- Exploring New Paradigms in Self Governance

October 27, 2012

Extracts of presentations

Session I

India's Civilisational Legacy of Self Governance and its Relevance

Chair: Prof. Madhu Kishwar

Prof. Madhu Kishwar: Today's symposium deals with `India's Civilizational Legacy of Self Governance and its Relevance'. When India won its independence, very few people in the world expected democracy to survive here. They thought that democracy, a polity designed for developed and intellectually advanced peoples, could not survive in this country, because its population was largely illiterate and poor. Contrary to all expectations, Indians took to democracy like fish to water and over the last few decades it has increasingly been recognized that it is the illiterate and the poor of India who have kept democracy alive.

I believe that we have taken to democracy because of our long tradition and legacy of self governance. There is an important school of thought that holds that India has a great constitution and great laws; the problem really is in the implementation. In fact, the problem is not confined to the machinery of governance; it can be traced back to the manner in which the Constitution of India was framed. It is a heart-rending experience to read the Constituent Assembly debates on Gandhi's ideas and learn how they were discarded, marginalised, or relegated to the non justiceable part of the Constitution. We had been forewarned in respect of every problem that we are facing today.

First Speaker- Dr J.K. Bajaj: What I am going to present today is mere numbers. These are essentially locality accounts of a region in India which were kept in the period of 1761 to 1765. I will give the numbers and later in the day, my colleague Prof. Srinivas will give some conceptual framework of what governance meant in classical India. Gandhiji always said that this was the polity that India practised all the time.

The region that I am talking about is Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu. It surrounds Chennai city from 3 sides; on the fourth side is the sea. The data is for 2000-2100 localities; together they cover an area of about 4000-4500 sq km. That will be the average size of Indian districts even today. I believe that any polity makes sense in the geography in which it is practised. And, this region is very special. In the map, you see the blue colour of water-bodies splashed all over. There are so many water bodies here that anyone who looks at this map immediately feels that this is a special region. These are called `erys' in Tamil. These are not dug out. The water flows and at different points you stop the water by making a bund on one side; the other three sides remain open. A series of bunds then form a long chain of erys. The overflow of one goes into the next and overflow of the next to the one further down, and so on. You have to have a polity which can maintain this extensive system of erys. And, maintaining it is not simple because it is very extensive; almost every village has two or three erys. It will be extremely difficult for any centralized system to be able to maintain these erys. And since, now we have a centralized system of governance, the erys are not maintained, except for a handful of the larger ones.

You also had to have a polity that ensured a sufficient level of interaction within the region so that one village doing something with the erys in its locality did not affect the rights of the lower or the upper villages. That kind of polity alone could have maintained this multiplicity of water-bodies. In the absence of a polity that ensured a substantial interaction and consensus across the region, the system would have been impossible to sustain, as it has been proved to be in our current polity.

Let me now draw your attention to Uttiramerur, a classic town in its architecture and history. Books have been written about it. And in our records, it is an extremely rich town, at least in terms of the production and productivity of grain, mainly rice. The data is for the period of 1761-65. The map is as surveyed by Survey of India in 1911 or 1912. You can see the erys in the current maps also, only that most of these don't have water anymore.

The reason for that high productivity is in the great ery of the town, called Vairamegha Tadagam. There is a footpath, a dirt road passing through the ery. In 1912 it was only a dust road. Such roads are used when the water is not there and not used when there is water. Today, we have a blacktopped wide road passing through the ery, so that now, little water collects here. Because we do not look at the geography, while doing our planning, so we do these things. But whatever the plans, you do not go about destroying Uttiramerur or Vairamegha Tadagam which people have sung songs about. We have done that with not one but the entire system of erys.

The other important feature is that this small region, this district of 4500 sq km, has five major rivers passing through it. Below, there is Palar, north of it is Cooum, then Korathalaiyar, and then there is Arani. In the western part, there is also Cheyyar, which meets Palar within this area. These are not perennial rivers, but they are important rivers. In fact, there are perhaps not many districts in India which do not have more than one river traversing through their territory. All these rivers are of great importance to the people there. They revere these, hold festivals on their banks and tell many stories about them.

I recently did some work on Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh. It has Gopad river passing through the middle of it and Banas runs along its western boundary. These two meet the Son which runs in the north through the whole west-east expanse of the district. And there are these two sangams where Banas and Gopad meet the Son. At both places there are beautiful, old, monumental structures. At the sangam of Banas with Son, there is an ancient and elaborate Shiva temple with an associated Math, the Chandrehe temple and math. The British museum charges you for giving copies of the pictures of this beautiful place, but here, there is only one peon of the Archaeological Survey to look after the ancient structure. But Chandrehe temple is the kind of structure which can compete with any of the Chola structures of Tamil Nadu.

When we began work on Chengalpattu, I isolated the 63 localities which were high production localities in the eighteenth century records, those which in 5 years of our record had produced more than 600 tons per annum. Those 63 localities had productivity of 12 tons per hectare. All 63 of them fell either along the rivers, which now have not much water, or along one of the big erys. Most of them fell on the banks of Palar, which in Tamil means the river of milk.

The total area of Chengalpattu is roughly about 4.2 lakh hectares. About 20,000 hectares is under hills and rivers.Rivers take up 5% of the area. Then there is some wasteland, around 45,000 hectares of it. There are salt pans, because it is near the sea. Water bodies cover 54,000 hectares; that is 13% of the surface. This is not measured from the map; this is the land allocated in the accounts to these water bodies. There is about 17% of forest, which is fairly high for this region. Plantations take up about 2% and habitations about 3%; habitation includes houses with fairly big backyards that are used for growing vegetables and plantains, etc.; this makes habitation also part of the productive lands. Habitation also includes fairly large amounts of village commons.

