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ARTICLES > POLITICS > Gandhian Political Decentralization - A contribution to democratic development


Gandhian Political Decentralization – A Contribution to Democratic Development

Dr. S. Indira, Associate Professor &
M. Balaji, Research Scholar, Dept. of Philosophy

Pondicherry University

Gandhi is universally known as the most renowned theorist and also the practitioner of truth, love, non-violence, tolerance, freedom and peace. He was very much concerned with the nature, poor, deprived, and the downtrodden and he has intended to alter the evil political, social and economic systems of the people. Mahatma Gandhi struggled to inculcate the sense of self-respect, self-confidence and self-reliance to promote the power of decision-making among the people. He said that, every individual should acquire the capacity to resist the abuse of power. He said that although he did not want to be reborn, yet if he had to be, "I should be born an untouchable so that I may… endeavor to free myself and them from that miserable condition."1 Removal of untouchability, Khadhi and Hindu-Muslim unity were to form the essential ingredients of Indian swaraj (independence). Already in 1920 Gandhi had positively rejected "any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality."2 He abhorred blind following; his morality consisted "not in following the beaten track but in finding the true path for ourselves and in fearlessly following it."3 He saw exploitation as the essence of violence and so he insisted on the sharing not only of political power and social respect, but also of economic opportunity; in a free India the poor must enjoy the same power as the rich, who must understand that their desires above and beyond the bare necessities were to be accommodated only after the essential needs of the poor were satisfied; a violent and bloody revolution would be a certainty one day unless there was a voluntary abdication - sharing for the common good - of riches and the power that riches gave.4 Gandhi has suggested that decentralized democratic political system is the only means to resolve the worldly problems.

Political Decentralization:

Political decentralization aims to give citizens or their elected representatives more power in public decision-making. It is often associated with the pluralistic politics and representative Government, but it can also support democratization by giving citizens, or their representatives, more influence in the formulation and implementation of policies. Advocates of political decentralization assume that decisions made with greater participation will be better informed and more relevant to diverse interests in society than those made only by national political authorities. The concept implies that the selection of representatives from local electoral jurisdictions allows citizens to know better their political representatives and allows elected officials to know better the needs and desires of their constituents. Political decentralization often requires constitutional or statutory reforms, the development of pluralistic political parties, the strengthening of legislatures, creation of local political units, and the encouragement of effective public interest groups. The rationale of decentralized governance is also derived from the drawback of centralized decision making at the macro governmental levels. Being away from the basic spatial units such as hamlets and villages and with power concentrated at the top of the space in a pyramidic power base the state and the union government power structures draw representatives from well endowed sub-regions and sections of the community.

Forms of Government:

There are so many forms of government practicing around the world. Due to their socio-economic and political situation particular country uphold the certain form of government as suitable to them. The forms of governments are somehow differentiated among them. These are Anarchy, Capitalist, Communist, Dictatorship, Federal government, Monarchy, Republic, Revolutionary government, Totalitarian state, Transitional, etc. Among these forms of governments, democracy as a form of government in which the supreme power is retained by the people, but which is usually exercised indirectly through a system of representation and delegated authority periodically renewed. We can divide democracy as various types; main types are Direct Democracy, Indirect Democracy (Representative democracy) and Grassroots democracy. Grassroots democracy is a type of democracy emphasizing trust in small decentralized units at the municipal government level, possibly using urban secession to establish the formal legal authority to make decisions made at this local level binding.


Democracy is essentially a form of government, based upon the fundamental assumption of equality of all individuals and of their equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. The literal meaning of the term democracy is rule of the people or the power of the people. It is in fact very comprehensive concept. It is a political ideology to one, a form of government to the other and a way of life to the third. Democracy is a confusing concept, and a debatable doctrine. There is however no system of government more popular and prevalent, and yet the more controversial. “In its totality, democracy therefore implies that any democratic structure entrusted with the task of development and administration is expected to be not only democratically constituted according to the principle of election but should also reflect people’s free will and function according to the element of democracy both in their constitution and in their day-to-day functioning.”[i]

Thus the idea behind democracy is that it involves a large number of people in the decision-making process. It bases political authority on the will of the individuals who by a process of co- operation make decision that are binding on the whole community. Democracy has very deep roots in Indian political history. perhaps it is India where democracy started functioning first. We can rely this fact through the existence of olden institutions of India like Samiti Sabha, and Viditha in the Vedic period. Afterward, the existence of many republics during the time of Gautama Buddha, Shakyamuni’s and Thiruvalluvar advocacy in favor of democracy, his stress upon development of democratic institutions and notable suggestions made by him in this regard strengthens India’s assert to it.

Values of Democracy

As a form of government democracy has very deep and people welfare oriented values of whole society. These are as follows,

Life: A person's right to life can't be violated except if your life or the lives of others is threatened.

Liberty: This includes personal freedom, political freedom, and economic freedom. This is the freedom for people to gather in groups. They have their own beliefs, ideas and opinions. People also have the right to express their opinions in public.

-Personal Freedom - the right to think and act without government control.

-Political Freedom - the right to participate in political process.

