Non violence through decentralization
An Exploration of Gandhi’s constitutionalism and the Aundh Experiment
(Please note: This article was originally written as an assignment for my political science course on Indian political theory 3 years ago. I am currently working on another article about how all this relates to cryptocurrencies. Specifically how Nakamoto consensus solving the byzantine general’s problem adresses the game-theoretic and logistical issues of the ideology and state design proposed by Gandhi in this article. Think of this one as prerequisite knowledge to the next article)
“Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages, till at last, the whole becomes one life composed of individuals … The outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its strength from it.”
(Gandhi, 1976, p. 79)
In November 1938, the ruler of the small province of Aundh, Raja Bhavanrao Srinivasrao, abdicated his throne. He announced that all state matters will, from now on, be overseen by the citizens of Aundh themselves. A 'Swaraj Constitution of Aundh' was drafted with the assistance of Mahatma Gandhi and Maurice Frydman, a Polish engineer, and Gandhian. Rothermund claims that the Aundh experiment was one of the earliest adoptions of the idea of ‘'Swaraj' and ‘Sarvodya’, as imagined by Gandhi. It was also the first case of local self-government in any of the princely states of India (Rothermund, 1983). While it is difficult to measure the degree of progress accomplished in the decade that was pursued, the Aundh state continued to flourish till it was ultimately absorbed into the newly formed independent India. According to Pant, the Aundh experiment was fruitful in showing that 'Panchayati Raj' was a feasible dream. (Pant, 1989)
Working of the Constitution
After a meeting between Gandhi and Raja Bhavanrao Srinivasrao, Maurice Frydman was tasked to write a constitution from the grassroots upwards, where the primary unit of administration was a village panchayat. This village panchayat, comprising of five elected representatives, would be elected by the whole village, including women, and would be responsible for all daily and long-term affairs of the village. In Gandhi’s words, “education, protection, development, law, and order should be the responsibility of the village panchayat”(Pant, 1989). By unanimous consensus, the president of the panchayat would be chosen. Presidents from about twenty to thirty of the villages would come together to form a taluka at the regional level; they would, in turn, elect a president of the taluka. Three members from each taluka, including the president, and five experts appointed by the raja would come together to form the central assembly under the guidance of the raja.
Even though at first glance, the administration takes the form of a pyramid structure, strict limitations have been put on the powers of the central assembly and taluka over the decisions of the individual village panchayats. In fact, it was the panchayat that was responsible for the major tasks of the government such as “all matters relating to education, welfare and prosperity of the village, especially justice, water supply, sanitation, construction and maintenance of roads, drains, bunds and bridges, maintenance of public buildings, grazing lands, lighting of the village, control of fairs, bazaar, basic education in cooperation with the government, unemployment relief schemes, maintenance, protection and improvement of cattle stock-and all other activities that would promote the health, safety, education, comfort or the social and economic wellbeing of the villagers.” (Rothermund, 1983, p. 21) The constitution even demands that all disputes within the village must be settled in the village. No lawyer was allowed to appear before the panchayat and justice were to be available in a cheap and speedy manner to each individual.
The structure of the government, by its very nature, is highly decentralized. The constitution of Aundh, much of which had been dictated by Mahatma Gandhi himself, was an experiment in designing a state-based primarily in ahimsa, non-violence. Ahimsa or non-violence remained one of Gandhi's central concerns in his political and philosophical work. It comes as no surprise that Gandhi's theory of state stems from his understanding of ahimsa (Pandey, 1988).