Then there is uncultivated, but cultivable, wet land of about 32,000 hectares and uncultivated dry land of about 27 thousand hectares. Wet lands are essentially paddy lands. Topographically, dry lands are somewhat higher and wet lands lower. There is about a lakh hectares of cultivated wetland and half a lakh hectares of cultivated dry land. The total cultivated land amounts to around 35% of the geographical area. Uncultivated but cultivable land is another 13-14%, adding to over 50%. Now this is a very important figure. India is special in the world in terms of geography as 50% of its land area is under cultivation or is cultivable. There are very few parts of the world where you can achieve this. Total land under cultivation in Chengalpattu in the eighteenth century is somewhat low because of the messy Anglo-French wars also called Carnatic wars taking place around that time. Normally in every district of India, you come across this 50% figure. Indian geography forces you to take into account that there is cultivated land everywhere, and because there is cultivation, there are people everywhere.

We have tabulated the distribution of households; there are peasants and cow keepers, who form over 54% of the households. Craftsmen and artisans form 13%, merchants and bankers form about 7%, essential services which include medicine-men, barbers and washermen form over 3%. Scholars and cultural and religious functionaries form around 14%, which is large. Then we have Kanakkappillais and Panisevans, registrars and other village servants, who form 3%. Military and police are 3.5% of the household. This is important number; it means that at least 3.5% of the people of the area are trained in and bear arms. One of the things the British did after taking control over the administration was to reduce this number to zero. They insisted that the other village servants will be dismissed because they cannot be servants of the village; they have to be servants of the district administration. They said that they will first dismiss them and then re-appoint them. But the people who bear arms will have to be reduced to "beggary". If you go and see a palayakkarar, military chief's household today, you find it destitute. Mahatma Gandhi made an issue of this in the struggle for independence; he said that one of the worst things the British had done to India was to disarm the people.

I shall now present the production data. It is the average of 5 years from 1762 to 1767. We do not have production data for all the localities. The total cultivation of these localities is about 1.1 lakh hectares; the production is 2.5 million tonnes, amounting to about 2.2 tonnes per hectare. And this was in bad times, when wars were being waged. There are a large number of localities which produced as much as 12 ton per hectare. This is very high productivity indeed.

The more important figure is that of production per household, which comes to be about 5.4 tonnes per household. And a household at that time comprised 5 people; which translates to a production of one tonne per person. Our average today, which has not changed for the last 150 years, not even after independence, is 200 kg per person per year; this is less than one-fifth of the per capita production in eighteenth century Chengalpattu. You cannot have any kind of equitable polity, whatever way you manoeuvre, when you're producing 200 kg per capita per year. When you produce 800 kg per capita per year, all polity will be equitable. When you produce 200 kg, everything will be iniquitous. We have continued to produce 200 kg per capita per year for more than 60 years after independence; it is perhaps not a mere chance or coincidence. We seem to have determined that we will produce only this much and we will keep a large part of the Indian population out of the polity by simply by keeping them hungry.

Chengalpattu had a large agricultural output. The question is how it was distributed? From the village produce, shares were taken out for different functions. How it was to be taken out, who was to measure it out, at what stage how much was to be taken out; all this was written down. We have worked out the shares. The temples of the village get about 1%, other religious functionaries, and there is a long list, including the person who lighted the lamp, they get about 1.25%. Cultivator servants are the Pariarsthey get 6%. And their share of the households is about 18%. The Pariar household gets one-third of the average produce per household. Irrigation gets 1.34%, which is large. Carpenters and ironsmiths get 1.32%, and they are 1.49% of the households, so they get almost as much as the average household. Potters get 0.19% and their share of households is 0.62%. Barbers get 0.42% for 1.75% of the households and washermen get 0.4%. These last three, potters, barbers and washermen, they also get the same one-third that the Pariars got, but these people would also perhaps be paid for individual services. The corn-measurer, whose position is very important because he has to execute this elaborate sharing, and he is always a Pariar, he gets about 0.8%, Shroffs get 0.67%. As many as 2.65% of the households were of the Kanakkappillais. This was an accounting society; they kept records of everything. The British did not create the records that we have used; they only collected and compiled the Kanakkappillas palm-leaf records. 2.14% of the produce goes to the kanakpillais. Panisevans are village servants who are to be counted within the Kanakkappillais, and Tottys are kind of militia. The chief inhabitants, the kaniatchis, get 2% of the produce in addition to what they get as cultivators. So 18% of the total produce goes for local functions. And there are the great temples of importance at the province level; these get 1.71 percent of the produce. These temples include the great temple of Kanchipuram, which got a share of the produce of about 1900 localities. But this is not a tax; villages which sent this share also had a share in the rituals and prasadam and the honours of the temple. When they went there, they were taken care of and their rituals were performed. The province level registrars, the Kanugos and Deshmukhs, who were also probably important political functionaries, got 3.62% of the produce. The palayakkarars got 3%; but their total number of households is also 3.5%, so they got as much as the average share of others. The total share of the produce that went out of the village was thus about 9 percent. From the produce, a total of 27%, was deducted for various village and higher level functions. This is normally the rate of taxation even today. The difference is that out of this 27%, at least 18% was being deducted, allocated and utilized at the village level. The list of functions for which deductions were made includes everything that a state does. So the village was a state. And this was a state that also recognized the next level of organization is formed by the great kovils, scholars, palaykkarars and deshmukhs, etc., for whom about 7-8% of produce got allocated.

Second Speaker- Dr M.D Srinivas: The interesting thing about the information on Chengalpattu is that it gives graphic and detailed information of the functioning of the polity at the village level; it is not limited information about a single village but data pertaining to a large collection of 2200 villages. Those indigenous village records were collected from 1771 to 1774 and the data pertains to the period from 1762 to 1766. It says that a village normally consists of the Patel, the Karnam, the village schoolmaster, calendar Brahmin etc.

