Gandhi’s Constitution for a post-industrial civilization

By Sujit SinhaonJun. 06, 2023in Perspectives

Summary: In this short essay I argue that our current Constitution is basically an instrument to make a strong National Government which will nurture, protect, and promote Industrial civilization (IC). Since Gandhi was opposed to IC, this constitution written by Shriman Narayan Agarwal in 1945-46 in consultation with Gandhi, was trying to do exactly the opposite

1. What about Industrial Civilization (IC)? 

113 years ago, in November 1909, Gandhiji wrote in the sixth chapter titled ‘Civilization’ of his pamphlet ‘Hind Swaraj’, “This (modern) civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed.” Thirty six years later, on 5 October 1945, Gandhi wrote to Nehru: “I must not fear that the world today is going the wrong way. It may be that India too will go that way and like the proverbial moth burn itself eventually in the flame round which it dances more and more furiously.” Recently on 7 November 2022 in the opening speech of the COP 27 meeting held in Egypt, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said “We are on a highway to hell with our foot still on the accelerator. We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing.” 

The days of the boisterous dance of Industrial Civilization/IC is over. 

2. Gandhi’s Swaraj 

About a century back Gandhi began some experiments and writings on alternatives to IC which he called “Swaraj”. The following passage is one way of outlining Swaraj today in line with Gandhiji’s spirit. 

Most people will live in villages and small towns. Their livelihood will be cooperative. Farming livestock-fishing-collection from the forest, handicrafts-services etc. will be mostly for the local economy. And there will be ideal rural socialism, where all jobs will have equal income and dignity. A greater degree of local self-sufficiency would greatly reduce the exchange of goods over long distances. A major task of science will be to develop the appropriate technologies that will suit such lifestyles and environments. Efforts to reduce all forms of social discrimination and hegemony (gender, religion, caste, language…) will continue. In a political system compatible with such an economy and technology-, villages and towns would be largely self-governing , most decisions will be made through participatory democracy. The power and role of higher level state or central government will be greatly reduced. Everyone will have a sense of unity with nature and environment. Adhering to Gandhiji’s famous quote ‘Earth is sufficient for man’s needs, but not for greed’, the motto of life should be the use of moderation, recycling of everything , and rejuvenating the ailing earth . Only then “’truth and love” will be possible between all people. 

In 1915 Gandhiji’s self-selected guru Gopalkrishna Gokhale and in 1945 his self-selected successor Nehru rejected this ‘Swaraj’. In the 20th century, the speed and size of the express train of IC continued to accelerate. And to most people, especially the educated middle classes, and all the political parties – left or right, workers, farmers, industrialists, scientists, professors – Gandhiji’s Swaraj was an absurd idea. So the sooner these could be forgotten the better. And that is exactly what happened and is happening today. 

3. Nation and Constitution 

Since the 19th century, a new type of societal engine emerged to run and manage IC and it was nurtured and then spread all over the world. This engine is the modern national government. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the people of India were eager to build such an engine. Their wish was that after becoming independent from the British, this train of their industrial civilization would run quickly and catch up with the front runners of IC . (Gandhiji wrote Hind Swaraj in 1909 to oppose this idea of IC and its engine the Modern National Government). Along with freedom, they wanted the engine to run better which required rules and procedures, meaning a ‘constitution’. In the three years from 1946 to 1949, India’s constitution was drafted. With that constitution, the train of industrialization started to run faster and faster and easily crushed the bullock cart of Swaraj. Now 192 nations all over the world are similarly buzzing like moths towards their quest with fire. 

Many of us do not know that Gandhian sociologist Shriman Narayan Agarwal framed a constitution for our country in 1945-46. He said that it is not exactly a constitution, but only an outline. Obviously this Gandhi’s constitution was in line with the idea of Swaraj and we will show that in some fundamental respects it was exactly opposite to the Constitution of India. 

If we think that this industrial civilization of 200-250 years will no longer work, and we want an alternative to it very soon, then it would be good to look at this Gandhi’s constitution.

4. What will “collapse of IC” mean ? 

Firstly, the use of fossil fuels, petroleum and coal, will reduce drastically; as a consequence this gigantic worldwide production and transportation system will decrease a lot. Which means that the worldwide incredible long distance marketing system will shrink enormously. Large farms for chemical farming and meat production will not be possible. The days of the private car will be over. Big companies – private or public – will no longer survive. This will be the end of big Nation States and big government. IC jobs in private or govt. sector and IC related livelihoods will decline rapidly. For most of the readers of this writing, their job-business-incomes -pension-bank savings will be jeopardized. The national currencies will become useless. About 500 major cities of the world will start to diminish. Most of the present schools and colleges will be close down; once IC is finished there will be no need for education and certificates geared to speed up and nurture IC. 

