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Views of Mahatma Gandhi on Self-Government

Dr. Kripa Shanker Yadav
Associate Professor & Head
Dept. of Political Science
J.S.(P.G.) College, Sikandrabad, Bulandshahar, U.P.

Complete liberty, for Gandhi, was the first and last goal. India’s freedom from Britain, to him, was only an objective along the path, and a rather insignificant one at that. Far more important was the ability of each individual to seek out his or her own freedom. Real Swaraj (freedom) will come, not by the acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when abused, he wrote. Gram Swaraj also called village self-rule, was a pivotal concept in Gandhi’s thinking. According to Gandhi’s thought, the village was his priority for political and social organization. The village was his center of attention for this organization. By political independence I do not mean an imitation of the British House of Commons, or the soviet rule of Russia or the Fascist rule of Italy or the Nazi rule of Germany. They have systems suited to their genius. We must have ours suited to ours. What that can be is more than I can tell. I have described it as Rama Raj i.e., sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority.

Gandhi’s understanding of self-government in thought and practice is a systematic response to the definition of sovereignty in post-enlightenment political theory. The self-governance does not merely address the question of self-rule versus foreign rule or state rule versus anarchy, rather it questions the very presuppositions of sovereignty as constituted in the modern nation state. In that way Gandhi not only presents a fundamentally different theory of the relation between civil society and the state but also of the two constitutive principles of modern theories of sovereignty – supreme authority and territory.
Few would dispute the notion that Mahatma K. Gandhi was one of the twentieth century’s transformative political and spiritual leaders. Among his many notable contributions, Gandhi is rightly credited with pioneering Satyagraha, resistance to tyranny though mass civil disobedience, and vocalizing a transcendent message that helped the Indian National Congress acquire independence from the British in August 1947. Often forgotten or omitted by standard histories, however, are Gandhi’s idealistic leanings that in fact compromised the universality of his appeal and confounded the ideological underpinnings of the Indian nation. His vision for India’s future was highly unorthodox. In Gandhi’s idealized state, there would be no representative government, no constitution, no army or police force; there would be no industrialization, no machines and certainly no modern cities. There would be no capitalism, no communism, no exploitation and no religious violence. Instead, a future Indian nation would be modelled off the India of the past. It would feature an agrarian economy, self-sustaining villages, an absence of civil law and a moral framework that would express the collective will of the people. In many ways, Gandhi’s writings reflect anarchic principles in that they call for a pre-modern, morally-enlightened and apolitical Indian state.
Self-government or Swaraj in Gandhian Perspective
Self-government means continuous effort to be free of government control whether it is foreign government or national government. It will be a sorry state of affairs if people were to look up to government for the regulation of every detail of life.1 People must outgrow the necessity for such control and render it unnecessary. They will cease to impute all their weaknesses to the government or else they shall never shed them.2 The freedom of which such order stands in not for a certain number of individuals or for certain classes but for the whole masses. It aims at emancipation of one and all and not of any class, section or interest. It is impossible to have such freedom without dedicated and selfless workers.3
Self-Government and self-expression are not things which may be either taken from us by anybody or which can be given us by anybody. It is quite true that if those who happen to hold our destinies or seem to hold our destinies in their hands are favourably disposed, are sympathetic, understand our aspirations, no doubt it is then easier for us to expand. But after all self-government depends entirely upon our own internal strength, upon our ability to fight against the heaviest odds. Indeed, self-government which does not require that continuous striving to attain it and to sustain it is not worth the name. Mahatma Gandhi said that he had endeavoured to show both in word and in deed, that political self-government-that is self-government for a large number of men and women is-no better than individual self-government, and therefore it is to be attained by precisely the same means that are required for individual self-government or self-rule4
Mahatma Gandhi suggested the following rules for the guidance of village self-government workers:
1. No Panchayat should be set up without the written sanction of Provincial Congress Committee;
2. A Panchayat should be in the first instance be elected by a public meeting called for the purpose by the beat of drum;
3. It should be recommended by the Tehsil Committee;
4. Such Panchayat should have no criminal jurisdiction;
5. It may try civil suits if the parties to them refer their disputes to the Panchayat;
6. No one should be compelled to refer any matter to the Panchayat;
7. No Panchayat should have any authority to impose fines, the only sanction behind this civil decreed being its moral authority, strict impartiality and the willing obedience of the parties concerned;
8. There should be no social or other boycott for the time being;
9. Every Panchayat will be expected to attend to:
a. The education of boys and girls in its village,
b. Its sanitation,
c. Its medical needs,
d. The upkeep and cleanliness of village wells or ponds,
e. The uplift of and the daily wants of the so-called untouchables.
10. A Panchayat, that fails without just cause to attend to the requirements mentioned in clause 9 within six months of its election, or fails otherwise to retain the goodwill of the villagers, or stands self-condemned for any other cause, appearing sufficient to the Provincial Congress Committee, may be disbanded and another elected in its place.
The disability to impose fines or social boycott is a necessity of the case in the initial stages. Social boycott in villages has been found to be a dangerous weapon in the hands of ignorant or unscrupulous men. Imposition of fines too may lead to mischief and may defeat the very end in view. Where a Panchayat is really popular and increases its popularity by the constructive work of the kind suggested in clause 9, it will find its judgments and authority respected by reason of its moral prestige. And the surely is the greatest sanction any one can possess and of which one cannot be deprived.5