As Dr. Bajaj said, whatever shares are being taken out from the production, this is something that is very unique to the functioning of our society, it is one of the fundamental principles which operates at diverse levels in the Indian civilization. This is the idea that whatever your produce, you take out shares for all aspects of creation, for everyone in your surroundings, including the strangers passing by your region. This is called the fundamental dharma of a household. The householder is considered the pillar of Indian society. ThisPanchamahayajna that is part of the daily discipline of the householder, which most of our people continued to carry on though in a somewhat ritualistic manner even till a few generations ago. Gandhiji has emphasized this idea of yajna, that you contribute something before you consume. You maintain the livelihood of the people by first protecting what is called the varta. Varta constitutes the basic activities of the economy and all our books are very serious about the protection of krishi. The king has only one other duty, that is -vHk`rkuka Hkosn~ HkrkZ (abhritanam bhaved bharta), which means that he has to take care of those who cannot provide for themselves. And Apastamba Dharma sutra says pkL; fo"k;s {kq/k jksxs.k fgekrikH;ka ok¿olhnsn~ vkHkokn~cqf¼iowZa ok df ÜÓrq (Na casya vishaye kshudha rogena himatapabhayam va'vasided abhavad buddhipurvam va kaschit). Let not any one in the domain that comes under you, suffer due to hunger, heat or cold: No one should suffer either due to scarcity or due to human negligence.

The other important aspect is the sharing of sovereignty. Indian polity is not about individuals, it runs through various levels of institutions, corporate groups and organic units which are all sovereign. All the Kaniatchi chiefs and functionaries in the village have this maniyam (or Inam) land, and this land given to them is not any piece of land, but is the share of the revenue which is due to the state which is in turn assigned to the holder. This is one of the major ways in which symbolically the sovereignty is shared, because these maniyam lands give only 1/6th of the gross produce and the maniyam holder would not anyway have gotten a large amount of revenue.

When the king is said to be the protector of Dharma, what is it that he protects? He is told that he has to protect the desha-dharma, jaati-dharma, puga/kula-dharma, shreni-dharma, yuga-dharma and there are verses which will say: dhuk'kk% dk:dkf'kfYihdqlhn Jsf.kurZdk% fyfMaxu% rLdjk ÜÓSo fu.kZ;e (Kinasah karukasilpikusida sreni nartakah. Linginah taskaraschaiva svena dharmena nirnayam). The peasants, the carpenters, artisans, potters etc., all of them make their own decisions as per their dharma. When you pick up any dharmashastra, there is very little on how a village is administered or jaati is to be governed. It either talks about some large principles of dharma, how the universe is created, or what are the aspects of its creation, or it will try to tell you that how the dharma of every group, every autonomous section of the society is to be protected. This protection of all dharmas is given the highest prominence.

The other issue is the levels of inequality that were permissible in the classical Indian polity. Around 1790s, Capt. Alexander Reed was made the collector of Baramahals (the present day Salem and Dharmapuri Districts).He went about examining the accounts of the various temples in that region. The published Baramahal Records of 1797-1798 have the detailed budget of about 60 temples in the northern part of the district. Here, we find that on an average each temple had about 25-30 functionaries and the ratio of what the sweeper and the manager or the highest paid functionary gets is 1:4 or 1:5.

First Respondent- Prof. Shail Mayaram: The experience of the Chengalpattu polity reminded me of the discussion on the Pudakkottai kingdom. I think there is some very interesting reflection on pre modern kingship, especially when you refer to the Nadu. What I want to bring to this discussion is the experience of the non-kingly polities. I would like to focus on the kind of political life and the polities of pastoral, peasants, tribal groups, also broadly referred to as shudra groups.

The question that is at the crux of the matter is: how is sovereignty to be organised? We have a very rich picture available to us: pre modern sovereignty took different forms- divided sovereignty, shared sovereignty, and negotiated sovereignty. You need to think about the alternatives to monopoly sovereignty. In the 20thcentury, you do have a whole lot of discussion and experimentation with political form. Federalism, for instance, is an instance of shared sovereignty. There is also some discussion on the confederal model, especially in the context of the Sri Lankan war. A confederal model was proposed for the north-east of Sri Lanka, and also for Jammu and Kashmir.

If one thinks of the state in terms of three major functions, the first is that of war and peace. Look at the way in which they organize warfare; it's not that they were peaceble polities. They were constantly fighting. If I were to draw upon the Mewati oral tradition, the declaration of war is often consensual. The clan leaders will come together and there will be a discussion on whether there should or shouldn't be war. It's consultative; there is an attempt to evolve consensus. There is also the scope for dissent. If one looks at the example of 1857, there is a debate whether it is a mutiny, or the First War of Independence. Independence aside, it really is a war, and a large number of groups are involved, the Jats, Gujjars, Mewatis, all mobilized against the British, and you can see the way in which decision-making took place. What is interesting is that this kind of warfare is often governed by norms and rules, often referred to as the rules of the feud by anthropologists. For instance, the norm that the warfare will be suspended in the evening, and the like.

The next important issue is the way in which the sources of revenue themselves were shared. There is a wonderful description in the context of the Bhil polity, where the resources were first divided between the Mughal and the Maratha darbars, and then between the Marathas and the Bhils. Even though this tradition has largely been eroded, yet, in my field work I come across instances where the village collects money to maintain a temple, or to celebrate a festival.

The third important thing in terms of looking at the state is law. That is where these polities are vastly different. This is because the recognition of that law and the actual practice of legal pluralism have multiple sources. To an extent, in recognition of this reality, the British recognized the customary law in Africa and India. But of course, the nature of the customary is such that once it is coded and reduced to writing, it is vastly transformed.

The fourth area is that of property. I think that what we have with the coming of the modern state is a vastly transformed landscape where property really becomes a commodity. And what this whole set of historical experience provides is a very different way of looking at property and non capitalist forms of land tenure.

I want to end by making a point about the possibility of inter-ethnic relations that these polities provided. And I want to give the example of the Mewati Pal polity. For 1000 years, the Mewati Pal polity enabled the resistance of the Mewatis to the state. They struggled for their autonomy and the right to govern themselves and what is interesting about the Pal is that it is not only clan based but is also territorial. So it includes different jaatis and religious groups in that area which are governed by the Pal.

