The Gandhi-King Community

For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment

Neighbourhood Parliaments as an option for Gandhian democracy

Gandhiji resisted a situation where some twenty people or so are empowered to make decisons that affect all. He wanted governance by face-to-face communities. We at Neighbourhood Community Network(NCN) have been promoting a dream for a new political order based on such values.We articulate our dream as follows:

"Join with us in dreaming big. Dreaming of a new world.

Dream of a world where no direct elections to national parliaments take place. Nor direct elections to state assemblies. Not even to panchayat councils.

Dream instead of a world where parliaments come to the streets.

The whole world gets organized into neighbourhood parliaments of about 30 neighbouring families. Each neighbourhood of 30 families becomes a kind of a mini-world or a mini-nation.

Each neighbourhood parliament has a neighbourhood cabinet, with a neighbourhood prime minister and ministers for various concerns like health, hygiene, environment, income generation, children’swelfare, adolescent’s guidance - and what not - that are relevant at its level.

Each neighbourhood parliament chooses its delegates to represent them at the village parliament. It too has its cabinet with a village chief-minister and village-ministers for concerns that pertain at village level.

Next come the third level parliaments, panchayat parliaments and their cabinets.

Thus come about respectively block parliaments, district parliaments, state parliaments, national parliaments, international regional parliaments and finally the world parliament (mind you, not United Nations but a world parliament) – each with its cabinet.

The whole process is guided by certain principles:

Principle One: Principle of Numerical Uniformity.

Once you have a certain number of neighbourhood parliaments you can automatically have a “village”- parliament; and once you have a certain number of “village” parliaments, you can have a “panchayat” parliament; and so on.

Hence no big “villages” and small “villages” and big “districts” and small “districts” and so on. Actually the present territorial designations like that of block, district, state, nation and world are any more not in vogue. What we would have rather are various “tiers” or “levels” of parliaments. Like first level parliament (meaning neighbourhood parliament), second level parliament and the like.

Principle Two: Principle of Smallness of Size.

No more are parliaments with 500 and more members. It is a small, discerning community at every level.

(The ideal number of members here? Said Mr. P. Parameswaran of Kerala: “Not more than eighty five.” Observes Guruji Rishi Prabhakar: “Eighty five would be too much. It will still give a lot of scope for majority-minority confrontations. Why not the scout number, that is, 36?” The neighbourhood parliaments alone, in that case, can have a bigger number i.e. 30 families and not 30 individuals).

The advantage here: Everyone knows everyone face to face. And everyone’s weaknesses and strengths. One cannot go on fooling, as Gandhiji observed, a face-to-face community for long.

Principle Three: Principle of Recall.

You don’t need to wait for five years to call back a candidate whom you “elected” from one level of the parliament to the next. As you are a small community at each level of the parliament, you can convene your parliament any time you want and decide together to send someone else who would explain and represent your concerns better.

Principle Four: Principle of Subsidiarity Subsidiary units get the focus here. Vitality, dynamism and power are concentrated more at the lowest levels possible. No business that could be handled at a lower level is taken to any level above it. Higher levels deal only with those matters that the lower levels cannot handle. Principle Five: Principle of Convergence.

This means once you have such a network everything converges at the network. Everything is done through it. This reinforces the structures further and further. Thus whether children’s programmes, adolescents’ programmes, self-help groups or what not, everything is referred to neighbourhoods & their representative networks.

Well, what would be the world like if this dream were to be realized? What all would be there and what all would not be there?

Let us hear from you."

That is the dream state we circulate. I would be happy if fellow-gandhians help to sharpen it up.

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Dear Sir, this has long been a subject close to my heart. It is the essence of real democracy. Gandhi offered the world a new definition of democracy - refined democracy, that brought the existent view of democracy out of the clouds of its high ideals, and rained down on society with practical approaches to resources and people participation and power. His ideals of swadeshi at local levels directly addressed economics, employment and stewardship of one's immediate environment. Our current perceptions of democracy have miserably enmeshed it with capitalism, strident individualism that licenses immorality, and mob rule. Your suggestions offer a practical way out of the pit that we are sunk in. Democracy has become tied to immoral economics, rather than to living life ethically.

