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Gandhi’s Concept of Gram

Swaraj (Special Reference to

Panchayati Raj)
Reetika Upadhyay

Gandhi really wanted ‘Swaraj’ of self rule by the people of India who
represent the rural mass. He observed “India’s soul lives in the village.”
He wanted that power structure should be begin from the below.
Gandhi wanted true democracy to function in India. He, therefore,
observed.” True democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting
at the centre. It has to be worked from below by the people of every
village.” He dreamt of village republics in term of Panchayat in the
free India. Gandhi said, “Panchayat Raj represents true democracy
realized. We would regard the humblest and the lowest Indian as
being equally the ruler of India with the tallest in the land.”1 Mahatma
Gandhi advocated Panchayat Raj, a decentralized form of government
where each village is responsible for its own affairs, as the foundation
of India’s political system. The term of such a vision was Gram Swaraj.
Gandhi wanted political power to be distributed among the
villages of India. Gandhi preferred the term ‘Swaraj’ to describe what
he called true democracy. This democracy based upon freedom.
Individual freedom in Gandhi’s view could be maintained only in
autonomous, self-reliant communities that offer opportunities to the
people for fullest participation.2

An Ideal Village
According to Gandhi ideal village will have prefect sanitation,
sufficient light, and streets will be free from dust. Village will have

1. M. K. Gandhi, Village Swaraj, Navjivan trust, Ahmedabad, 1962. p. 71

2. Ramshray Roy, 1984. Self and Society: A Study in Gandhian Thought, New
Delhi, Sage Publications. India Pvt. Ltd., p. 123.
Gandhi’s Concept of Gram Swaraj (Special Reference to Panchayati Raj)  103

house of worship for all, also a common meeting place, a village

common for grazing its cattle, a co-operative dairy, primary, and
secondary schools in which industrial education will be central fact,
and it will have Panchayats for setting disputes. Village will also
produce own grain, vegetable, and fruit, and its own ‘Khadi’.
Gandhi said, “My ideal village will contain intelligent human
beings. They will not live in dirt and darkness as animals. Men and
women will be free and able to hold their own against anyone in the
world. There will be neither plague, nor cholera, nor smallpox, no
one will be idle, no one will wallow in luxury. Everyone will have to
contribute his quota of manual labour….It is possible to envisage
railways, post and telegraph…the like….3
In simpler words, Gandhi’s ideal village should be basically self-
reliant, making provision for all necessities of life- food clothing,
clean water, sanitation, housing, education, and other requirements,
including government and self-defense.

Gram Swaraj
According to Gandhi, “My idea of Gram Swaraj is that it is a complete
republic, independent of its neighbor for its own vital wants and
yet interdependent for many in which dependence is necessity.”4
Gandhi’s Gram Swaraj is man-centered non-exploiting decentralized,
simple village economy providing for full employment to each one
of its citizens on the basis of voluntary co-operation and working for
achieving self-sufficiency in its basis requirements of food, clothing,
and other necessities of life.
Gandhi’s dream was that democracy through peoples participation
could be ensured only by way of Gram Swaraj. He wanted Gram Swaraj
in villages where there will be a village republic and management of
affairs would be done by the people themselves. According to Gandhi,
in Gram Swaraj “Every village should be a democracy in which they
will not depend even on neighbor for major needs.”5 They should be
self sufficient. There no one should be without food and clothing.
3. Bunch of Old Letters, 1958, pp. 506-507(5-10-’45).
4. M. K. Gandhi, Village Swaraj, Navjivan trust, Ahmedabad, 1962. p. 44.
5. Gram Swaraj, 2000.
104  Revisiting Economy of Permanence and Non-Violent Social Order

Everybody should get sufficient work to meet ones necessities. This

ideal can be achieved only when the means of production to meet the
primary needs of life are on the control of the people.6