In 1940s, as the Kisan movement was growing in strength; Kanvar Mohammed Ashraf, who was the General Secretary of the Congress party and also a historian, thought that this was an example for the rest of India: you have governance which is inter communal, and a mode of resolving disputes which is inter ethnic. But amidst the atmosphere of Partition, this was distorted as the idea of Mewatistan seemed like Pakistan, but it was precisely the opposite.

Second Respondent- Prof. Jeet Uberoi: Gandhiji regarded Swadeshi as one of the pillars of Swaraj, but only one of the three pillars. There were two other pillars; Swadeshi wasn't the first. The first pillar was removal of untouchability and the second was Hindu-Muslim unity. Swadeshi was the third pillar in the sense of the love of the neighbour's labours. That was his reading of Swadeshi. For him, Swadeshi didn't mean everything which is Indian and unique like untouchability. There are many Indian things which are unique. Gandhiji's idea of loving your country was not that you must be proud of everything Indian.

If you look at the map of India, all the dams face towards the East or the South, so they are pointing towards some spot in the Bay of Bengal. In olden days when you had slower, low flying aircrafts and you flew from Nagpur to Madras, and if you were lucky to be flying at the time the sun was setting, it would catch all those water bodies at the same time. Here was an example of a society which manifested its spirit not through centralization but through coordination. And it was a very simple idea, yet not that obvious.

If you go back to the Gangetic valley, you will find that there also, water bodies South of the Ganges are pointing and letting out their water in the North and the ones on the North of the Ganges are letting out their water towards the South so that the whole basin forms a single unit, again not by centralization but by coordination. This is the Afghan system also, it is not anarchy, it is simply another form of organization. And it is not something my colleagues care to discuss, because it's very easy to miss.

Gandhiji had asked himself, `Who am I?' The first answer he gave himself was not that `I am a human being ', or `I am an Indian', but that `I am a Hindu, a Sanatani Hindu; not a Varnashram dharmi Hindu, but a Sanatani Hindu. So, what is wrong with Hinduism? What is most wrong with Hinduism is untouchability. My first task as a Hindu is not to advertise what I am proud of but to do something about what I am most ashamed of, and the removal of untouchability comes first; the British are not in the picture at all.'

The second answer he gave was `I am an Indian. Now, what is the proof that I am an Indian? It's not to assert what I'm proud of, but to do something about what I'm ashamed of. And what is there to be most ashamed of as an Indian? It is the inter-communal disharmony. I should do something about it and that will prove that I am an Indian.

Lastly he answers, `I am a man, and what is wrong with human beings is that they are all in love with something far away and not with their neighbour's labour.' So what human beings have to learn to do is to love the products of their neighbour's labour and not the product of the labour of someone who lives in some faraway place.

My last point is that what matters is not only what democracy delivers, but also something that it renounces. Democracy is not something that will maximise our gains unless we define those gains in terms of conscience or `Swadharma'. The better definition of self rule would probably be that it is the rule of conscience. Democracy should be the rule of conscience, not the rule of the majority. No one can force my conscience; they can force my behaviour or my conformity, but they cannot compel my conscience. Conscience can only be persuaded.

Majority rule is the first condition of democracy, but that is not my position. My position is that the first requirement of democracy is the separation of civil from military affairs. This separation has not been achieved in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma or Sri Lanka. It had not been achieved in Germany before the Second World War. The second requirement of democracy is separation of powers: executive, judicial and legislative. The third requirement is the existence of the opposition. And this is not something I am prescribing for other peoples; this is something India has learned to internalise. The other requirements include political parties. There the question of majority rule comes in.

Session II

Gandhi's Gram Swaraj as an Alternative Constitutional Arrangement

Chair: Dr. Ashok Khosla

Dr. Ashok Khosla: Despite the ubiquity of Mahatma Gandhi with his images on every banknote, his words in every school text, his name on one road after another and his statue in every city his patrimony seems to have had little or no impact on our systems or structures of government. This is unfortunate, since his insights on some of the most important issues facing the nation have never been of greater relevance and importance than they are today.

Gandhiji was, of course, a multi-faceted thinker and he talked and wrote on a wide variety of subjects of concern to us, even today. Especially today, his social and political writings are well-known. What I personally have found most fascinating are his thoughts on such topics as technology, science and ecology, far removed though they were from his everyday concerns in realms like politics, spirituality and national culture. His observations on productivity, waste, and the role of machines and other instruments of "modernity" were extraordinarily farsighted he was among the first to understand, already in the 1930s, that it was not possible for human activity to grow indefinitely on a finite planet. He was the original sustainability scientist.

The deeper we looked at governance, the more we found resonance with Gandhiji's views. He clearly had many of the answers we were looking for.Drawing heavily on a book written by Professor Shriman Narayan Agarwal that described what "A Gandhian Constitution for a Free India" might look like (and which contained an acceptance foreword written by Mahatma Gandhi himself), Santosh K. Sharma( a retired senior IAS officer) drafted a document with help from some of us, in the form of a proposed constitution such as Gandhiji would have approved.

Armed with this documentation, we were quite successful in mobilising interest among a wider group of people. Early on, we got the Speaker of Lok Sabha, P. A. Sangma , and the Vice Chairperson of Rajya Sabha, Najma Heptullah, to buy into our story and with their help, we started receiving a lot of encouragement and support from parliamentarians and intellectuals working in various professions. Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, Chairman of the NHRC, Sunil Shastry, MP and many other eminent authorities on governance issues provided insights and reinforcement of the ideas. We held consultations and hearings in various parts of India.

The central tenet of Gandhiji's thinking on governance, which was a basic premise in our work, was that the primary institution of societal decision-making is the Gram Sabha. The Gram Sabha is the forum of adult women and men belonging to the community where all decisions affecting the local polity and economy are made by consensus. This process is more than "devolution" since it is not commissioned or legitimised from above. The Gram Sabha has jurisdiction over all local matters, and for collecting taxes. From these taxes, it "pays" a portion (typically of the order of 16% or 1/6th of the revenue, more or less, which is what we saw in the case of Chengalpattu) to higher levels of government to provide services (such as roads, defence, currency, etc) which cut across geographical or functional boundaries.

