Mahatma Gandhi and the AAP: Towards Post-Political-Colonialism through Decentralisation and Swaraj

1. Introduction

Robert Dahl affirms that, at a minimum, “democratic theory is concerned with processes by which ordinary citizens exert a relatively high degree of control over leaders”.1 Even though this is a mainstream basic definition of representative democracy — and is the canon of “democracy” in the common sense — an authoritative definition may be unattainable as “there is no democratic theory — there are only democratic theories”.2 Assuming that any group of people is never homogeneous but rather changes with the diversity of the people that it includes and depending on their life experience, democracy — as a form allowing these people to share life experiences — is not an objective to be achieved, rather a permanent transition. It refers to the way a group of people organises themselves in different historical contexts. It implies that the democratic debate should not be limited to a set of procedures, rules and institutions that define how decision-making should take place; even less, it can be limited to the definition by a part of the group as those people who will take over the democratic debate and the ways to control them. A good part of democratic debate concentrates on forms that bring people’s will to the centre of the democratic agenda. However, the western mainstream concept of democracy — as it emerged in the last two centuries — is characterised by a limitation of people’s will in democracy. Santos and Avritzer^[4] highlight that the debate in the west has been dominated by two forms of hegemony that reduce the role of the people and reinforce the role of the elite. These hegemonies have given rise to political-colonialism, that is, a deviation from the idea of democracy and the acquisition of a formal model of democracy whereby in securing a set of democratic conditions, the most substantial democratic questions are neglected. Chantal Mouffe defines “democratic deficit” as the dominant liberal tendency to neglect popular sovereignty and the identification of democracy with the rule of law and the protection of human rights.3 The path to finding ways to overcome this deficit shall include the critical identification of the deficit itself and the proposal of alternatives able to alleviate or eliminate it.

This article is divided into three parts: The first part explores the way in which political elitism has dominated the democratic debate and has established a political-colonial regime in which the elite subdues wider society. In the second part, a Gandhian democratic perspectiveis explored as a non-western example of a more substantiated democratic approach, and, finally, a focus will be placed on the political proposal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as an attempted empirical alternative to elitist politics. The aim is to investigate if, and how, Gandhi and the AAP provide contributions to the democratisation of the democratic debate and in overcoming political colonialism.

2. Political Elitism

The historical review of the development of democracy made by Dino Costantini4 proposes a dualism between two groups of political theorists: the first advocating the supremacy of a dominant group of people (bourgeoisie) over the majority of the people, based on the persuasion that the people (or masses) cannot govern themselves. In this work, we refer to this as the “elitist” approach. Thinkers of the second group defend instead the necessity of keeping the people as the core of the democratic exercise. This is what we call here the “self-rule” approach. The dualism between the elitist and self-rule approach was elucidated in the “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’by Marx”5 who advocated the capacity of self-determination of the people and the supremacy of civil society over law and the state. In Hegel6 the state is a superior entity with respect to the people over whom it governs. For Hegel the state encompasses and regulates civil society; for Marx civil society has the power to define its own constitution, which is crystallised through the State institutions. In this way Marx’s perspective subverts the predominance of the state in favour of the self-determination of the people. Costantini suggests that the philosophical dualism between state and civil society serves as a draft for the line between elitist and self-ruleviews. The former defends the pre-ordered dominance of the social and political elite, thereby advocating the protection of the institutional order of the state; the latter considers civil society as the legitimate holder of the right to define democratic institutions and processes that are manifested in forms that are always amendable by the people. The debate on the development of democracy in the last three centuries shows how the confrontation between these two positions has emerged with a remarkable dominance of the elitist view that, until date, defines the theoretical and empirical forms of democracy as we know them in the liberal representative model. This paragraph explores the historical trajectory of political elitism emerging from the research of Costantini.

Constant7 and Tocqueville8 approach the division of the elite from the people by expressing a concrete fear that the masses could come to power and mix-up political leadership through ignorance. Marx9 highlighted the polarisation of the democratic concept emerging from the conservative perspective and the fact that the elite did not represent the interests of the whole society but rather defended their own. In such a view, the American and French revolutions have produced a formal democratisation yet not in a substantive sense. Formal democracy is a system of institutionswhich have democratic legitimacy but limited participation In the democratic life of the people; substantive democracy appears instead as a search to make people’s will effective in democratic decision-making.

