Independence begins at the bottom… A society must be built in which every village has to be self sustained and capable of managing its own affairs… It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without… This does not exclude dependence on and willing help from neighbours or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces… In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending circles. Growth 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. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it.
(Source: Murthy, Srinivas.Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy Letters. Long Beach Publications: Long Beach, 1987, pp 189)
The book is written in such a manner that the ideas intermingle with each other, and it is not possible to strictly delineate chapters on the basis of particular ideas. However, the three prominent ideas emerging from the book are the need for change, the test cases, and the proposal for change. I would say 80% of the book is devoted to the first idea of the need for change bolstered by many baked and unbaked examples of inefficiencies and of corruption in the existing system. In fact, the two set of examples of inefficiencies and of corruption are inseparable, and it would not be wrong to suggest that the majority of problems of inefficiencies highlighted in the book are direct or indirect manifestations of the corruption at various levels of the system. The need for change has been discussed to such elaboration that there is a diffused feeling of cynicism in the mind of the reader while reading the book. Thus, the book may appeal to the cynics more.
Let me discuss the proposals before discussing the test cases as it would soon appear that the test cases are not scalable and would not help much in supporting the proposals. I must admit that, even on the second reading, I was unable to read the suggestions section, and this time it was clearly because of lack of interest, and, therefore, I have taken the help of the above-quoted vision of M. K. Gandhi. The concept of Swaraj discussed in the book “Swaraj”, which, in the present context, can also be termed as the manifesto of the AAP, is partially derived from the above vision. The underlying idea of Swaraj, as propagated in the book, is the empowerment of the local leadership through Gram Sabhas in the rural areas and RWAs in the cities. The empowerment proposed is to the extent that the local leadership representing the interest of the local populace will have power to direct and punish the bureaucrats, formulate local level policies, control/streamline the flow of information, suggest new laws, control the flow of funds, etc. In other words, the local level unit would be a self-sustaining unit as envisioned by M. K. Gandhi, but it wouldn’t be an anarchic/sovereign unit with powers to defend. There are certain positives in the above idea of self-sustaining local units, but the idea would fail in absence of certain prerequisites, most important amongst them being the devoted and sincere local leadership and the rational public. In another of my post Mohalla Sabhas | Shared@Ankur Mutreja, I have highlighted the problems that the idea of Mohalla Sabhas may face, and, in the book, I have not found answers to my objections. The prospective objections have been answered under the caption “BASELESS DOUBTS AND ASSUMPTIONS”, which per se speaks a lot about the attitude of the author towards his opponents/critics/adversaries. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to discuss the redressal of objections in the book. With respect to the objection of atrocities on backward classes in local self-sustaining units, an unpalatable proposition has been forwarded that there are a few amongst the high-caste people who are the sympathizers of backward classes, and the backward classes will get a voice through them in the new Gram Sabhas; a proposition has been made, but it is not explained how this will actually fructify; according to me, the voice of sympathizers should get curbed even further in the new paradigm. Further, it has been stated that if the backward classes are denied right to take part in the Gram Sabha proceedings, they can approach the Lokpal. How does it matter when they are in minority? With respect to the illegal dictats of the Khaps and the accentuation of the malpractices in society in the new Gram Sabhas, it has been stated that it would be against the Law. Of course, it will be against law, but the real point here is that the Gram Sabhas will increase these problems for such malpractices prosper amongst uneducated people, and, if given power, the same uneducated people will increase the malpractices further. With respect to the fear that the conflict between the contenders for power will increase violence and pandemonium, the answer offered is that the same is not supported by statistics across the world, and, thereafter, the example of Hivre Bazaar, Ahmednagar, Maharastra, has been restated, but no supporting global statistics has been presented. I am strongly doubting the existence of any such global statistics. However, there are many other objections like below-par and arbitrary decisions, infringement of privacy, collusion between local police and local leaders, regularization of nuisance, attack on the individuality of creative people, etc, to which no answer has been forwarded.
A few test cases from the historical India, the present day India, and also abroad have been discussed. The foreign cases of the US, Switzerland and Brazil are not scalable in India because of different social, economic and demographic structures, and, therefore, they didn’t interest me much. One historical anecdote from Vaishali where a girl being forced to become the Nagar Vadhu (prostitute) was able to dislodge the King from his palace as a compensation for her sacrifice is completely amiss and irrelevant. The point has been made that, in historical times, the common people were able to command the reigning king to vacate his palace for the Nagar Vadhu, thus showing the power of the people. Ironically, the real point here is that a clever woman who tried escaping from the clutches of the powerful vultures of the society by proposing an audacious demand couldn’t succeed because even her audacious demand was accepted by the pervert vultures. Out of the four Indian cases; i.e. Ahmednagar, Maharashtra; Kerala; M. P. and Sonia Vihar, Delhi; the only example worth discussing is that of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. The Kerala and Delhi examples being negative examples fall more in the category of need for change than than test cases, which need has been discussed elaborately even otherwise. The M.P. example of a female Anganwadi worker is obnoxious: A point has been tried to be made that when an erring officer faces examination from the mighty public, he or she admits all his crimes, and there is no need of any investigation thereafter, and the erring official can then be punished by the public in accordance with the reformist principles of penology. But, the real point here is that the erring official was deprived of her fundamental right against self-incrimination.
So, let me only discuss the Maharashtra example in detail with a caveat that just one isolated case in a vast country like India is not adequate for a wide-scale implementation of the concept. It is a story of a small village Hivare Bazaar, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. This was a poor village with skewed economic & social structure with emphasis on alcohol production and consumption. A group of young volunteers took it upon themselves to bring in revolution through pubic participation in participatory democracy. Luckily, they were able to appropriate responsible positions through their chosen leader, who was incidentally sincere, intelligent, creative, educated, patient, adamant and clever. His persistence attempt on a single point agenda to bring in inclusive growth through perpetual public participation eventually bore fruit: The people started taking interest in their own development, and gradually the dramatic changes took place. One salient feature of the development was self-sustenance within the confines of the village boundaries without any outside help. This example certainly proves the workability of the Gandhian vision of Swaraj in salutary conditions. This example is certainly scalable in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra given the conditions of leadership are satisfied; it may also be scalable in large parts of Maharastra and nearby regions having similar conditions; however, it is certainly not scalable in urban centres like Delhi: The people in Delhi are far more cynical; the education is inclined more towards corruption; and the opportunities for violence are far larger.
My immediate concern is the forceful introduction of Swaraj in Delhi not only without any scalable test cases but also without any wide-scale discussion. Furthermore, the change is being initiated through legislation followed by systemic changes over a year. This is more like supply-side economics, where a product is first manufactured sans demand, and then forcefully supplied to unwilling customers, and then, to ensure sales, the substitutes are killed. This kind of enforcement in the socio-political space is completely unacceptable; this may end up taking away whatever good the AAP has done till now.
The book is available at the following link http://iacmumbai.org/sadmin/images/system_documents/category_files/13/Swaraj%20-%20By%20Arvind%20Kejriwal%20-%20English.pdf
Comment dt. 13.02.2014
The book also mentions some experiments of public participation in Trilokpuri and Sundernagari areas of East Delhi. These are not test cases as the experiments have not reached maturity yet, and thus there are no end-results. Moreover, the experiments are more in the nature of the Bhagidari Scheme of the previous Congress Government as the Mohalla Sabhas therein didn’t have any powers as proposed under the concept of Swaraj in the book and/or by M. K. Gandhi.
©2014 Ankur Mutreja