Basically, this constitution that we wrote out, put as the supreme principle governance and morality, the values of fairness and community responsibility. It was in a sense direct participative democracy based on consensus and we saw this as historically emanating from the genius and culture of our nation. The differences in different parts of India were allowed for by reasonable variation in the specifics.

The fundamental element that Gandhiji introduced, drawing on centuries of Indian political thought and practice, was an ethical dimension of trusteeship, in which the wellbeing of the people, society and nature were the central concerns of governance. This was, I believe, a major break from the European and American models of democracy, which were predicated primarily on rapid economic growth based on endless accumulation of financial and physical capital; the job of governance was to enable this through the exploitation of other peoples and of nature. Gandhiji's life and message on the other hand is all about equity, fairness and social justice. Its fundamental thrust is to fulfil the basic needs of every citizen and provide him or her with a fulfilling life that is in harmony with nature. Gandhian governance is meant to enable communities on a nationwide basis to do just that.

I am sure that the kind of constitution we wrote can be greatly improved. There were people who recognised the fact that the population explosion had significantly altered the situation and that many of the arrangements that were possible in Chengalpattu were no longer feasible. The ecological footprint and massive destruction of our soils, waters, forests has got to a stage where the whole might of the national government is needed to handle those. The economic aspirations today are totally different; we are living in a world economy whose basis is determined in a totally different way. However, we have continued our fight for over ten years now hoping that at least some of these principles and this vision will triumph in the end.

First Speaker Shri Rajeev Vora: When the question of relevance is raised with regard to Gram Swaraj and Gandhi we should be first of all clear about which `Gram Swaraj' we are talking about; and similarly, about which `Gandhi' we are talking about. Both have acquired different meanings to different people. For any serious discussion a distinction between the authentic and the corrupt meanings is necessary. The term `Gram-Swaraj' has two references; namely, one, as used by Gandhiji; and two, as practiced by Gandhian movement and its institutions following Acharya Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan-Gramdan movement. This movement popularized the term `Gram-Swaraj' within the meaning it gave to the concept of Gram Swaraj.

Gandhi's relevance has to be seen both in terms of conceptual validity of his vision, methods and programmes; and, in terms of right representation by it of the striving of a people who hold him as Mahatma. Conceptually, I have doubt if we have the right tools to examine him. Two most fundamental of the three tools, the "measuring rods" as Gandhi called them, namely, Truth, nonviolence, and reason which he applied to all his thoughts, methods and actions do not simply fit into the so called modern "rational' "scientific' methods of inquiry and judgement. These have to be pre-fixed with "so-called' and "modern" because what is known as modern civilization, popularly known as western civilization, has invented a new meaning for `rationality' and `reason'. What is "Un-Truth" to Indian mind and Indian civilization is Truth to western mind and western civilization; and, that which is Truth to Indian mind and Indian civilization is un-truth to western mind and western civilization. Thus Gandhian nonviolence is appreciated as a method of resistance rather than as means to achieve Swaraj.

Gandhi's relevance also must be examined in relation to the inner contradictions and defects of the modern world order. Let me take just one of the main predicaments, which comes from modern civilization's innate disharmony between two of human beings innate pursuits, namely, freedom on the one hand and justice on the other. It is in its nature to destroy one in the pursuit of the other. The challenge before human societies has been about developing a symbiotic relationship between these two quests. In the pursuit of one, the other must be fulfilled. Gandhi therefore re-defines Freedom in terms of Swaraj, a principle of ordering human life, its affairs and all its institutionsModern civilization has reinvented the meaning of freedom, based on its understanding of man and society, such that in the optimization of freedom, justice is compulsorily minimised. Promoters and followers of modern civilization and its order need therefore slave societies and slave communities for fulfilling their freedom to consume as much as they desire.

When the term `Swaraj' is discussed among the masses, they feel total identification with its true meaning, the weight of which is on self-control and self-restraint, rule over one's own Self, one's desires and wants; and, a socio-economic system which facilitates and upholds a need based, reciprocal and cooperative culture. In every discourse on Hind Swaraj among rural common masses I have heard them respond to the effect that nothing resonates in their hearts and minds as much as the message of Hind Swaraj. "Allah speaks here" a bright, faith oriented Kashmiri youth activist said to me.

My criticism of the present political system is from the stand point of Swaraj and not from the stand point of parliamentary democracy.The present mindset of our ruling classes, their dreams and schemes for India's development and progress, politically, economically and educationally-intellectually negate Swaraj aspirations; repress the quest for Swaraj. As a nation, as a people, we have been turned into a dissatisfied, discontented lot. Even the wealthiest and the powerful are dissatisfied with what they have and are day and night busy scheming to acquire more, dispossess the poor further, control the institutions of the state or build parallel power-structures for infiltration into legitimate power structures.

Self-rule, Swaraj, in terms of moral empowerment, is the only way for creating a firm and sustainable base for any political Swaraj at the grass-roots.Unless, therefore, people at that (village or community) level take self initiative in cleansing of their social-political environment that disunites and disembowels them, there is no way their self worth, dignity, wealth, resources, rights and any sort of empowerment can be sustained.