Mahatma Gandhi said that village Swaraj is a complete republic, independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants, and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is a necessity. Thus, every village’s first concern will beto grow its own food crops and cotton for its cloth. It should have a reserve for its cattle, recreation and playground for adults and children. Then if there is more land available, it will grow useful money crops, thus excluding ganja, tobacco, opium and the like. The village will maintain a village theatre, school and public hall. It will have its own waterworks ensuring clean water supply. This can be done through controlled wells or tanks. Education will be compulsory up to the final basic course. As far as possible e very activity will be conducted on the co-operative basis. There will be no castes such as we have today with their graded untouchability. Non- violence with its technique of satyagraha and non-co-operation will be the sanction of the village community. There will be a compulsory service of the village guards who will be selected by rotation from the register maintained by the village. The Government of the village will be conducted by the Panchayat of five persons annually elected by the adult villagers, male and female, possessing minimum prescribed qualifications. These will have all the authority and jurisdiction required. Since there will be no system of punishments in the accepted sense, this Panchayat will be the legislature, judiciary and executive combined to operate for its year of office. Any village can become such a republic today without much interference, even from the present Government whose sole effective connection with the villages is the exaction of the village revenue. I have not examined here the question of relations with the neighbouring villages and the centre if any. My purpose is to present an outline of village government. Here there is perfect democracy based upon individual freedom. The individual is the architect of his own government. The law of non-violence rules him and his government. He and his village are able to defy the might of a world. For the law governing every villager is that he will suffer death in the defence of his and his village’s honour.6
To model such a village may be the work of a life-time. Any lover of true democracy and village life can take up a village, treat it as his world and his sole work, and he will find good results. He begins by being the village scavenger, spinner, watchman, medicine man and school-master all at once. If nobody comes near him, he will be satisfied with scavenging and spinning.7
A self-contained and self-sufficient village is the nucleus of such Swaraj for freedom must begin at the bottom. The village republic will be managed by a Panchayat which will be a living political force and entity. Panchayats will be united in a free and voluntary association by “ever widening circle of village republics”. It will not be an “apex sustained by the bottom” but an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual, always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages and so on, “sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are parts”.8 Gandhiji knew that many did not believe in decentralization of power with a village as the smallest unit. He was aware that many would have India to have a strong centre and build the whole structure round it. Therefore, he desired that the villagers should come into their own and develop the power to express themselves as they should.9
In his public work the whole effort of Gandhiji was concentrated on achievement of organic Swaraj or Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, Ramarajya, Dharmaraja or whatever you may call it. This was to be done while keeping intact the genius of India’s civilization.10 Such Rajya is responsive to public opinion and cares for the lowliest of the low.11 Public opinion is a vital force in developing internal strength. When the public opinion is free and not artificial, it is truthful. The Rajya built on such public opinion is Ramarajya.12
In his public work the whole effort of Gandhiji was concentrated on achievement of organic Swaraj or Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, Ramarajya, Dharmaraja or whatever you may call it. This was to be done while keeping intact the genius of India’s civilization.10 Such Rajya is responsive to public opinion and cares for the lowliest of the low.11 Public opinion is a vital force in developing internal strength. When the public opinion is free and not artificial, it is truthful. The Rajya built on such public opinion is Ramarajya.12
In the recent times, ‘Good Governance’ is associated with efficient and effective of administration in a democratic framework and responsiveness of the state and its institutions. The main key elements of ‘Good Governance’ refer that respect for human rights, equity, rule of law, transparency in public procedure, strong democracy and capacity in public administration. The ideal democracy depends upon the equality of all the purely public opinions. In the same way Gandhian ideas of Panchayat Raj system is a broad concept in independent India and it is a transparency of government in public administration as a part of good governance. It was a concept of diffused grass-roots democracy and process of democratic decentralization. It’s a large number of rural people who are directly involved in the field of democratic participation. From ancient times the village has always been regarded as the primary unit in the governance of India. Important govt. policies are implemented through panchayats. The Gram Sabha plays an important role in the whole Panchayat Raj institution in India’s democratic system. This is a purely qualitative study. So, Present study is going to focus on the Gandhian point of view Panchayat Raj. This is necessary to development in India 21st century and this conception go ahead powerful in the Nation.
1. M.K. Gandhi, Young India, 6-8-25, Compiled and edited by V.B. Kher, Political and National Life and Affairs, Vol.1, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1967, P.XVII
2. Ibid, 27-8-25, P. XVII
3. V.B. Kher, Political and National Life and Affairs, Vol.1, Ahmedabad, 1967, P.XVII
4. Young India, 1-12-27, P.402
5. Young India, 28-5-31. P.123
6. M.K. Gandhi, Harijan, 26-7-42, P.258; Compiled and Edited by V.B. Kher, Political and National Life and Affairs, Vol.1, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1967, P.65
7. Ibid, P.66
8. Ibid, 28-7-46
9. V.B. Kher, Ibid, P.XXII
10. Young India, 26-6-24
11. Ibid, 9-1-25
12. Harijan, 30-11-49

Gram Swaraj and Local Self Government

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