5. Constitution of India (Industrial Constitution) vs. Gandhi’s Constitution 

Now we shall compare the Constitution of India, which came into force on 26 January 1950, with Gandhi’s Constitution written in 1945-46. Here we will not go into great detail. It is enough to understand the basic difference between the Constitution of India or the Industrial Constitution and  Gandhi’s Constitution or the Constitution of Swaraj, and that they are opposite in many respects. 

5.1 Structure of the Constitution 

The Constitution of India has 22 parts, 448 articles, and 12 schedules. So far 113 amendments have been made. Initially there were 395 articles and 8 schedules. 

Gandhi’s constitution has 2 parts, 22 Chapters, and 290 articles. 

5.2 Part 1 of Gandhi’s Constitution 

It should be noted here that Part 1 is half of this booklet and it is a kind of preface or introduction to the actual Constitution in Part 2. Part 1 consists of four chapters and 98 articles. I will summarise some of the important things in this Part 1

∙ The author says that we will not simply copy the constitutions of Western countries; neither will we succumb to narrow nationalism. We must learn from the experience of the Western countries. 

∙ There have been various types of governance in the last two and a half thousand years. There is a brief summary of what philosophers and political science scholars of different times, and of different countries have said for and against democracy. 

∙ In the 20th century, most of the democracies were in poor condition – capitalist democracies, soviet country democracy, fascism-dictatorships, hyper-centralization tendencies, rule by small groups in the name of democracy, rule by organized gangsters, etc. 

∙ In contrast to the above the author mentions “Anarchism” as a system where power cannot be held by anyone or anywhere. All are equal in terms of wealth and power. ∙ The various steps in making the Constitution of India since 1919 are mentioned.  ∙ The author mentions that in 1939, the king of a small state called Aundh (now part of Pune district of Maharashtra) tried to run the state by framing a constitution for Swaraj with the advice of Gandhiji. 

∙ Regarding democratic system in ancient India the author mentions Ramayana, Mahabharata, Manusmriti, Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Sukracharya’s Nitisara, Rigveda, Jataka stories on Buddhist Sanghas 

∙ Similarly author mentions Kropotkin’s writings about rural democracy in Europe before industrial civilization. 

∙ The systems existing in Japan and China are also mentioned 

∙ In this context, two scholars ( brothers ) have been mentioned . These two books are ‘Local Government in Ancient India’ by Radhakumud Mukhopadhyay published in 1919 and ‘Democracies of the East’ by Radhakamal Mukhopadhyay published in 1923. 

∙ The dangers of extreme individualism and extreme collectivism have been discussed at length here. The author says that one of the chief functions of a good constitution is to find a happy mean between these two extremes. 

∙ There is special mention of various corruptions and other drawbacks in the process of electing the representative of the Legislative Assembly of the country, a representative of millions of people. And then some other methods of selecting representatives are also mentioned.

∙ The author says that in IC, art and beauty, painting, poetry, music, dance, drama, literature, etc. have become monetized. Whereas in rural life these were associated with work, life cycle and nature. How to awaken that feeling – that is the question. 

∙ At the end there is Gandhiji’s thoughts on ideal rural civilization : simple and happy life, physical labour for all, economic equality, decentralization, mechanical simplicity and technological decentralization. This last item is embellished by quotations of Henry Ford, Lewis Mumford, and Einstein. 

∙ It is emphasized that this is not a return to the old days. There will be no social discrimination and intolerance. 

∙ Finally such economic and technological decentralization will require political decentralization ie self-governing villages. The author calls this ‘Decentralized Village Communism’. It is the dream of a new civilization where truth and love prevail. That is why this constitution. 

5.3 Governance Structure 

Constitution of India: First comes the Central Government in Part 5 with 100 articles. Next are the State Governments in Part 6 with 85 articles. Then Union Territories in Part 8 with 8 articles. Then Centre-State Relations in Part 11 with 19 articles. 