Theory of State
Gandhi's specific type of libertarian theory was unequivocally affected by several Western thinkers. A reading of Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You in 1893 propelled him to rehearse non-resistance to violence; however, he went on to develop his own strategies of civil disobedience through non-violence. In a South African prison in 1907, he found further affirmation of his methodology in Thoreau's essay on Civil Disobedience. From Ruskin, he learned that the good of the individual is contained in the benefit of all and that the life of labor is a life worth living. He was particularly influenced by Ruskin's Unto This Last and translated the title as Sarvodaya, ‘welfare for all’. Finally, it was from Kropotkin that he elaborated his vision of a decentralized society of self-governing town communes. In spite of Western impacts, Gandhi's political theory is profoundly rooted in Indian reasoning (Alter, 2000). His appeal to all classes and groups was based on a metaphysical belief in the cosmic unity of all beings. “Central to his world-view was also the principles of satya (truth), karmayoga (self-realization through disinterested action), varnasramdharma (the Hindu law of right conduct), and above all ahimsa (non-injury or non-violence).” (Naidu, 1988, p. 15)
According to Gandhi, the Western conception of a state, by its very nature, was inconsistent with the values of non-violence. Much like Tolstoy, Gandhi considered the state as a representation of violence in a concentrated and organized form. He dreaded the power of the State, even if it attempts to limit abuse and give welfare since it destroys individuality, which lies at the root of all progress. (Alter, 2000)
Gandhi, in his book Hind Swaraj, provides a scathing critique of the British form of parliamentary democracy. Gandhi calls attention to the fact that members of Parliament are often deceptive and selfish. Every member thinks about his own self-interest. He hates that individuals from Parliament take no genuine enthusiasm for the matter of the Parliament. He contends how 'when greatest questions are debated, its members have been seen to stretch themselves and doze’. (Pandey, 1988, p. 43)
Gandhi then characterizes the parliaments as being "essentially an expensive toy of the country". He adds that the Prime Minister is more worried about his own power rather than the welfare of the state. His efforts are concentrated on archiving his party’s interests. “His care is not always that Parliament shall do right.” (Pandey, 1988, p. 44) PMs are known to have caused parliament to do things only for party points of interest.
Rama Rao provides four rationales behind Gandhi's characterization and suspicion of the state. To begin with, the State, as we understand it today, is an exceptionally centralized structure. Centralization prompts a convergence or concentration of power in the hands of a few and makes them susceptible to corruption. The relationship between rulers and the ruled, due to the centralization, is very impersonal in nature. Second, Gandhi saw, with caution, the consistently developing cohesive power of the state. Political decentralization, he thought, is the main manner by which we can tame the Leviathan. Third, Gandhi keeps up that the state, by its very nature and presence, can't be peaceful. A "nonviolent state" is, for him, a logical inconsistency in wording. Contrary to mainstream political and legal thought which keeps up that "the state can commit no violence, only the individual does” (Rao, 1974, p. 6), Gandhi says that the state is historically the leading perpetrator of violence. The individual has a soul and the state remains a heartless machine, arguing that the state can never be detached from violence to which it owes its very presence. Fourth, it was clear to Gandhi that without a centralized structure like the state, there will be no plausibility of amassing atomic weapons, keeping up armed forces, and battling wars. (Rao, 1974)
Gandhi’s alternative model of the State
In contrast to anarchists, Gandhi aimed to finish the state's capacity of coercion and not the abolition of the state itself. Gandhi said,” That state is perfect and non-violent where the people are governed the least. The nearest approach to purest anarchy would be a democracy based on non-violence". He adds "the ideal society is the state-less democracy - the state of enlightened anarchy where social life has become so perfect as to be self-regulated.” (Alter, 2000)
He propounded the theory of Ramraj. Ramraj implies the nullification of the legitimate violence of the state. The goals of Gandhi were two overlays:
(I) Immediate Swaraj (Independence) for India on western lines of nationalism.
(II) Ultimately, the peaceful decentralized vote-based political structure in regards to village panchayats as well as international relations.
"Under Swaraj, laws and law courts will be the custodians of people's liberty and not the bureaucratic instruments of oppression. Central authority will be vested in the representative body”(Pandey, 1988, p. 44). In place of parliamentary democracy, according to Mishra, Gandhi proposed a form of indirect democracy in which each village might be ruled through its personal traditional five-person council and would decide on a representative to the district council. Each district could opt for a representative to the local council which in turn would select contributors of the countrywide council. The latter could have little to do other than coordinate communications, energy, minerals, and other sources. There could be no need for an army: if the land had been invaded, peace brigades would meet the invader and oppose them non-violently. The police may nonetheless use restraint on wrongdoers, however, they would not be punished and prisons could be was education centers. Disputes might be solved by means of arbitration amongst neighbors rather than the aid of courts (Mishra, 2005). Here, Pandey says that Gandhi aimed to revitalize the old village panchayat system. The focus was on the development of the rural village economy, as it was the basic structural unit of the proposed system. (Pandey, 2008)
This model of state is decentralized in nature, as Gandhi believed that decentralization could curb the coercive nature of the state. Today’s modern state is powerful due to its centralized structure; one of the prerequisites of centralization is the coercive control of the center over the margins. Additionally, centralization makes life very complex making self-government or self-rule nearly impossible.