Weber10 enriches the formal model with an analysis of the risk that bureaucratic rationalisation would de-humanise democracy and make it a purely administrative rather than political affair. In his view, modern democracy has to limit the excess of bureaucratisation via an active politics devoted to the interest of the nations by political parties in the parliament and under the guidance of a charismatic leader. The leader — whose charisma is measured by the support and level of social obedience among the citizenry — has the visionary role of keeping the nation and its political leadership active and focused on national prosperity. The parliament is subdue by the leaderand provides the mediating space for different social views — as transmitted by political partiesthat filter social diversity and conflicting democratic aspirations — in debates with a focus on the interest of the nation. Political equality is achieved via universal suffrage which serves also the purpose of directing social instincts towards the interest of the nation.11 While the elitism of Constant and Tocquevillewas informed by the fear of self-rule by the masses, Weber structures a more Hegelian elitist concept based on the nation as superior and unitary interest.

The elitist approach to democracy arose in its philosophical formulation in the first half of 20th century; however, it was not exhausted and indeed further developed after this phase. An elitist approach to democracy was developed further by other political thinkers such as Schumpeter and Kelsen as we will see later.

The classical stream of thoughts known as political elitism was first elaborated through the theoretical perspective elaborated by Mosca, Pareto and Michels. Mosca12 stresses the political fact of the inescapable presence of an elite and that society is divided between the ruler and the ruled. Legitimation of the elite comes from external sources (God gave the mandate to the King); in democracy, it shall come from the people, thus the need for elections. In the most advanced democracies, elites are chosen through a meritocratic process, nevertheless, they remain oligarchic. He further argues that agood government defends the freedom of the citizens and social order, building on a shared moral base. Pareto13 highlights that all historical societies were dominated by elites. However, different elites have adopted different forms to incorporate the best of the governed among the governors. Pareto does not believe in political evolutionism for which to be supported elites would necessarily bring about social amelioration, but rather the history of elites shows a wave motion, in so far that elites can have a positive or negative influence on society. The modern parliament is the seat of elites’ power and democratic theory serves to justify the power of a specific elite. For Michels14 the masses are formless and politically passive; they need to be organised. Political parties take up this role, their organisation is pyramidal under the direction of a leader. Elections are the tribute to formal equality and are the expression and annihilation of people’s sovereignty. Professional political leaderships based on the oratory capacity and political power are strengthened by experience on the one hand, and on the other hand, experience produces an estrangement from ideals and an increase of power yearning.

For Santos and Avritzer,15 Kelsen’s proceduralism16 reduces democratic legitimacy to democratic legality and aims at articulating moral relativism with forms of dispute resolution and conflict management. Political parties act as instruments to group and make effective citizen’s political perspectives. Santos and Avritzer also suggest that Schumpeter and Bobbio developed Kelsen’s proceduralism into democratic elitism. Schumpeter,17 as Constant18 and Mill19 had anticipated, argued that self-governance by the people is applicable only to small-scale democracy and not to modern nation-states,20 therefore, democracy implies the selection of the political leadership via electoral voting. Schumpeter maintains that the political elite determine the political discourseas the common good is not unequivocally definable and equality is not possible due to irreconcilable inequalities. Real democracy is, for Schumpeter, a system to achieve political decisions through an electoral system to elect those who will take decisions. The people elect their representatives and are otherwise politically passive leaving the political work to the leaders. Moreover, the government is not compel to represent the people, but should rather govern and respect the will of the majority of the voters. The electoral law should favour the creation of a majority and limit political fragmentation that could curtail the governability. Bobbio confirms that democracy is “characterized by a set of rules (primary or basic) which establish who is authorised to take collective decisions and which procedures are to be applied”.21 Lipset22 listed the conditions of liberal democracy which include the western-centrist approach, an elitist view, institutions based on a parliamentary system, two-party system and electoral validation. For Lipset, democracy is also sustained by individualism and must be based on capitalism, with a weak state and a strong market.

3. Gandhi’s thinking on Democratised Democracy

Gandhi dreamt of an alternative model of democracy to the elitist one and he devoted his entire life to the visionary ambition of making India the champion of it. Independence from colonial rule was for him only one part of full independence that in orderto be achieved required a democratic development of the country under a vision of self-rule.

Gandhi based his democratic vision on a moral conception, the objective of which was the attainment of self-rule through the emancipation of the individual and of the community. In this view, a sense of duty forms the base of the polity out of which rights are to be derived. He developed his idea with a particular focus on the substantive dimension of democracy as opposed to the dominant formalistic regime. This idea supported the development of grass-root level political participation. His ideal of democracy for India would comprise a decentralised, scalar — formally essentialist — network of 700,000 village republics as self-sufficient, self-organised, self-governing, co-operative, non-violent and moral communities aimed at the search for truth. “Gandhi was deeply uneasy with the modern state. It was abstracted from society, centralized, bureaucratic, obsessed with homogeneity, and suffused with the spirit of violence. […] For Gandhi a society based on Swaraj, a «true democracy» as he called it, was the only morally acceptable alternative to the modern state”.23 Gandhi was not a systematic writer. One year before being assassinated, he stated, “[w]hat I have done will endure, not what I have said or written” (H 1-5-1947).24 Nonetheless, he was a prolific writer; the 100 volumes of his collected works (in English) testify this. He affirmed: “writing is a by-product; I write to propagate my ideas. Journalism is not my profession” (H 18-8-1946). His writing was strictly connected with his social activism, “using the print media for the dissemination of his ideas was part of a clear strategy”.25 Gandhi wrote and edited a number of journals that substantially characterise his social and political thoughts, including Indian Opinion (In South Africa), Young India and Harijan.