Second Speaker Shri Pawan Gupta: My journey started from Mussoorie where, at the request of some villagers, we opened a few schools in nearby villages of Jaunpur, part of Tehri Garhwal. We thought we were well educated and teaching would be very easy, but we soon realised that what we are doing is all messed up, our assumptions were all wrong. Soon after we started these schools the elderly women of these villages started telling us `you are ruining our children through this education'; that what we are teaching the children is not helpful for them in anyway. Their sons who are educated roam around with their hands in their pockets, consider their family backward and below them. And the girls only learn how to put on nail polish and then refuse to put their hands in cow dung. What use is this education to us? Another woman said a very remarkable thing. She said, `Teach the children to be (hona sikhao, dikhnaa, dikhaanaa nahi), not to show off.' This is when my journey began. At about the same time I came in contact with Dharampal ji. And through him got introduced to the writings of Mahatma Gandhi. More recently, I came across Ravindra Sharma's work. I believe that the understanding he has of Indian society is hard to find anywhere else. He is a man of oral tradition; he may not have ever picked up a pen, a brush maybe. He's an artist and a craftsman. He belongs to the times when there was no distinction between a kaarigar (craftsman) and a kalaakaar (artist). This separation between the craftsman and the artist has created havoc in society. The craftsman has lost his respect for the artist. The `seen' has taken precedence over `being'. This is the problem in our education, too what is seen or appearance takes precedence over being or what we actually are/ know. When I listen to Ravindra Sharma, then I am able to understand Dharampalji and Gandhiji even better. He says that in our society, the ideal is: "ho to zyaadaa na lage, aur kami ho to mahsoos na ho" - if one has it in excess, then it is not to be flaunted, and if there is dearth, then no one should feel the pinch. This is how Indian society has lived in the past.

What the women in the village and Sharmaji said are very closely related. I have observed a lot of things happen in the last 23-24 years in my Jaunpur villages. I will give you an example which I have been thinking about for a long time. How the system, the structures affect our behaviour, mould our society. When I first went there, women used to go to the forest to collect wood and fodder, and they always used to go in a group. In case one of the women fell sick then the others would get wood for her or give her some of her share. Going in a group and sharing was in the interest of the individuals. A few years ago LPG cylinders were introduced in the villages. Everyone was very happy because now the women would not have to trudge the mountains and carry wood on their head. But what has this convenience done to the village society? Today the situation is such that when the LPG truck comes, a woman would tell her child to get it quickly before the others get to know. They also have started bribing to get a cylinder before their neighbours can lay their hands on it. The spirit of collectivity, the cooperation which existed in the village (samaajiktaa) is collapsing because of the manner in which the LPG is being distributed, the manner in which the distribution system is designed. This is only an example, there are numerous others to show how without consciously trying to break the society, modern systems have something demonic embedded in them which breaks the cooperative spirit of society and promotes individualism and greed.

I have observed many a time that the things that used to happen in the villages are slowly getting eroded. I know many people above the age of 50 in the village who have a lot of wealth, but their life style is almost similar to those who are poorer. One day a woman came to my house and told me that it's not good that I keep my car outside the house, it would make the others feel envious. Do not display or flaunt it is vulgar and breeds envy.These are the things that I have learnt from Ravindraji and my personal experience that I can share with you. Another time, there was a farmer whose hand got cut and at that same time, there was a social work camp going on in Mussoorie. These people saw the injured farmer and kept discussing what to do but didn't really do anything. In the meanwhile, a boy came along with goats. He saw the situation and immediately tore off a portion of his gamcha and covered the farmer's wound with it. These things are not taught in schools. The goat herder did not learn what to do in a school. That was his reflex action. Sometimes I wonder how the change that is happening is taking place and who is responsible for it. How does one thing occur to someone and not to the other.

I think that the matter that is being discussed here, it will be solved when we see our own world properly. We are not doing that right now. We are always eager to take action but without understanding things we can't really do anything. One day Ravindra Sharma said to me that gaon should have a proper definition. He said, "gaon wah hota hai jahan sabhee ke samman kee vyavastha ho aur khane kee suraksha" (village is place where there is assurance of food for everyone and local systems ensure that each community gets respect).We have started mouthing "equality" and mostly mean sameness. But equality is not sameness. We can be very different in different aspects and yet be equal. There is difference between ek samaan (equal) and uchit(proper, judicious). That is how perhaps Indian society was and still is, where it is untouched by modernity.

Another thing he said was that natural competence should be inculcated within the people (logon mein samarthya ke saath sehajta paida karna) alongwith a naturalness, confidence, if you like. This naturalness is more important. Ultimately this is what all of us seek. If we are relaxed, if we are what we are, if we can afford to be the way we actually are then that's it. What else can one strive for? This how an individual must be and the system around should encourage such behaviour by making things easy. That is what true democracy is all about. Gandhi ji was striving for that. People like us, from the city, are rootless and migratory (sanchaar jati). I don't stay where my father did and my son won't live where I do. We are already rootless and now we are affecting those who aren't, encouraging them to be like us.

Whether Gandhiji is relevant or not is not the issue for me, I know he is relevant. The issue is how to go in that direction. The problem with people like us is that we are the exploited and exploiters at the same time. We will be accused of saying something and doing something else not walking the talk. We are stuck in the middle like Trishanku and I feel we don't like to admit that. We have become used to certain privileges that modernity provides and then feel compelled to justify them (because of our weakness). It is like a smoker suffering from cancer advocating against smoking. For me, samarthya, democracy and sehajta are interconnected. One is meaningless without the other. Modern systems tend to work towards strengthening themselves. This is only possible by weakening society and promoting individualism. A weak society, an individualistic society, goes against true democracy as only a strong society can provide the balance to government. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to strengthen the society by encouraging and promoting samarthya and sahajata.

Every civilisation has a certain view of economics, just like a tradition has a philosophy and a culture has a sense of aesthetics. The economic view in indic civilisation was vyay pradhaan (focus on what to do with the produce) and not aay pradhaan (income centric). We have focused on sadupayogita (right utilisation) of what we have by distributing it judiciously. I have seen in the villages that earning (money) still doesn't have that much importance with the elders.Society comes with responsibility, reciprocity and simplicity. Gradually, the new generation is increasingly thinking more and more about themselves as individuals, their identity and what they have to do. And this craze for identity is not confined to the cities; it is going in the villages also. Every youngster is looking for his/her identity (pahchaan), it could be through clothes or to do something and to become something special. This behaviour is coming from the schools. Teachers everywhere are asking young children `What they want to become when they grow up' and the unsaid expectation behind this question is that it is only noteworthy if they become someone special. There is no longer any space for the ordinary and when there is no ordinary, there is no sahajtaa and democracy cannot exist without sahajataa.