The decentralization proposed here is not limited to the political but extends to the economy as well. The structure proposed above would prevent a centralized mode of ownership. A Gandhian method of production and distribution would bring the capital generation and means of production back to the village economy. Sharma claims that the Panchayat system would endow greater administrative and financial power to the villagers, which would make middle-men and high leverage trades obsolete. Gandhi warns that the concentration of money in a few hands is dangerous for the healthy functioning of society. (Sharma, 2008)
Pandey says that village networks won't draw such big-time control searchers, as they won't have the option to harvest a lot of benefits from these networks. In a decentralized system, the possibility of keeping boorish power-searchers, whatever their size, under control is another noteworthy benefit. The village can, if appropriately prepared, control ‘goondas’. The historically feudal nature of society is pointed to by Pandey, as one of the major reasons behind the concentration of land and financial resources in the modern and developing world. Therefore, an increase in the political power of rural areas is a necessary precondition for attaining Gandhi’s ‘Swaraj’.
Thus, according to Gandhi, diversity, decentralization, and trusteeship of have-nots by the haves are the ideas that will advance peaceful national and universal structures. Institutionalization, centralization, and the disregard of the East by the West will keep us occupied with savagery and managing war. In Gandhi’s words, “It is not nationalism that is evil, it is the narrowness, selfishness, exclusiveness, which is the bane of modern nations which is evil. Each wants to profit at the expense of and rise on the ruin of the other”
Finally, according to Singh Gandhi believed that no one had the inherent right to rule over another. One could only act as a trustee, and the power being held by a ruler should benefit the whole community. The ruler has the right only to perform his duties. Gandhi claims that unless one performs their duties, they have no right to demand benefits from society. Rights emerge as a consequence of duty rather can a precondition to them. Thus, Gandhi advocates the concept of a moral democracy based on non-violence. His democratic ideal state will be non-violent democratic decentralized political order which will lead to the vision of Gram Swaraj and ultimately leading to the goal of 'Ramraj' i.e. an ideal democratic state.
From state apparatus to governmentality - implications of the decentralized structure
In the book, Gandhi's body: Sex, diet, and the politics of nationalism, Alter describes Foucault's most critical commitments to the investigation of culture as his conceptualization of how power is shown in the public domain in manners that rise above and, in reality, cut contrary to what would be expected of formal politics and regulated political economies. He adds that Foucault understands the hierarchical nature of the power, but extends that the power does not solely exist as a manifestation of the institutions of the state. "I don't claim at all that the State apparatus is unimportant, but it seems to me that ... one of the first things that have to be understood is that power isn't localized in the State apparatus and that nothing in society will be changed if the mechanisms of power that function outside, below and alongside the State apparatus, on a much more minute and every-day level, are not also changed" (Alter, 2000, p. 90). Alter understands that Foucault’s conception of power is manifested in areas that are generally ‘taken for granted. Power shows its true form in the accepted preconditions of society which are considered as “aesthetically pleasing, ethically unambiguous, and practical, efficient, normal, and intrinsically good.” (Alter, 2000, p. 93) According to Foucault, the politics of culture is given greater importance than the culture of politics, because of the formalized and crude structure of modern governments.
The main argument forwarded by the authors is that Gandhi when talking about the idea of the state, is not only forwarding a system of state apparatus but also an underlying cultural ideology to govern. governmentality, as termed by Foucault, or the rationality of government can be seen in the mechanisms of rule. “It is important to note, in this regard, that one of the tactics of governmentality is the production of a philosophy of rule, and that this philosophy emerges as much in response to practical considerations of how to resolve problems as it does out of more lofty principles of justice.” (Alter, 2000, p. 93). The philosophy of rule governing the Aundh constitution as well as the theoretical state forwarded by Gandhi is based on Gandhi’s idea of Sarvodaya.
