, it would imply that the sovereign people have been rendered impotent and must only suffer abuse. A Constitution that makes the sovereign impotent is bad law. It is accepted law that for every wrong there should be a remedy. The only remedy is a referendum, an intrinsic right of the sovereign people, on instituting such commissions. The courts have jurisdiction to issue such a writ, and must do so in the interest of justice.
 
The world is today confronted by widespread degradation in poor nations and unsustainable consumption by rich nations. A global society in which local communities control resources and decision-making, as advocated by Gandhi, alone can save the earth. Gandhi is truly the apostle of the third millennium.

_____

 

 Home | Contents | Next