I would like to wrap up by telling you a story from The Mahabharata that I recently read. Once there was a saint named Galv. He wasn't a well known saint. One day, he had to go to some place urgently for a very important work. He called upon his friend Garuda and told him about his urgent work and requested him to take him there. Garuda agreed and they take off. While flying high, Galv got breathless because of the speed and the height, so he asked Garuda to stop somewhere, to which the latter replies that he will stop at a mountain ahead. Once the saint got his breath back, he asked to be taken back. Garuda was surprised and asked why he wanted to go back when he had such an important and urgent work. Galv said that it wasn't that important. "If it wasn't that important then why did you come this far?" asked Garuda. The saint replied that it was only after coming this far that he realised that the work was not that important. We have come this far on the path of `development'. Having traversed thus far perhaps we should realise it is not worth it and turn back.

First Respondent Prof. Mridula Mukherjee: I come to Gandhiji from a very different angle; I am a historian of the Indian National Movement and of other popular movements in the 20th century India. Therefore, my entry point is from that perspective and I study his ideas coming from that angle. I see him primarily as the leader of the Indian National Movement and try and understand how he evolved in his thinking and his actions as part and parcel of this movement.

The greatest thing about Gandhi was that nobody ever felt that he was apart from him or her. Whoever went to see him, whether at a prayer meeting or in a large crowd, everyone felt as if he was talking to them and that they could go and touch him and talk to him without the slightest hesitation. I think that in many ways the uniqueness of Gandhi was his ordinariness, his great accessibility to people everywhere. And therefore, I think that the issue of participatory democracy is at the heart of how we need to understand Gandhi. But as I said, I don't study only his thoughts as contained in certain select extracts, but all the time seeing them in the context of and in relation to what he was actually doing; including what he said on caste and untouchability.

I would also like to emphasise that one of the things about studying Gandhi is that you realise over time that it is not correct to fit him into a set mould. He said many things at many times which could be at variance with each other, and that is only right, otherwise he would have become a fossil. He remained the most powerful leader of a very diverse, powerful and complex movement. He was experimenting till the last day. Perhaps his greatest experiment was Noakhali, and the whole time when he was there he was searching for the soul of India, which, in his last two years, he felt was dying, particularly after seeing what was happening in the country. But he did so without despair.

One of the things that worries me often in discussions is when we start with this `everything is wrong' kind of tone. `We've lost it all after Gandhiji died'. It's not true. I have been teaching Indian National Movement in JNU for the last 30 years or more and my students relate to Gandhi without any problem, and Gandhi is alive in them. It is not as if he doesn't matter to the youth and to the school children. I talk of Gandhi and the freedom struggle in all kinds of places to people from different social backgrounds and I have never met anyone who does not think that he is important or relevant.

I do not think that Gandhiji would have been disgusted or ashamed of the parliamentary democracy we have now. I think he would have been proud that given what is happening in the world around us, we have managed to sustain a representative democracy with all its faults, for so many years. Although, he critiqued the Westminster model of democracy by calling it a prostitute, at the same time when asked in 1921 `What is it that you want in India? What are you fighting for? What system will replace the colonial system?' he said, `The parliamentary system. '

I may be a very deficient student of Gandhi and I yield to people who have spent their whole lives studying his thought to tell me better, but I do not think that the Gandhian model of Gram Swaraj is an alternative to the Parliamentary system of representative democracy. The Gram Swaraj model, which is a model of indirect democracy, is based on people at the village level electing their representatives, then their representatives electing the next level and so on. I will tell you why this model is not truly Gandhian. The least attractive element of this model is that people get to vote only at the local level on local issues. Their horizons are, therefore, condemned to be parochial. Their elected representatives, rather thrice removed elected representatives, will decide on national and international issues on their behalf. The model assumes that a peasant cannot be concerned with world peace; he can only think of his next crop, his village school or the road to the town; this assumption is not Gandhian.

Gandhi ji sought to empower the poorest Indian with the ability to participate in the shaping of his life and the lives of the rest of the world and that was true Swaraj. When Gandhi ji said that the poorest Indian must and can participate equally and forcefully in the struggle for freedom to throw out the mightiest power in the world, I think he did not have the notion that the horizons of the poorest Indians must be limited to what was immediate. I think somewhere along the way the slippages occurred, but all the time I feel that when we are looking at issues of direct democracy, we somehow collapse it into this model of indirect democracy.

I also feel that we are always constraining ourselves only in terms of formal models of participation. People of India have been participating in its politics through its movements. Nowadays we are sometimes lulled by the T.V into believing that till one year ago, Indians were sleeping and there were never really any oppositional movements in India. Oppositional movements have been there long before independence, and they were there on the day of independence. There was a Telengana movement going on at the time of Independence; the Socialists and the Communists were leading tenant struggles and peasant struggles all over India in the `50s; there was an old struggle for reorganisation of states on linguistic lines; there was the Naxal movement, the JP movement, the Navnirman movement, and many others.

The electoral politics is only one aspect of politics and, therefore, I do not see people's participation as coming only through institutional forms. I am not saying that these are not important, but our whole concern should not be only at these levels. I see all this as part of the very legitimate realm of politics and I think where the state tries to delegitimize these forms of politics,that is where we have to protect it. I often get irritated when we are told that Anna Hazare or Kejriwal are now going to come into politics as if what they were doing until this time was apolitical.It was politics from the word go and legitimately so. Gandhi understood politics in a very deep sense. For him politicization meant that the people have the right, and they have to have the ability. The greatness of Gandhi was that he evolved forms of politics which made no sense without the participation of people at the lowest levels. So he made sure that the politics was of the people, because without their participation, his form of politics made no sense; it didn't work. I think that was its beauty; he grounded it there.