The style of his written contributions manifest Gandhi’s indivisible aim to reconnect theory and practice. In order to understand his thinking, the reader must be aware of the historical value of his texts as tools of social emancipation. He did not intend to write a comprehensive theory inherent to the spheres of knowledge and life experience in which he worked during his life. Neither was he preoccupied with coherence in his writing, he held the “search after truth” as foremost important (H 29-4-1933).26 A reading of Gandhi in light of his social activism must begin with his seminal work Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule27 which was initially published in Gujarati in the columns of Indian Opinion (11-18 December 1909). In this book, Gandhi criticises the model of western civilisation which is based on achievement of material comfort and development and he instead put forward the Indian alternative stating that “the Gujarati equivalent for civilization means «good conduct»”, which includes the accomplishment of duty and mastery over mind and passion necessary in a moral life.28 In Hind Swaraj Gandhi opposes but does not coherently negate the value of western civilisation29 and he “toned down his statements in this respect in later years”.30 His own sources included western and non western authors and texts; including the Bible, Upanishads and Gita, religious personalities such as Buddha, Socrates, Jesus and the prophet of Islam, and modern thinkers, political and spiritual leaders such as Raychandbhai (or Shrimad Rajchandra), Gopal Krishna Gokhale, William Mackintire Salter, Henry Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and John Ruskin.

Gandhi did not attempt a bold negation the value of western civilisation nor to sanction an unconditional incompatibility of western modernity and India. Gandhi was aiming at a heuristic attempt to contradict the supposed inferiority of the Indian culture assigned by the British through the colonial dichotomy modern-civilised vs. retrograde-uncivilised by centering the civilisational discourse in the concept of Swaraj or Self-Rule.31 He structures his arguments to reinforce the value of Indian civilisation and one of the merits of the book was to encourage many people (Indians and foreigners) to reconsider the concept of civilisation and in giving the Indian people a self-consciousness.32 Hind Swaraj is the text in which Gandhi polarises the dichotomy of civilisations with the geo-political objective of independence for India and the political intention of developing a self-rule, substantial democracy in the country.

Hind Swaraj is a milestone for the understanding of Gandhi’s political thinking in contrast with the western elitist model. It outlines an alternative concept of democracy, progress and development incorporating the political, economic, social and spiritual dimensions through which he seeks to “reconcile individual freedom with community concerns”.33 He affirms that “[n]o society can possibly be built on a denial of individual freedom” (H 1-2-1942), but that, at the same time, “[w]illing submission to social restrain for the sake of the well-being of the whole society enriches both the individual and the society of which one is member” (H 27-5-1939). The path of Swaraj includes a sophisticated social, political and economic organisation in which the individual would become his or her own master in the service of society and living in harmony in the community, with nature and God. “[The] Gandhian conception of individual is fundamentally different from that of liberalism and it has a different implication for democracy because in liberalism democracy is the aggregative system of self-interested individuals”,34 while with Gandhi, emancipated and self-less individuals give rise to the democratic cosmovision.

The democratic and anti-colonial discourse merge in Gandhi’s work and this joint approach is not limited to the historical colonialism suffered under the British. Rather, for Gandhi, it extends to political-colonialism: “independence should be political, economic and moral […]” (H 5-5-1946). The British ruler is not to be substituted by Indian counterparts. Otherwise it would amount to “English rule without the Englishman, […] the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger; that is to say […] make India English”.35 Independent India would thus remain politically colonial with a westernised elite.36 The Gandhian democratic concept is not strictly political and includes all spheres of life in encapsulating the spiritual, beyond physical, dimension.

The neutralisation of western influence primarily affects “true democracy” in which “every man and woman is thought to think for himself or herself” (H 14-7-1946). The emancipation of the individual and his or her subsequent availability for making social contributions is of central importance. A new educational model must therefore achieve a training through which practical work is valued and frees the subject from any source of servitude (domination from outside and artificial needs) and which educates for “real life” (H 10-3-1946 and H 2-2-1947). In “naitalim” — Gandhi’s educational scheme — practical education combined with literary and spiritual education should result in the education of the person as an independent and freely cooperative member of the democratic polity. The final stage is “university education [whose aim] should be to turn out true servants of the people who will live and die for the country’s freedom” (H 25-8-1946). The political and civic value of education invokes a wide conception of freedom that embraces freedom from political-colonialism: “[a] gitation is only for those who have completed their studies. While studying, the only occupation of students must be to increase their knowledge… All education in a country has got to be demonstrably in promotion of the progress of the country in which it is given” (H 7-9-1947). Civil disobedience and Satyagraha (resistance based on the insistence on the force of Truth) are the non-violent resorts that include non-cooperation as well as openness to negotiation. Political education serves the purpose of overcoming people’s “voluntary servitude”37 — meaning the persuasion that the victim is powerless against the oppressor and that cooperation with the oppressor is the only option — and the emancipation of the oppressed by the self-inflicted slavery by reactionary political actions.38