There are two additional aspects that I would like to see this beautiful, realizable dream consider:
1. The necessity of environmental stewardship, or ecological trusteeship and restoration. We need to restore a view of the Earth, and all that we receive from Her daily, to a plane of sanctity. As citizens, we need control over our 'commons' the water, air, and soils that sustain us.
2. The implementation of the concept of democracy as a necessary social order that actively supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in all organizations, institutions, types of education, businesses, religious groups, etc. The practical practice of democratic processes in all institutions that influence socio-cultural aspects of our lives are necessary if the workable nature of democracy is to be imparted. We need to leave feudal thinking that embraces hierarchy, behind. At present, the feudal mind-set has replicated itself in corporations, governments, schools, ashrams, everywhere.

Currently, riddled with caste-mindedness and feudalism, with concepts of superiority and inferiority on economic, gender, communal and social levels, there are few social, educational or religious institutions in India that are even capable of thinking democratically. Being a 'big-person', a VIP, and operating in hierarchical patterns of thinking, stifle the spirit of democracy in practice. Clinging to false concepts of properness and appropriateness, particularly, discouraging questioning of any sort, makes any hope of initiative -taking a fearful and socially unpopular quest.

I think one of our hopes for change lies in the unlettered poor, 80 % of the people on the planet who, at this time, are expressing an increasingly unified frustration with the social and political structures which leave their basic human needs out of the picture. These are the people who will really understand and be ready to participate in new democratic structures, for it offers them immediate progress.

Another hope lies in giving the children of the advantaged sections of society, the upper strata, an education that teaches and imparts social and environmental responsibility, that inculcates what His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama calls Universal Responsibility.
At present, the children of those that 'have' receive an education that prevents and discourages individual thinking and analysis and inhibits any sort of environmental responsibility and awareness. Crammed past the gills with trivia for over 12 years, the the threat of 'the exam' looming ever before their minds, sitting for nearly 8 hours a day at a desk, plus 2 graduates are unable to think, to analyze, to even dream of participating in a democracy. With such heavy conditioning in youth, the rest of the life is adversely affected. We urgently need to find ways to free our children's minds from the mistaken replication of a society that is not working for its people. We need to help those that have, at the expense of those that have not, learn to assume responsibility for the material privileges that circumstances have given them. Its difficult, for parents do not think in terms of a democratic society.
If we can add these components to the formation of democratic neighborhoods and communities, I think we will be able to move forward quickly.
I think it is important to visualize these ideals, to hold them aloft in our minds...from our thoughts great things can be born. I thank you for placing your practical vision for a working democracy before us.
Aunty Kamala
Dear Madam,

Thank you for the encouraging response. It is always a matter of joy to find one more person who shares one's thinking and commitment.

You have rightly stressed the concerns regarding human rights, ecology, and the involvement of children and the poor.

We have an interesting initiative that responds to the above concerns: Nieghbourhood Parliaments of Children(NPCs) and their multi-tier representative federations.

We have in each of these NPCs and in their federerated parliaments at various levels a chief minister and ministers to attend to various concerns that pertain at the respective levels. Thus we have a a child minister for environment, a child minister for human rights etc. Naturally they begin with the rights of children. In Kanyakumari district, these ministers are called "Defence Ministers". When you ask them what their role is their answer: "To defend the rights of children"!

The children ministers have very many success stories related to their interventions in these areas. You would be happy to know that Tamilnadu-Pondicherry State Parliament of Children received this year the global UNICEF-San Marino Alexander Bodini Award for the best child-led organization for chld rights action. You could read more about these children's parliaments in the following webs:,,, etc

These parliaments are mostly among the poorer sections of the population giving an advantageous edge to the voices of the poor.

Hoping to hear more from you,

Edwin M. John



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