-Economic Freedom - the right to buy, sell and trade private property and the right to employment without the government interfering.

The Pursuit of Happiness: As long as you don't interfere with others you have the right to seek happiness in your own way.

Common Good: Working together for the welfare of the community or the benefit of all.

Justice: All people should be treated fairly in both the benefits and the obligations of society. No individual or group should be favored over another person or group.

Equality: Everyone has the right to Political, Legal, Social and Economic Equality. Everyone has the right to the same treatment regardless of race, sex, religion, heritage, or economic status.

Diversity: The differences in culture, dress, language, heritage and religion are not just tolerated, but celebrated as a  strength.

Truth: They should expect and demand that the government not lie to them and the government should disclose information to the people. The government and its people should not lie.

Popular Sovereignty: The power of the government comes from the people. The people are the ultimate authority over the government.

Patriotism: The people or citizens show a love and devotion for their country and the values. They can show this by words or by actions.

Democratic Development through Decentralization  

According to Gandhi decentralization of political power is the basic requirement for the success of true democracy. For him a decentralized democracy based on non-violence must consist of groups settled in small communities or villages in which voluntary co-operation is the condition of dignified and peaceful existence. For, it is the only way to realize the value of democracy from the grassroots level as it will enable the people to participate in taking and implementing decisions without a rigid and strict control of any higher authority. Moreover, it is the only alternative to reduce the interference of the state in day-to-day affairs of the people. Gandhi never believed in half-way house democracy, or disinterest decentralization. He does not advocate decentralization only because of its economic and political advantages. To Gandhi decentralization envisions and upholds the cultural or spiritual ideal of simple living and high thinking. He does not hanker after raising merely the standard of living; he wants to raise the standard of life. Simple living and high thinking is the ideal the very foundation and essence of Gandhian approach to decentralization. Gandhi is opposed to all kinds of concentration of power; he says centralization is a menace and danger to democracy. Concentration of power in his view distorts all democratic values. So he thought that “possession of power makes men blind and deaf; they can not see things which are under their very nose, and can not hear things which invade their ears.”[ii] Thus, his linking for decentralization originates from his urge for the shrinking of the state and the deepening of the roots of democracy. He therefore asserted that “If India is to evolve along non-violent lines; it will have to decentralize many things. Centralization cannot be sustained and defended without adequate force”[iii] In other words centralization as a system is inconsistent with non-violent structure of society. Moreover, he was convinced that moral progress was possible only in a decentralized set-up. So he wrote, “The end to be achieved is human happiness combined with full mental and moral development. I use the adjective moral as synonymous with spiritual. This end can be achieved under decentralization.”[iv] Here the perfect democracy based on the individual freedom. The individual will be the architect of his government. The law of non-violence rules him and his government. He and his village are able to defy the might of a world. In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending circles.

By the Gandhian conception of democratic decentralization, the higher units of the government get their strength and power from the lower units. As a result, the panjayat has to be the basic unit of democratic decentralization and the higher units will have to tender sound advice, give expert guidance and information, and co-ordinate the activities of the village panchayats with a view to increasing the efficiency and skill of administration and public service. These village panchayats have some important functions. The functions of the village panchayats would be very wide and comprehensive covering almost all aspects of social, economic and political life of the village community. Education, Recreation, Protection, Agriculture, Industries, Trade and Commerce, Sanitation and Medical Relief, Justice, Finance and Taxation these are the functions of the village panchayat. Therefore, Gandhi wants village panchayats to perform a variety of functions covering practically all aspects of the village welfare.

Ahimsa, Satyagraha, Swaraj, Swadeshi, Sarvodaya all are the instrument to achieve decentralized political structure. Individual freedom and empowerment ensures in this decentralized democracy. In this society there is no place to hierarchy and any other variations. Gandhian conception politics of democratic decentralization is very much important and relevant to the present day situation of the political as well as social field for welfare of the world. Comparatively the concept of democracy is the best to governance, especially Gandhian model of decentralized democracy is very suitable to create equality and paternity. So it is called democracy of with in democracy. The system of Panchayatiraj has enormously helped to implement successful democracy. This is giving great opportunity to villagers to participate decision making and governance process. Gandhi’s concept of political decentralization not only helped to people in the field of politics and also helped to social and economic. This is the method of all round development of the people. This is the Gandhian political ideal as based on ethical and spiritual grounds raising real democratic values. In the state of Gandhian enlightened anarchy, there is no place for injustice, immoral actions, any kind of variations based on caste or religion, possessions or non-possessions, sex etc. Equality and paternity only remaining there and people are enjoying their life peacefully.


1. Harijan,1948, P.48

2. YoungIndia,21/vii/1920; 1922ed., p.173

3. Gandhi,EthicalReligion(Madras1930), p.36

4. Gandhi, Constructive Programme (Ahmedabad 1944), p. 18

5. S. Bhatnagar, “Panjayati Raj in kangra District”, New Delhi, Orient Longman. 1974, p. 182

6. collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XX, p. 505

7. Harijan, 30-12- 1939, Vol, VII, p.391

8. Ibid