Politics for Gandhi means participation, social support and struggle against injustice.39 Ideal democracy for Gandhi emerges in a non-violent society. Ahimsa (non-violence) stands as its the main characteristic and the guarantee for individual freedom (H 27-5-1939). His philosophy, which is reflected in his democratic conception, proposes a non-anthropocentric cosmovision in which human beings contribute to the universe through social service and a respect of nature as a living being. Translated in the public sphere, this implies that harming the other means harming oneself and enriching the other means enriching oneself; love is activism and social service.40 Gandhi’s political philosophy is an attempt to reconcile the individual with the political community and the whole humanity,41 along with the cosmic dimension including nature and the divine.

For Gandhi, a state-centric political culture is dehumanising.42 For Weber and Hegel the dualism of state-civil society was constitutional, for Gandhi this is not so. Gandhi developed a concept of civil society amongst the Indian population in South Africa by 1914. When he went back to India, before taking a position or giving an opinion on any political issue, he travelled the whole country in order to understand the needs of the people and to work with them as promised to his political mentor Gopal Krishna Gokhale. The difference between the philosophical position of Hegel and Weber — with regards to state and civil society — from the philanthropic spirit of Gandhi of being one with his people is evident in the names of “Mahatma” (“great soul”), assigned to him by Rabindranath Tagore and “Father of the Nation” given by Subhas Chandra Bose. Being “one with the people” he moved from a position of supporting the British to leading obstruction against the British Empire. The Indian nation he wanted to build was not close to what in Europe was known as a nation-state — which he considered a machine without responsibility,43 it was rather an intercultural community based on the richness of diversity. The focus on diversity makes it impossible, in the eye of Gandhi, to consider democracy from the perspective of a centralised state. Indeed, Gandhi advocates a minimal state and a pervasive democratic decentralisation based on the trans-scale, starting from the village dimension. The democratic community is thus not dependent on central decision-making, in contrast it is auto-centred and advocates the virtuous growth of individuals at the heart of the community. As with Weber, the result would limit bureaucratisation; however, with Gandhi, this takes place from the bottom-up — rather than a top-down — perspective.

Gandhi maintains that “political power is not an end but one of the means of enabling to better their condition in every department of life. Political power means capacity to regulate national life through national representatives” (YI 2-7-1931). For Gandhi democratic power is to be shared by all and elected representatives are civil servants constantly in communication and dialogue with the people (YI 1-12-1927). Gandhi traces a line between democracy and “mobocracy”, which takes place when passive masses are activated without a personal learned engagement of the individual. Mobocracy is the opposite of his self-reflexive mobilisation of the people (YI 8-9-1920). Civil disobedience is the instrument to educate and motivate masses; not for mobs, but for democracy against the political-colonial rule of the elite.

Led by the political-colonial elite, western democracy is in this sense not true democracy, but denotes instead a political-colonial regime, “[a]t best it is merely a cloak to hide the Nazi and the Fascist tendencies of imperialism” (H 18-5-1940). In one of his last contributions, Gandhi wished for the dissolution of congress in favour of the creation of the LokSevakSangh (Association for the Service of the People) that would establish the system of decentralised “Panchayats” (the local democratic unit). Leaders directly or indirectly elected by the people would “serve” both the country and their local areas and deriving their power from the service. (H 15-2-1948).

Gandhi is aware that this was the “India of his dreams” and he did not hesitate to comment also on matters related with the conditions of the existing democratic system forged by the western model. He highlighted the importance of public opinion and the self-consciousness of the people in order to extend popular sovereignty and reduce the power of the representatives. Public opinion is the tool to reduce the abuses of democracy.44 Gandhi was also a strenuous defender of minority rights against the dictatorship of the democratic majority. The rule of the majority would not overrule the freedom of individual judgment as it contains the moral value upon which the democratic framework is built: “[d]emocracy is not a state in which people act like sheep. Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded” (YI 3-2-1922). Economic equality is the basis for democratic equality, it provides for equality of wages and includes the “abolishing of the eternal conflict between capital and labour”.45 From Gandhi’s perspective, the role of political parties may stand in contradiction with the aim of democracy because it favours the creation of powerful political elites as opposed to the duty-oriented civil service that should characterise political activism. He is in favour of universal suffrage and believes that at the lowest level of the democratic pyramid (which is the most relevant to him) political parties are not necessary at all.46 Gandhi was a religious person but he was convinced that the state should be completely secular, meaning that there should be no interference of the state in the personal religious decisions of each individual. He believed that the religious path is a personal one and is fundamental in the search for truth. All religions should be respected and protected in the same way.47 Following Gandhi, several activists have engaged in experiences to bring his theory into practice. The Aam Aadmi Party (the party of the common person) is an example of one such attempt.