Note that almost half of the constitution, 212 out of 450 articles, deals with the central and state governments and union territories. Most of it is about the legislative assemblies and the judiciary. It is worth remembering that the creation of village and town local governments was discussed in the Constituent Assembly and was rejected. It was placed in Part 4 – the ‘Directive Principles’. Here the logic of IC is clear. Village and city governments are not only unnecessary, but may cause hindrance for those who want to speed up the train of IC. Big factories, massive mines, huge power plants, gigantic dams, massive highways, railways, airplanes, ships, IITs – what can be the role of village governments in all this?

It was in 1992-93 after almost 42 years that Panchayats (16 Articles in Part 9) and Nagarpalikas (18 Articles in Part 9A) were included in the Constitution through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments! 

Gandhi’s Constitution: We have already seen that the whole of Part 1 is only a preface. The real  constitution is Part II with Chapters 5-22, and 192 articles. 

First (Chapter 6) : Panchayat in every village and its composition and functions. 25 articles. Then (Chapter 7): Block and Zilla Panchayat and Nagarpalika. 19 articles. 

Then (Chapter 8): State Govt. 20 articles. 

Finally (Chapter 9): Central Government. 21 articles 

Note the following in Gandhi’s Constitution 

Village comes first, central government last. 

Looking at the number of articles, the four levels are of almost equal importance. This is natural in the constitution of Swaraj. And equally naturally it is the exact opposite of the constitution of industrial civilization. 

∙ Here the Nyayalay/Judiciary falls under a separate Chapter No. 10. Since most of the people will live in villages, livelihoods will be village centric, so village will be the main jurisdiction. Next in importance is the District Court. After that the State (High Court) and finally the Central Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will only hear cases referred by the High Court or inter-state disputes. Judges at each level will be appointed by the panchayats of that level. The judges’ term is till their death. 

∙ The author mentions that many of the laws of the British era are bad, many are very complex, and most of them have very complicated language. Most of these will be amended and repealed and all laws will be rewritten in plain language. 

∙ So Gandhi’s constitution is reversing the logic of industrial civilization in the judicial system as well. 

5.4 Constitution and Elections 

Constitution of India: Part 15 with 7 articles. A citizen has to vote for representatives at various levels of government. Three times for the 3 tier Panchayats or once in Nagarpalika, then State, and finally for the centre. Democracy has become vote-vote-vote along with its myriad forms of corruption and violence. And this is the main topic of discussion and obsession of the common people. People’s political participation has now become a pointless game in this mad circus. Tenure of representatives – 5 years. 

Gandhi’s Constitution: in Chapter 11 with 9 Articles. Common citizens will vote only once to elect their Gram Panchayat or Nagarpalika representatives! In the remaining four levels, there will be indirect elections. The village level panchayat representatives will elect block level representatives from among themselves. Similarly, district, state and central panchayat representatives will be elected through their lower level representatives and from among themselves! Each level will elect someone from among themselves as president. There is no place for godlike leaders. 

Any campaign for elections will invalidate the representative. And there are no reservations. There will be only one legislature at the state or central level. It means the abolition of separate rajya sabha and any such sabha in the States. 

Tenure of representatives: 3 years, and provision for their removal during this 3 year term! 

Essentially Gandhi’s Constitution is an attempt to nip in the bud this monstrous national level electoral democracy all around the world. 

5.5 Size and Structure of different levels 

Constitution of India: Today’s village panchayat consist of multiple villages. In some states many gram panchayats have a population of more than 20,000. Generally there are 100 villages in a block. The size of a district and the number of blocks within it is very random. At the time of independence there were 10 states. There were many violent movements to arrive at today’s 28 states. 

In the areas that do not want to be a part of India, by keeping the national army there, it is a violent and uncivilized environment with brutal torture and routine violation of fundamental rights. There is no sign of truth and love.

Gandhi’s Constitution: Panchayat means only ONE village . Next level is a block with 20-25 villages and approximately 20,000 people. This is much smaller than the current blocks. A district will have 10-15 blocks and is also much smaller than our current districts. 

It is mentioned that the 10 existing states ( in 1945-46) have no scientific basis. They will be broken up into smaller states based on language. 

More interestingly the Constitution says that only the states that voluntarily want to belong to India will be the union of states called India. No one will be forced. 

Even after joining, those who want to leave, should be allowed to leave in peace!! 

5.6. Functions of Different Levels

Gandhi’s Constitution: The functions of Gram Panchayat are many – agriculture, cottage industries, trade, primary education, culture, adult education, library, sports, dance and music, sanitation, general medicine, village protection, justice, taxation and accounting. 