Gram Swaraj and Panchayati Raj

Gandhi strongly advocated for decentralization of economic and
political power through the organization of Village Panchayats.
Gandhi wanted true democracy in India. According to Gandhi, “True
democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre.
It has to be worked from below by the people of every village.7” In
simpler words, the fundamental concept of Gram Swaraj is that every
village should be its own republic. Gandhi proposed to work from
bottom upwards. He said Independence must begin at the bottom.
Thus every village will be a Republic or Panchayat having full powers.
Gandhi’s dream for Gram Swaraj has been translated into realty
with the introduction of three-tier Panchayati Raj System to ensure
people participation in the democratic decentralization at grass-root
level. At Nagur in Rajasthan was the first set up of Panchayati Raj on
October 2, 1959, begin by the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal
Nehru. After 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (1992) Panchayats
have got constitutional status as the third tier of the Indian Political
System including village Panchayat, block Panchayat and district
The main objective of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) is
to provide good governance to people by bringing government at
their doorsteps and ensuring rural people participation in Indian
political system. Panchayati Raj is a strong platform for political
participation and no doubt, this has created the political awareness of
the people of all sections including the marginalized and the socially
excluded groups. PRIs have insured women participation in local
self- government. Now they are improving themselves financially
and social condition through PRIs. They are taking own decision and
playing important role to increase effectiveness of PRIs in providing
democratic society.

6. Joshi, Narain 2002.

7. M. K. Gandhi, Village Swaraj, Navjivan Trust, Ahmedabad, 1962. p. 9.
Gandhi’s Concept of Gram Swaraj (Special Reference to Panchayati Raj)  105

But in practice, in most of states PRIs have not self reliance and
self sufficient which is essential for a powerful organization. PRIs are
step by step losing its relevance in most of the cases due to lack of
adequate knowledge about the functioning of the Gram Panchayats
and also due to the limitation of different rural development
programmes. These bodies are gradually going to be the simple
place of stress and blaming each other for every unattended aspect of
developments. One of the major barriers on the way of the Panchayati
Raj Institutions is insufficient source of its own revenue. So they are
not contributing any share by own side in service delivering to local
people. They become dependent on the fund which is delivered by
central and state government for various project and programmes. As
such PRIs do not play any role in planning activity and their role has
been limited to an executive agency.
Article 243G provides adequate power, authority, and
responsibilities to PRIs regarding empowerment for the participation
of plans for economic development and social justice. The
implementation of schemes for economic development and social
justice as may be entrusted to them including those in relation to
the matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule.8 According to this article
there is an adequate scope of expression of the aspirations of rural
people in the National Plan in a realistic way but in practice they are
always busy with the schematic fund and could not take generously
own decision about the local level planning.
The constitution authorised Gram Sabha, a body consisting
of electors of a Panchayat, to monitor and take necessary action
regarding any work for which a Gram Panchayat is accountable for
its action and inaction. Gram Sabha is the forum at village level for
planning and also as a venue of social audit. But in practice this body
is losing its significance in most of cases. In present time these bodies
are politicized and assumed as an initial platform for politics that is
the reason representatives are more influenced from political parties
resulting sluggish speed of reforms at village level.
The elected PRIs representatives are lacking adequate capacity
to carry on their responsibilities. The newly elected members with

106  Revisiting Economy of Permanence and Non-Violent Social Order

limited educational background in most of the cases in spite of

trained in the institutionally arranged program are not in a position
to manage with the complex institutional mechanism fixed with ever
changing guidelines of different rural development program. As a
result they are progressively going to be more dependent on the paid
employees and do not play significant role in decision making and
development delivery. Another most important factor hampering the
success of Panchayati Raj system in most of state is corruption among
the officials and non- officials.
Gandhian Gram Swaraj is not the renewal of old village Panchayats
but the fresh formation of independent village units of Swaraj in the
context of the present- day world. Gandhi believed that independence
must begin at the bottom. Thus every village will be a Republic or
Panchayat having full powers. It follows therefore, that every village
has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs even to the
extent of defending itself against the whole world. It will be trained
and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any
onslaught from without. Thus ultimately it is the individual who is
the unit.