4. From Gandhians to the AAP

Gandhi refused to take over any official political position in independent India. Likewise, he refused to take part in the constituent assembly and entrusted — for that purpose — personalities with a stronger sympathy for the western liberal model of democracy: Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Abdul Kalam Azad. The resulting constitution provided for a “modern” parliamentary democracy modelled on the western example. The Indian constitution incorporated several Gandhian perspectives including fundamental rights, opposition to untouchability, protection of minorities and universal suffrage from a Gandhian political philosophy.48 Nevertheless, the constitution that Gandhi would have wished for is very different.

Many Gandhians followed Gandhi’s example and decided to dedicate their lives to social work rather than filling institutional roles, the most famous among them were Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982) and Jayprakash Narayan (known as JP, 1902-1979). Even currently, activists are operating with a Gandhian approach, however different that approach may be among them. Aruna Roy and Anna Hazare are two renown Gandhians among others that have in the last years have succeeded in focusing the country’s attention to striking social concerns and in creating pressure for the delivery of important legislation for the sake of transparency (Right to Information — RTI) and anti-corruption (Jan Lokpal Bill). They live and work at the local and community level for social change. Their work has attracted many volunteers active in long and difficult campaigns that have the merit to mobilise the attention of the whole country. The anti-corruption movement produced two main effects: “First, it was the apparent failure of the Indian representative democracy to satisfy people’s expectations. In other words, the legitimacy of the elected representatives was questioned. Consequently, citizen’s participation in the decision-making emerged as an important issue in the context of Indian democracy. Secondly, [the] Gandhian method of political action captured the attention of commons who could get a glimpse of what a non-violent movement was like”.49 Roy initiated the Right to Information Campaign that lead to the enactment of the Right To Information Act (RTI) in 2005 and Hazare was also very active, particularly in Maharashtra state.

Arvind Kejriwal cooperated with both Aruna Roy and Anna Hazare before deciding to establish the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP — “Party of the Common Person”) on 26 November 2012. Roy and Hazare have expressed the will to remain neutral with respect to the party system and, as Gandhi, carry on with social service outside of the representative democratic arena. Kejriwal has decided instead to work to change the political system from within and therefore he created the party together with other activists including Prashant Bushan and Yogendra Yadav. “Hazare and Kejriwal agreed on 19 September 2012 that their political ideologies regarding their role in politics were diametrically opposite”.50 As any other political party AAP collects criticism from civil society and social activists but he has also contributed to raising new hope for a real change in Indian politics.51

The AAP ideology is elucidated in the book Swaraj written by Kejriwal52 prior to the foundation of the party. Kejriwal critiques Indian political-colonialism and reasserts the force and value of Swaraj quoting examples of virtuous local experiments of village democracy inspired by the Gandhian model; such as Hazare’s model village of Ralegan Siddhi. Hiware Bazar is a village about fourty kilometres away from Hazare’s village and experienced a similar development under the “visionary leadership” of Prapat Rao Pawar53 who asserts that the democratic model in his village is a Gandhian participatory and bottom-up approach, while the mainstream politicians disregard this example because they are interested only in the electoral result. Kejriwal suggests forms in implementing a decentralised system in the current Indian constitutional framework emphasising the granting of economic, social and political independence to the local community.54 The novelty of Kejriwal’s Swaraj is its application to the city level, where the Gram Sabha (village assembly) is replaced by the Mohalla Sabha (neighbourhood assembly).

The growth of the AAP has been rapid and, after a little more than a year since its foundation, it has participated in the first state elections in Delhi in December 2013, winning 28 out of 70 seats, thus achieving an unexpected result which excited the political atmosphere of the country.55 The victory was also followed by criticism of a lack of political experience and a clear political programme.56 Since no party had an absolute majority in the State, the AAP — the second largest party after the Bharatiya Janata Party with 32 seats — had to evaluate the possibility of forming a coalition government. After a short initial phase following the elections, the AAP — in line with its criticism of the political system and party corruption — rejected the proposal to form a coalition with any other party and new elections were requested.57 However, subsequent social and media pressure convinced AAP leaders to consult the people in deciding the steps ahead.58 The people of Delhi were given the possibility to express their opinion of whether the AAP should form a coalition government and the majority was in favour of such decision.