I get worried sometimes that a legitimate critique of colonial denigration and destruction of pre-colonial society and economy should not end up projecting pre-colonial India as static and unchanged. What we see in 18thcentury Tamil Nadu is fine. We also have other accounts. But we should not therefore, imagine that 10 centuries ago, that was what Chengalpattu villages were like. A back projection from a pre-colonial era is problematic, though historians do it all the time. There are grave problems with these accounts as history is not linear; nor is it static. The other caution is that we need to be aware of the pitfalls of romanticizing pre colonial, or so called traditional or rural society.

Second Respondent Prof. Ashis Nandy: I have 5 points to make. First, let's get over this issue of Gandhi. He is not Mahatma or Gandhiji, he is Gandhi, an institution. By calling him Mahatma or Gandhiji, you shelve him so that others do not have to go to him. He is worshipped as a saint and we go on with the business of politics on an everyday basis. Gandhi has gone out of our world.

In any case, he has gone out of our control. If I name the world's greatest Gandhians, none of them is Indian, none of them is Hindu. They are Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. It has a different kind of resonance now than what Gandhi was; whether he was linked with the nationalist movement or not; what was his concept of nation, etc, have in some sense no relationship with objective posturing. It has some relevance to us as possible ways of using Gandhi and ways of using him as a vantage ground. And there Gandhi is no different from Chengalpattu, because whether Chengalpattu is representative or not, whether the ethnography is well done or ill done, or whether it is a romantic nostalgia trip, or whether it is actually a kind of ploy to keep you lulled to other forms of social criticism, I won't enter into that. Chengalpattu's main importance to me is that it talks not of our past but of our future. We are living in a very different kind of world now and I want to emphasise on that part of the story in response to the two presentations.

I also want to point out that there is a difference between community-based societies and individual-based societies. I won't say individual-based society; let's say massified society. Certain kinds of individualism are stronger in India than in the modern West, but if you forget that for the moment, there is a difference between community-based societies and massified societies. I am studying the genocide of the 1947 Partition violence. I find that in no other genocide, particularly not in the European genocides, the number of rescuers who tried to save the victims was beyond a few hundreds. When we did our study on partition violence, we found that out of the 1500 people surveyed, about forty percent of the people had received direct help from somebody from the other community. In the European genocides,or even in other genocides it won't be more than one percent. This difference can be found in other genocides that have taken place in community-based societies. I have found that many people are unwilling to admit now that they were helped by someone from the other side, because in the meantime, they have become bitter and have either joined RSS or BJP, or a some kind of extremist organisation.

What you get in Chengalpattu, I would be very surprised if you get in more atomised sectors of societies because even the cities that you are talking of were not colonial cities. Even though we think otherwise, all data shows that towns and cities and villages coexisted from the very beginning. In fact our oldest ruins from India and China are from cities, not villages. There is this part of the story too, but we have introduced an evolutionary concept that what was village will become city. Urbanity and cosmopolitanism have been redefined and therefore we are caught in a situation where we are not even allowed to use the data on Chengalpattu.

Look at Gandhi as a person who talked on behalf of Indian villages. Incidentally, he was born in a city, brought up in a city; studied in London, worked in Durban, which was a city. In his middle years he went to Indian villages on the advice of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He rediscovered the villages in such a fashion that he has now become the primary symbol and voice of Indian villages.

I am trying to say that the situation is the same in other domains of life too. Satyajit Ray saw a village for the first time when he was shooting Pather Panchali. He says in his autobiography that being an outsider doesn't matter, as I suggest, but carrying the imagination of the village within ourselves does. The village was always seen as a counterpoint to the city and the city as a counterpoint to the village. And that oscillation has been lost in contemporary times because the colonial city is not capable of it. The colonial city's project is to either forget the village, or remake it in the image of the city. It has no genuine respect, trust or need for the village. That is why you see that the two great peasantries of the world, Russians and Chinese, lie supine with their backs brokentheir cultures and self confidence destroyed and now we see the Indian peasantry going through the same stage and committing suicide.

Chengalpattu becomes important and for that matter Rajeev Vora's and Pawan Gupta's work becomes important because of a different kind of situation we are facing, namely, increasingly, all our utopias have been shut down. We cannot go back to the past; China and India were civilizations where utopias could be located in the future as well as in the past. If you look at utopias in the past, you become retrogressive, backward, nostalgic and romantic. If you try to go to the future, then you are worse because great futurists all come from the West and futurism is professed only in the West. Therefore, there is double jeopardy in the non western world. The result is that in both China and India, where forty percent of the world's population lives, their citizens think that if they have lived a good, virtuous life, they now don't go to heaven; they go to New York. That is our utopia. The right to devise, opt for and experiment with different kinds of future and different concepts of a desirable society is now taboo in our societies. I don't see any sign of it and I think this is a disaster.

I do believe that Gandhi is the ultimate symbol for many for re-envisioning the Indian society; not because he was a negation of the urban industrial vision, but because he tried to keep open the future.That option has been closed, that is the new style of technocratic governance because the old politicians are gone. Politicians are representative figures, however bad. I am supporting representative democracy here and strongly believe that that is also necessary because the process of representation, for good or for bad, gives us a much more diverse system, whereas the technocratic solution is always the same.

Session III

Pathways to Participatory Democracy

Chair: Shri Kamal Kant Jaswal

Shri Kamal Kant Jaswal: In our earlier sessions, we had touched upon the subject of participatory or direct democracy peripherally; we will now talk about it in detail. I would like to clarify that although the title of today's deliberation seems to suggest that this is meant to be an opposition of the representative and the participatory forms of democracy, such is not our intention. In hindsight, we could perhaps have framed the theme of the discussion differently. We do not advocate that participatory democracy should supplant or replace representative democracy. We suggest though that one should draw as much as possible from the experiment of participatory democracy to enrich and deepen representative democracy. We see them as complementary to each other and not in opposition.

First Speaker Ms. Atishi Marlena: My presentation is an introduction to two specific instruments of direct democracy called Initiatives and Referendums, and the experience of their use in various countries. I will try giving you a broa

April June, 2013