According to Singh, Sarvodaya is the utilization of the guideline of non-violence in the change of social orders. The attempt is to change the current structure from one that relies on the exploitation of the margins for the sustenance of the center, to a structure that is more equitable, balanced, and inclusive; a structure that relies at its core on the self-rule of the individual.
“That state is best, and beneficial, which is truly self-governing, where civilized people know what their duties to society are, and where every man strives to do his duty diligently and efficiently; in such a society a government is unnecessary. That state is best where there is no government. Dependence on a government is no independence. If there is a government, it should be strictly an advisory body and not a supervisory one.”
Rotehrmund claims that the Aundh experiment, in many ways, stems from the idea that, if the people are given control over the workings of the government, i.e a decrease in alienation from the state, they will, over time, develop a greater sense of self-rule, thereby bringing a sense of morality back to the state. The implementation of the Aundh constitution and the actions of the Raja and Appa Pant (the first Prime Minister of Aundh and the son of the raja), provide strong evidence that the government was working towards the same goal.
Gandhi, in his meeting with the Raja of Aundh, talked Appa Pant to “to awaken this spirit of duty or dharma, and of service to each other, to establish a civilized society in the villages.” (Pant, 1989) He believed that “without this spirit of service there can be no peace or plenty or progress. This spirit of service is not only for another human being but is for the land, the animals, the birds, the rivers. Duty is enjoined on us from the moment we are born.” (Pant, 1989) According to Sharma, Gandhi understood that the system of governance that was inherited from British colonizers had been implemented without any appreciation of grass-roots realities and historical processes, yet the values have percolated into the social system. It is this grass-roots culture, that Gandhi had tasked Appan Pant to inculcate in the state of Aundh.
The Aundh government not only tried to fundamentally change the top-down hierarchy of the monarchy to a system closer to the Gandhian ideal, but it also attempted to bring its citizens closer to the ‘enlightened individual capable of self-rule’. Among the many initiatives taken up by the Audh government, the literacy campaign and financial reforms can be seen as the most prominent step towards the goal. (Pant, 1989)
A plan for financial reforms was established with the initiation of the State Bank of Aundh. As in every single other case, the raja established a panel of the "banking public" and the people's government to guarantee that the bank served the individuals' advantage and that the individuals controlled the bank. As the state regulatory report of 1922 points out, “the State Bank of Aundh has played a popular catalytic role and fulfilled its aim of looking after the general welfare of the agriculturalists and promoting new businesses, industries, and commerce" (Rothermund 1983, p. 22). In all of the different changes initiated under the organization including an intricate modernization of the legal procedure, farming advancement plans, credit cooperatives, and small scale production improvement in the three regions in the state - the raja assumed an expressly paternalistic job, attempting inside and out to satisfy the parental picture that he felt the individuals everywhere had of him. Thusly Bhavanrao felt that it was his ethical duty not just to decentralize power and foundation law-based changes but, in addition to guarantee that the citizens of Aundh were transformed into well-educated, sound, healthy, civic-minded citizens who could adapt to the sudden change in government. It is with this context, that one should look at the constitution of Aundh.
Subject to the principles of non-violence and public morality, this constitution guarantees to every citizen ofAundh, freedom of person, freedom of speech, liberty ofthe press, freedom ofassembly and discussion, freedom ofworship, freedom from all political disabilities arising from birth, sex, caste, religion or colour or material standing, complete equality in the eyes of law, cheap and speedy justice, universal free compulsory basic education, universal and equal suffrage for all literate adults, universal and equal right to work at a minimum living wage. (Rothermund, 1983)
End of the experiment
After 1944, many of the personal concerned with the government of Aundh began to worry about the future of their little state. The Indian freedom struggle was at its peak, and there were growing calls for the incorporation of Aundh into Independent India. Appa pant proposed an explanation of the Aundh experiment through the Deccan states: Village republics were to be established constitutional reform steering away from the princely tradition. Even though the movement took off initially, it was later engulfed by the much larger freedom struggle happening all around it. (Alter, 2000)
In late 1947, a "minor officer" arrived with the document of merger which posited that the kingdom of Aundh was to be annexed to the Republic of India. Appa Pant recalls that "Father signed the document of the merger in front of the Deity, the household image. Three times he loudly repeated Jai Jagadamba!' and then fell silent.” (Pant, 1989, p. 100)
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