The AAP government in Delhi thus far has been innovative, provocative and — to some extents — contradictory. It was criticised for political immaturity and a lack of political vision. This criticism has, however, ascended the party to the protagonist role in Indian politics; media coverage was very high and other political parties were forced to emulate AAP’s anti-corruption terminology. The AAP governed for only 49 days in Delhi state. The decision to resign was taken by the AAP leadership when other elected parties of the parliament voted against the scheduling of discussions for the anti-corruption bill in Delhi on 14 February 2014.59 Resignation from Dehli’s government may have sounded like a political strategy of the AAP aimed at winning consensus for the national elections two month later. However, the party lost momentum as well as media coverage. People disliked the lack of concreteness of the party and only after just a few months Kejriwal admitted that it had been a mistake to resign. The AAP performed way below expectations in the national elections winning only four seats out of the 545 available in the national parliament.

5. Conclusion

This article analyses the terms under which we can refer to Political-Colonialism — starting from an elitist reading of liberal democracy — and seeks to qualify how Gandhi and the neo-Gandhian AAP both propose perspectives in thinking about a more substantially democratic form of democracy centred on the notion of self-rule by the people. Gandhi’s ideal democracy provides not simply for another formal democratic structure, but for an alternative concept of social organisation. Both Gandhi and the AAP faced criticism and social constraints in implementing their democratic proposals. This, however, does not invalidate the possibility of thinking and considering their importance in the anti-political-colonial struggle. They contribute in raising new questions that help to problematise the way in which a different understanding of democracy can be conceived. Their contribution to the democratic debate is therefore solid both in their direct implication and in the thinking space that they create. Some of the questions that they leave open relate to the role of the leadership in amplifying and making more effective a decentralised democratic approach. Gandhi was a great leader and the most famous Gandhian activists are also recognised as such. Gupta60 defines them as an “elite of calling”. Does it imply that even self-rule democracy depends on the work of an elite, even if a selfless one? It is indeed impossible to think about a party of the “common person” without imagining its leader, likewise, it would be difficult to mention the RTI and anti-corruption movements without Roy, Hazare and the other social workers that freely and silently cooperate with them.

“[T]o Gandhi democracy is not merely a form of government. It is also a gospel of the social system. It is a principle of self-reliance, equality, freedom, emancipation of all”.61 The comparison between liberal democracy and the Gandhian Ideal is audacious because the former is an actual system while the latter is an abstract model that is experimented only in the small scale. However, this moral and theoretical dimension represents the reason why the Gandhian model is so interesting as an alternative to liberal democracy and not simply a variant within it. It does not aim at mitigating political-colonialism, but at identifying a model of “high intensity democracy” which includes complementarity between participatory and representative democracy.62 It proposes an alternative to the political-colonial system. Looking at the AAP’s experience as a possible partial form of implanting Gandhi’s ideal, the complexity of such complementarity becomes evident: what is the possible inter-play of self-rule democratic experiments with the elitist representative system? Santos underlines that the last three decades marked a change in the relationship between the elite and the people with the state being increasingly contested and new social actors are taking part in sovereignty, including through forms of participatory democracy, such as the experience of Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre.63 Will the AAP be able to resist and penetrate the complexity of the juxtaposition of participatory and representative democracy? This would imply that the AAP is taking Gandhi’s vision of democracy further by offering it experimental implementation.

A new political culture, based on the horizontality of a solidary community, can be built only on self-rule, decentralisation and participatory democracy.64 Although many more elements must be considered in analysing the APP case and its potential, looking at the mere electoral results, the strategy of entering the representative system to change it from inside has failed in the way it was implemented. The adoption of the party logic and the implementation of an aggressive electoral strategy did not deliver the expected revolutionary results because the idea of Swaraj was relegated after the electoral priority. This is the indication that a different approach must be adopted.

Self-rule democracy does not merely imply an alternative political party. As the AAP knows very well, what is missing must be far more radical. It is an alternative model to liberal democracy and “the critical task ahead cannot be limited to generating alternatives. Indeed, it requires an alternative thinking of alternatives”65 which looks at the very substance of political-colonialism and declares it incompatible with true democracy, thereby engaging in changing it from within.

This article was developed in the context of the research project «ALICE, strange mirrors, unsuspected lessons», coordinated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos ( at the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra — Portugal. The project is funded by the European Research Council, 7th Framework Pro-gram of the European Union (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n. [269807]. This article was published in the proceedings of the International Colloquium Epistemologies of the South: South-South, South-North and North-South Global Learnings, Vol. 1, Edited by Teresa Cunha and Boaventura de Sousa Santos, pp. 921-937, available at .