A task at block, district and state level is to audit and coordinate the work of the level immediately below it.  

All three levels will have cooperative banks and produce marketing systems for their respective areas. 

Each level will have emergency forces. 

Block level will have medium hospitals and maternity clinics ; District level will have major hospitals; and specialty hospitals at the state level. 

District level will handle Medium Irrigation Systems; and state level Major Irrigation System Road outside village is the responsibility of the block. 

The state level will handle transport and communication, large industries, relief, and development of natural resources. 

Central level functions include (a) some coordination of planning among states (b) Currency – Custom – Foreign Trade (c) Army – Police (same) (d) inter-state transport and communication ( e ) few large industries of state demand. 

Note that centre level work is very less. Also state level. This is exactly the opposite of the Constitution of India. 

The upper level can advise lower levels on their assigned works, but cannot impose their own opinion.

5.7. Education 

Constitution of India: There was no separate section for education in the constitution. Recognizing free and compulsory schooling as a fundamental right for 6-14 year olds was discussed in the Constituent Assembly but rejected. Just like the issue of local government, this issue was also placed within the Directive Principles of the Constitution. 

After 52 years, in 2002 – the 86th Amendment recognized free and compulsory schooling for 6-14 year olds as a fundamental right (Article 21A) in the Constitution! And the actual Right to Education was enacted in Parliament only in 2009!! 

Gandhi’s Constitution: There is a separate chapter 18 for education and it has 8 articles. Primary education (up to age 14) is the responsibility of village panchayats; High School of the Block Panchayat; College of the District Panchayat; University of the State Govt. Only a few special educational institutions are run by the Centre. 

There is talk of the ‘Nai Talim’ method to progress towards Swaraj; use of mother tongue in school education; and college degree will be granted only after one year of social service work. 

5.8. Ministers and Bureaucrats: 

Constitution of India: Elected legislature members shall be ministers at all levels. The responsibilities of central and state ministers are stated in the constitution. The legislature sits for approximately 120 days in a year. 

Permanent senior bureaucrats of central and state governments have many responsibilities. Therefore only on this subject there are 18 articles in Part 14 of the Constitution. 

The IC express train is huge, its engines are very complex. There is a need for extensive coordination at national and international levels. As a result state and central ministers and bureaucrats have enormous responsibilities and powers. That is why they occupy this space in the Constitution. Without this the pace at which industrial civilization has progressed would not have been possible.

Gandhi’s Constitution: None of the elected members of the Legislatures shall be Ministers. It is the task of the elected Panchayat members to select persons who are leading figures in any subject and make them Ministers. They will be experts in their respective subject, unlike ICS/IAS. The number of ministers will be between 5-10. 

Elected members of the Central and State Legislatures shall sit for short periods three times a year. Freedom fighters will be given preference in government jobs. 

This also is a reflection of how Swaraj is the opposite of IC . Local self-sufficiency and self governance means that there is little need for extensive coordination at state and central levels. Therefore, the number and the responsibilities of ministers and bureaucrats at the centre and state levels are very few. 

5.9. Fundamental Rights and Duties 

Constitution of India: Article 24 of Part 3 deals with various fundamental rights. Fundamental Duties were added much later in 1976 by 42nd Amendment (Part 4A) 

Gandhi’s Constitution: Chapter 5 contains Fundamental Rights along with Fundamental Duties. Fundamental rights include education up to 14 years

And there is an additional basic right of minimum income from jobs or wages necessary for a healthy life!! 

Remember that this Gandhi’s Constitution was ready by end of 1946 before the Constituent Assembly started sitting. 

6. Country with how many people? 

Modern State and industrial civilization complement each other. The question is what will happen now ? Below is some data to make readers reflect. 

Today there are 193 countries in the world. Total population is 8 billion. 

There are 20 countries with less than 3 lakh population; they are like our blocks. 80 countries have less than 5 million people; they are like our districts.

There are only 19 large countries with a population of more than 8 crores. China, India have about 150 crores, America is the third with a population of 33 crores which is far behind us . Then Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Egypt, Germany, Congo, Iran, Turkey. 

Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal would have been added to this list of super big countries, if they were separate countries. 

The countries which have disintegrated in the last 50 years: Pakistan (2 countries), Soviet Russia (12 countries), Yugoslavia (8 countries), Czechoslovakia (2 countries), Ethiopia (2 countries). 

