On Government

(Extracts from DEMOCRATIC VALUES, selections from the addresses of Vinoba Bhave, 1951-1960, Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan, Kashi, 1962.)

SARVODAYA DOES NOT MEAN GOOD GOVERNMENT or majority rule, it means freedom from government, it means decentralisation of power. We want to do away with government by politicians and replace it by a government of the people, based on love, compassion and equality. Decisions should be taken, not by a majority, but by unanimous consent; and they should be carried out by the united strength of the ordinary people of the village. (p.3)

My voice is raised in opposition to good government. Bad government has been condemned long ago by Vyasa in the Mahabharata. People know very well that bad government should not be allowed, and everywhere they protest against it. But what seems to me to be wrong is that we should allow ourselves to be governed at all, even by a good government. (pp.12-13)

If I am under some other person’s command, where is my selfgovernment ? Self-government means ruling your own self … It is one mark of swaraj (self-government) not to allow any outside power in the world to exercise control over oneself. And the second mark of swaraj is not to exercise power over any other. These two things together make swaraj—no submission and no exploitation. This cannot be brought into being by government decree, but only by a revolution in the people’s ways of thought. (pp.13-14)

There is a false notion abroad in the world that governments are our saviours and that without them we should be lost. People imagine that they cannot do without government. Now I can understand that people cannot do without agriculture, or industries; that they cannot do without love and religion. I can also understand that they cannot do without institutions like marriage and the family. But governments do not come into this category. The fact is that people do not really need a government at all. Governments grew up as a result of certain particular conditions in society. Men have not succeeded in creating a feeling of unity and avoiding divisions; we have not learned fully the art of working together without conflict, so we try to get things done by the power of the state instead; we try to do by punishment what can only be done by educating the community. (pp.15-16)

The authority of the government is incapable of bringing about any revolutionary change among the people, such as the reform of their social life. (p.18)

The ultimate goal of sarvodaya is freedom from government. Notice that I use the words freedom from government, and not absence of government. Absence of government can be seen in a number of societies whose affairs are all at sixes and sevens, where no order is maintained, and where anti-social elements do as they please. That kind of absence of government is not our ideal. Absence of government must be replaced by good government, and afterwards, good government must be replaced by freedom from government. A society free from government does not mean a society without order. It means an orderly society, but one in which administrative authority rests in the villages. (p.25)

We have before us three different theories of government.

The first is that the state will ultimately wither away and be transformed into a stateless system; but, in order to bring that about, we must in the present exercise the maximum of power. Those who accept this theory are totalitarians in the first stage and anarchists in the final stage.
The second theory is that some form of government has always existed in the past, exists now, and will continue to exist in the future; a society without a government is a sheer impossibility. Therefore society must be so ordered as to ensure the welfare of all. There may be a certain amount of decentralisation, but all important matters must be under the Centre. The supporters of this theory hold that government must always exist, and that a government elected by society must have an over-all control of affairs.
The third is our own theory. We too believe in a stateless society as our ultimate goal. We recognise that in the preliminary stages a certain measure of government is necessary, but we do not agree that it will continue to be necessary at a later stage. Neither do we agree that totalitarian dictatorship is necessary to ensure progress towards a stateless society. On the contrary we propose to proceed by decentralising administration and authority. In the final stage there would be no coercion but a purely moral authority. The establishment of such a self-directing society calls for a net-work of self-sufficient units. Production, distribution, defence, education—everything should be localised. The centre should have the least possible authority. We shall thus achieve decentralisation through regional self-sufficiency. (pp.29-30)

After “independence” people have become less independent, less self-reliant. We have to rely on the government for everything. Things have come to such a pass that we expect the government to do everything while we do nothing, not only in social and religious matters like untouchability, but even in our domestic affairs. How can a people become stronger so long as it depends so much on the government ?

A law may solve our problems but it will not make us stronger. What people really need is to become aware of their own inner strength, and that they can only do if they solve some of their problems for themselves.
It is just this strengthening of society that is the object of the Bhoodan movement. It is therefore a political movement, but one that is opposed to current political methods. Our aim is to build up a new kind of politics, and in order to do so we keep ourselves aloof from the old kind. We call this new politics “lok-niti”, politics of the people. as opposed to “raj-niti”, politics of the power-state. (p.56)

My main idea is that the whole world ought to be set free from the burden of its governments. That cannot happen so long as we depend on government for help in everything. If there is one disease from which the whole world suffers, it is this disease called government. (p.64)

These expressions, “Shanti Sena” (Peace Army), “Sarvodaya”. and “gramdan”—what do they all mean ? In essence they all mean that you must yourselves take charge of your own affairs. By forming parties you are burdening yourselves with a government, but you are doing nothing for yourselves. We have to set ourselves free from the parties, and with that end in view a Sarvodaya Manda! (Society) has been formed here. But this Sarvodaya Manda! is not going to promise, after the fashion of the parties, to make a sarvodaya society for you. They will tell you to make it for yourselves. The Lord says in the Gita, “We must work out our own salvation.” The Sarvodaya Mandal will tell you that you are capable of doing this, and that it is you who must do it. They will give you help and advice if you wish it, but you yourselves can and must take the initiative. (p.87)

So long as we do not get rid of these governments of ours, the world will never know peace. The Communists’ ultimate aim is the withering away of the state, but for the present they want to strengthen it. In fact, the stateless society is only a promissory note, but state tyranny is cash down! In our modern conditions a powerful state can bring nothing but slavery. Therefore sarvodaya stands for an immediate reduction in the power of the state.

As far as individuals are concerned everyone should be taught to keep his impulses and senses under control. In our social structure we must accept the principle that the welfare of one group is not opposed to the welfare of another.

In such a social order the need to use force would be eliminated, Certain moral principles would be so universally accepted in society that they would be reflected in its practice and included in the children’s education. These principles would be respected by the members of the community of their own free will. Such a society would be truly selfgoverning. (p.189)