Realising Gandhian Democracyby SK Sharma, People
for Global Sustainability
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
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
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
This is similar to an agent usurping property by fraudulently
obtaining the thumb impression of the client. The people were
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
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
"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". —
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.