7. Conclusion

Shriman Narayan Agarwal wrote Gandhi’s constitution in 1945-46, before the Constituent Assembly  started sitting to make the constitution of India. 

He called it a ‘non-violent’ constitution. He also said that this is possible only through decentralization. He made it clear that the three types of decentralization – political, economic, technological – are inextricably linked. Hence the search for new ‘economy of friendship’, ‘eco friendly appropriate technologies’ was essential. The basis of this constitution is a self-sufficient (mostly) and self-governing village community. 

If we take this spirit a little further, then we have to say that here democracy will be face to face, everyone will participate, not just representatives. For that everyone has to acquire decision-making capacity. Everyone has to get used to cooperation. 

It is not at all a return to the village of old. There were and there are many terrible injustices in villages. 

This dream village has to be built. That’s the job. 

To restate: a good society means limited production , limited consumption, economic equality, no one with power, pollution free environment, unity with nature, vibrant dance-song-arts, diverse cultures, a happy life full of friendship and love. 

We can use this Gandhi’s Constitution for inspiration and as a first rough draft to work upon and build a Constitution for today’s Swaraj.


Gandhian Constitution for Free India (Shriman Narayan Agarwal, 1946) shriman-narayan-agarwal-1946/

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Vivek Negi July 7, 2023 at 12:30 pm

Some basic comments to share:

1. I personally agree with a lot of idealistic arguments made and align with the thinking in general. But in the current circumstances that we find ourselves, as a global community inextricably linked by economic-commercial channels and new faster modes of communication and technological-scientific advancements, there must remain spaces and alternate means for constructive and ingenuous human-made developments that have taken place as a result of exploitative modes like capital accumulation allowing medical science R&D possible. Keeping the resultant institutions and organization, but finding alternatives to the exploitative means of capital generation can be looked into. Surely, mechanisms for trusteeship helps here.

2. In continuation to the above, in the current economically interdependent global economy, where relatively materially and technologically developed nations reap proportionally much larger benefits from the resources and labor of their less developed counterparts, developed countries hold economic power – but all nations are in a perpetual state of competition for this economic power. Even if any country wants to get out, it means an economic loss in the contemporary neo-liberal sense, with political ramifications. So, I suppose with my limited understanding, such decentralization and the end of destructive technology use would need a global consensus or global movement. I could not think how a single or a small group of nations would come to a mutual agreement for self-imposed reduction or giving up the competition for economic power – that makes them politically vulnerable, especially externally. It surely needs a global rise of consciousness and a change of attitude from economic growth to human development within ecological limits.

Certainly, the world cannot wait until more intense and physical signs of social fiber disruption or environmental destruction are widely visible and start impacting lives and social order.

3. Another important and fundamental thing is the containment of certain desires and fulling of aspirations within human nature. I believe that is why Gandhiji focuses on spiritual development to overcome the excess of any kind and animal instincts within human nature. Similarly human nature for constant exploration and the idea of ‘progress’ needs a transformation from the excessive material world to the inner spiritual world, at least to some extent that tranforms wandering for excesses into internal wanderings – it would require various philosophies and worldviews and beliefs we have in our world for spiritual growth, including indigenous ones. An important caveat here would require one to not get trapped in religious dogmatism of any kind – which fails the very purpose of human upliftment as a family of plural values and beliefs and worldviews; since it has the tendency for divisions based on different identities narrowly limited to religions – at times forgetting whose ultimate purpose if spiritual development and not religious dogmatism.

Henceforth, this would also mean finding a more creative, fulfilling and sustainable means for various professions and labour into it as means of joy. Here I agree with alternative and human-scale technology and working hand-to-hand with human ingenuity of various kinds running the economic engine and fulfilling innate aspirations and opportunity to enhance capabilities at the same time.

It seems like a much longer project for our civilization but surely can be the basis of the constitution that we are imagining.

4. Since there will always be fear of outsiders, whether knowledge systems, culture, race, etc. – the world need to be able to come together in various possible ways and see itself as one unity, living with diversity. A re-occurring physical or virtual level interaction is the most important medium to build trust, respect and a feeling of fraternity. So apart from village fairs and festivals, we would be needing such a platform for global festivals and participation of global communities in various spheres for common interests. This would also need some activities in rural life for engagement not only with neighbours but also worldwide community – here digital and information technology could be put to immense creative use.

Thanks for reading!