Some suggestions for improving effectiveness of PRIs are as following:
• Active participation of rural people is necessary for effective
PRIs. participation of all rural house-holds, mainly women
and other marginalized groups in PRIs meetings and their
involvement in discussion leading to decision making process,
• Create awareness about PRIs functioning among the members of
PRIs, and elected representative,
• By organize awareness curriculum should develop better
understandings of local self-governance and democratic value in
Panchayats representatives and rural people,
• Caste, class and gender divide while planning and implementing
the scheme should be remove,
• Panchayats should increase own source of revenue by improving
levy and collection of taxes and non- tax source. They should
Gandhi’s Concept of Gram Swaraj (Special Reference to Panchayati Raj)  107

modify the rate of taxes and fees and venture new source of
• Information technology can strengthen social audit, reduce
incidences leakages and frauds. Better communication system
viz. satellites, video conferences etc. should be available,
• The Gram Sabha should be well capacitated for active rural
people participation,
• Role of political parties and bureaucrats should be minimized,
• Party based elections should be discouraged.

Mahatma Gandhi advocated for a village based political structure
fostered by a stateless open society for the establishment of Gram
Swaraj. He strongly pleaded for decentralization of economic and
political power through the organization of village Panchayats
and believed in concept of ideal village but the present scenario of
Panchayati Raj in most of states leads us to conclude that Gandhian
vision of Gram Swaraj remains an incomplete agenda. Lack of Political
willingness of the state government, inefficiency of the leaders,
absence of cordial relationship among the officials and non-officials,
corruption among them, political unawareness of the local people are
other factor that hinder the proper development of this institution.
Gram Swaraj should be implemented in the spirit in which Gandhi
has conceived it but at present our villages are suffering from social
discords, casteism and narrowness. Let us remember the word of
Pandit Nehru in respect of village systems, “The more a person or a
group keeps to himself or itself, the more danger there is of him or it
becoming self-centered and selfish and narrow-minded.”9

9. M. K. Gandhi, Village Swaraj, Navjivan trust, Ahmedabad, 1962. p. 14.

108  Revisiting Economy of Permanence and Non-Violent Social Order

1. Gandhi, M.K. (1962). Village Swaraj. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing
2. Austin, Granville.(2000,October). The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a
Nation.OUP. 1966. p. 29.
3. Joshi, R.P., & Narain, G.S. (2002). Panchayati Raj in India: Emerging Trends
Across The States. New Delhi: Rawat Publications. pp. 11-19.
4. The Constitution  (Seventy Third Amendment) Act, 1992, The Gazette of
India, Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs, New Delhi, 1993.
5. Hazra, Anupam.(2010, October). Panchayati Raj System: Strengthening Rurl
Decentralization and Democracy. Kurukshetra. New Delhi:Ministry of Rural
Development, pp. 19-22.
6. Chakraborty, Utpal.(2010, October). From Gram Swaraz to Gram Sabha-
Five Decade in Search of an Institution. Kurukshetra. New Delhi:Ministry of
Rural Development, pp. 8-12.
7. Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.(1991, November).
Panchayati Raj Institutions in India, New Delhi.
8. Prabhu .R.K & U.R Rao.(2007). The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi. Ahmedabad:
Navajivan Publishing House. p. 239.
9. Markandan, N.(1996). Grass-root Planning by the people in New Panchqyati
Raj System: States and Proqvects (ed), G. Palanithurai, New Delhi: Kanishka
Publications, pp. 45-46.
10. Desai, Vasant.(1990). Panchayati Raj: Power to the People, Delhi: Himalaya
Publishing House.
11. Gunrmurthy, U.(1987). Panchayati Raj and the Weaker Sections. New Delhi:
Ashish Publishing House.
12. Singh Ranbir.(2009, October). Unfinished Agenda of Gandhis Gram Swaraj,
in Mainstream. Vol-XLVII. No-43.