  1. Robert A. Dahl, “A Preface to Democratic Theory”, Expanded ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 3. ↩︎

  2. Robert A. Dahl, p. 1. ↩︎

  3. Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (London: Verso, 2000), pp. 1-2. ↩︎

  4. Dino Costantini, La democrazia dei moderni. Storia di una crisi (Firenze: Firenze University Press, 2012). ↩︎

  5. Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy Of Right”, ed. by Joseph O’Malley (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970). ↩︎

  6. Georg Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991). ↩︎

  7. Benjamin Constant, “The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns”, in Constant: Political Writings, ed. by Biancamaria Fontana (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988). ↩︎

  8. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. by Eduardo Nolla, trans. by Schleifer (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Incorporated, 2010). ↩︎

  9. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London: Pluto Press, 2008); Marx, Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy Of Right”; Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, trans. by N. I. Stone (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1904). ↩︎

  10. Max Weber, “Parliament and Government in Germany under a New Political Order”, in Political Writings, by Max Weber, ed. by Peter Lassman, trans. by Ronald Speirs (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 130-271; Max Weber, “Socialism”, in Political Writings, by Max Weber, ed. by Peter Lassman, trans. by Ronald Speirs (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 272-303; Max Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics”, in Political Writings, by Max Weber, ed. by Peter Lassman, trans. by Ronald Speirs (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 309-69; Max Weber, “The President of the Reich”, in Political Writings, by Max Weber, ed. by Peter Lassman, trans. by Ronald Speirs (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 304-8; Max Weber, “Suffrage and Democracy in Germany”, in Political Writings, by Max Weber, ed. by Peter Lassman, trans. by Ronald Speirs (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 80-129. ↩︎

  11. Costantini, pp. 50-52. ↩︎

  12. Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class, ed. by Arthur Livingston, trans. byHannah D. Kahn, II (New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1939). ↩︎

  13. Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society <Trattato Di SociologiaGenerale>, ed. by Arthur Livingston, trans. by Andrew Bongiorno (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1935). ↩︎

  14. Robert Michels, Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy (New York: Heart’s International Library Co., 1915). ↩︎

  15. i. ↩︎

  16. Hans Kelsen, “Essência E Valor Da Democracia”, in A Democracia, by Hans Kelsen (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2000), pp. 23-108; Hans Kelsen, “Foundations of Democracy”, Ethics, 66.1 part 2 (1955), 1-101. ↩︎

  17. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (London, New York: Routledge, 2003). ↩︎

  18. Constant. ↩︎

  19. John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government (University College, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 2004). ↩︎

  20. see also Robert Alan Dahl, “On Democracy” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998). ↩︎

  21. Norberto Bobbio, The Future of Democracy: A Defence of the Rules of the Game (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 24. ↩︎

  22. Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited: 1993 Presidential Address”, American Sociological Review, 59.1 (1994), 1-22 <>. ↩︎

  23. Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 99.One of the main critics of Gandhi and his vision of democracy is that although it may well apply to small scale polities and in rural areas, that it is not appropriate for modern countries. Parekh unsparingly highlights this point: “Gandhi’s impoverished view of human life prevented him from appreciating the central principles and internal dialectic of modern civilization. […] Gandhi’s emphasis on the human need for roots and the value of small communities is well taken, but his local communities are too isolated and self-contained to be realistic and too parochial and self-absorbed to avoid becoming moral prisons. […] Gandhi was too realistic not to see this and kept modifying his views. But his heart hankered after the simplicity of rural life and remained in tension with his head” Parekh, Gandhi, pp. 121-122. ↩︎

  24. Journals cited hereafter in short as follows: Harijan (published between 1933-1956): H DD-MM-YYYY; Young India (published between 1919-1932): YI DD-MM-YYYY. They are published in Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, 100 vols (New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1994) <>. ↩︎

  25. KusumLataChadda, Gandhi The Master Communicator (New Delhi: Kanishka Publishers, Distributors, 2010), pp. XXI-XXII. ↩︎

  26. Gandhi wrote a number of books (including Hind Swaraj, Satyagraha in South Africa, The Story of My Experiments with Truth and Constructive Programme Its Meaning and Place). Gandhi’s disciples compiled many other books on specific arguments collecting parts of Gandhi’s public articles and texts. Among others, The mind of the Mahatma Gandhi Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, ed. by R. K. Prabhu and U. R. Rao, Second (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1967)., deserves a special mention for its remarkable consideration among Gandhian scholars. Gandhi had read and approved the first edition (1945). ↩︎

  27. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1938). ↩︎

  28. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, p. 45.Hardiman underlines that the sudharo, used by Gandhi in the original Gujarati version of Hind Swaraj, may be translated with “good way of life’: su meaning ”good“ and dharomeaning’way of life” David Hardiman, Gandhi in His Time and Ours (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2003), p. 68.. ↩︎

  29. PremAnand Mishra, Hind Swaraj: A Deconstructive Reading (New Delhi: Abhijeet Publications, 2012), p. 20. ↩︎

  30. Hardiman, p. 71. ↩︎

  31. PremAnand Mishra, p. 18. ↩︎

  32. Hardiman, p. 71; Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 208-9. ↩︎

  33. Silby K. Joseph, “Development Discourse: Mainstream and Gandhian”, Gandhi Marg, 34.4 (2013), 471-94 (p. 485). ↩︎

  34. K. P. Mishra, “Gandhian Views on Democracy”, Gandhi Marg, 34.2&3 (2012), 205-16 (pp. 206-7). ↩︎

  35. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, p. 26. ↩︎

  36. Parekh, Gandhi’sPoliticalPhilosophy, p. 113. ↩︎

  37. Étienne de La Boétie, Discorso Sulla Servitù Volontaria (Milano: Chiarelettere, 2011). ↩︎

  38. Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy, pp. 155-6. ↩︎

  39. Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy, p. 101. ↩︎

  40. Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy, pp. 86-99. ↩︎

  41. Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy, pp. 197-8. ↩︎

  42. Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy, p. 28. ↩︎

  43. Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy, pp. 110-1. ↩︎

  44. Vaishali Jain, Crisis in Indian Democracy and Gandhian Alternative (New Delhi: Regal, 2009), p. 36. ↩︎

  45. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Constructive Programme Its Meaning and Place, Second (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1945), p. 20. ↩︎

  46. Jain, pp. 42-6. ↩︎

  47. Jain, p. 47. ↩︎

  48. Dipankar Gupta, Revolution from above: India’s Future and the Citizen Elite (New Delhi: Rainlight, 2013), pp. 53, 63-5; S. B. Prasad, “Gandhian Impact on the Constitution of India”, Gandhi Marg, 33.2 (2011), 245-50 (pp. 248-9); Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, Postmodern Gandhi and Other Essays: Gandhi in the World and at Home (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 20-31. ↩︎

  49. K. P. Mishra, p. 206. ↩︎

  50. Amit Sachdeva, The Rise of Arvind Kejrival (Gurgaon: Liveweek Business, 2014), p. 71. ↩︎

  51. Hanna Hazare, Interview (RaleganSiddhi, 13 Feb 2014, 2014). ↩︎

  52. Arvind Kejriwal, Swaraj (New Delhi: HarperCollins, 2012). ↩︎

  53. Papat Rao Pawar, Interview (Hiware Bazar, 12 Feb 2014, 2014). ↩︎

  54. Kejriwal, pp. 109-136. ↩︎

  55. GargiParsai, “The AAP Has Arrived”, The Hindu (New Delhi, 9 December 2013) <> [accessed 14 April 2014]. ↩︎

  56. Ajay Gudavarthy, “Surviving Politics”, The Hindu, 15 December 2013 <> [accessed 14 April 2014]. ↩︎

  57. Mohammad Ali, “Aam Aadmi Party Gets Ready for Fresh Elections”, The Hindu (New Delhi, 12 December 2013) <> [accessed 23 January 2016]; Mohammad Ali, “AAP Rules out Deal-Making”, The Hindu (New Delhi, 14 December 2013) <> [accessed 23 January 2016]. ↩︎

  58. Devesh K. Pandey, “AAP Gets 4.2 Lakh Responses on Govt. Formation”, The Hindu (New Delhi, 19 December 2013) <> [accessed 23 January 2016]; Devesh K. Pandey, “Chorus for AAP Forming Govt Gets Louder”, The Hindu (New Delhi, 22 December 2013) <> [accessed 23 January 2016]; Mohammad Ali, “AAP Set to Form Government”, The Hindu (New Delhi, 23 December 2013) <> [accessed 23 January 2016]. ↩︎

  59. Mohammad Ali, Vishal Kant and Sowmiya Ashok, “Kejriwal Quits over Jan Lokpal”, The Hindu (New Delhi, 15 February 2014) <> [accessed 14 April 2014]. ↩︎

  60. Gupta. ↩︎

  61. Jain, p. 54. ↩︎

  62. Santos and Avritzer, i, p. LXVI. ↩︎

  63. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Two Democracies, Two Legalities: Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil”, in Law And Globalization From Below: Towards A Cosmopolitan Legality, ed. by Boaventura de Sousa Santos and César Rodríguez-Garavito (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 310-38 (pp. 311-2). ↩︎

  64. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Los NuevosMovimientosSociales”, Revista Del Observatorio Social de América Latina/OSAL, 5 (2001), 177-88 (p. 181). ↩︎

  65. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Beyond Abyssal Thinking: From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledges”, Review, XXX.1 (2007), 45-89 (p. 63). ↩︎