The Consensual Democratic Governance System

Begun by Mahatma Gandhi

During the Last Two Years of His Life



Terry Mollner


Trusteeship Institute




The purpose of this presentation is to tell the story of the new, consensual governance system Mahatma Gandhi began to create the last two years of his life - at the end of the 1940s. It is also the story of Jayaprakash Narayan’s efforts in the 1960s and 1970s to pick up where Gandhi left off. He later converted it into a political party and successfully use it to overthrow Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. Finally, we will present a modern design of such a governance system that can begin with Tibet but end up being available to people around the globe.


In Gandhi’s judgment it was to be a more mature governance system then the majoritarian democracy systems prevalent in the developed nations today. My hope is that the Tibetan Government might reflect on some of the wisdom Mahatma Gandhi had uncovered to create their new governance system.


Gandhi Starts Over

To Create a More Mature

Democratic Government


The last two years of Mahatma Gandhi’s life he basically renounced all that he had done before and returned to the villages to create a new governance system. People thought that maybe Gandhi was losing his mind. He was the most powerful man in India; yet he left the halls of power and returned to the villages to start something brand new. However, Gandhi’s judgment on himself was that he had made a large mistake in creating the Congress I Party as a political party in a competing political party system.


Gandhi understood the universe to be one thing where all the parts had the purest of conscious and unconscious primary intentions by nature. Nature was fundamentally cooperative, not competitive. He believed that all things were cooperating with one another for the good of the one whole - the way we think of the parts within our bodies cooperating for the good of the whole body. Therefore, to build a political system based on competition rather than cooperation was to consistently polarize people into competing camps. That was the opposite of the kind of community and society Gandhi wanted to create. He believed this was going in the opposite direction of nature and it would, therefore, consistently bring misery.


Further, he believed that he had perpetuated this immature approach by creating the Congress I Party as a competing political party in such a system. He judged that this mistake made him personally responsible for the separation of India into India and Pakistan. He decided that with what energy he had left in him he needed to show the way to the world of how to create a more mature governance system before he died.


A majoritarian democracy was not really as much a democracy as it was the last form of dictatorship before real democracy - the dictatorship of the majority over the minority. Rather than the leadership of the opposing groups sitting down and talking to one another, they organized their armies of followers and fought each other through ballots and the media…and seldom spoke to each other. It perpetuated war games rather than love games.


The People’s Committees


So he returned to the villages and began to create what he called “Peoples Committees (PC).” It was based on the ancient panchayat tribal systems of India. The way it functioned was as follows.


The main affinity groups in the village were identified. In today’s small towns it might be the Downtown Business Association, the Ministerial Association, each church or religion, the Manufacturer’s Association, the Rotary, the Women’s Association, the major non-governmental organizations, the Farmers Association, etc. Each group would be invited to elect their senior, most mature person, to serve on the PC. The only people who could not serve on the PC were those directly involved with electoral politics.


The reason was that they were going in the opposite direction. They were organizing against an opposition. The PC was based on consensus. The PC was looking to find common ground and to co-create greater understanding. It was building a wider context of agreements among all the people within which the difference would begin to appear smaller and smaller rather than larger and larger.


PC would be open for anyone to attend. In fact, the entire village was encourage to sit in a circle around the PC. The purpose, as stated above, was to work toward a wider and thicker donut of agreement around whatever disagreements may be present. The agreements were always by consensus, unanimous vote.


Gandhi’s belief was that since this was a more mature way for people to relate, the result would be that the elected officials would never be able to go against the consensus decisions of the village. The result would be that people would slowly shift their priorities and give greater priority to the PC than to the competing political governance system. In this innocent and non-violent way, the PC would become primary and the competitive process would become secondary and, hopefully, eventually be dropped.


Jayprakash Narayan Picks Up

Where Gandhi Left Off


Gandhi had only begun to create these People’s Committees when he was assassinated. There was a man named Jayprakash Narayan (JP) who was head of the Socialist Party in India during the time in the late 1940s that Gandhi began to work on this. Especially after hearing Gandhi’s conversations with Mao Tse-Tung, he became disillusioned with the perspective of the socialists and resigned. He went to the ashram of Vinoba, one of Gandhi’s followers, where he meditated on these things from the late 1940s until the mid-1960s. At that point he came across an account of what Gandhi was trying to do the last couple years of his life and realized that Gandhi had discovered how to create a more mature governance system.


JP left the ashram and began traveling around India telling this story to students. He then organized them to go into the villages to set up People’s Committees. They did this all over India.


People’s Committees

Get Converted Into the Janata Party


In 1975, Indira Gandhi decided to let her opposition out of jail and call a national election for about 6 weeks away. Her belief was that none of her opposition would be able to unite and organize against her in that short period of time and she would end up with such an overwhelming victory that she would have a mandate to govern.


Some of her opposition were Gandhians. They went immediately from the jail to JP’s bedside. He was on a dialysis machine and thought to be dying. They argued that the only way to defeat Indira Gandhi was to turn the People’s Committees network into the Janata Political Party. This would give them a national organization. They could then identify candidates and get enough of them elected to overthrow Indira Gandhi.


JP said no. He explained that the entire purpose of creating the People’s Committees was to create a more mature governance system then the current competitive political party system. He had to be true to Mahatma Gandhi’s dream. It was his sacred responsibility. The reason so many People’s Committees had been created so rapidly was because people liked them and preferred them to the other political system. To abandon it now would be a travesty.


But the opposition argued that it was the only way to defeat Indira Gandhi and it was necessary to defeat her to save India. Finally, after much arguing, JP agreed to convert the PC into the Janata Party to defeat Indira Gandhi.


In six weeks, they found enough candidates and had enough credibility that they defeated Indira Gandhi in the parliamentary system. JP became known as the second father of India. He hand picked Moraji Daisai to be the Prime Minister.



JP Reveals His Error


In 1979 I was in India. I was a consultant to a man who was the grandson of one of the ruling families of India, the Poddars. He had a successful business in the USA and wanted to re-organize it into a trusteeship business.


“Trusteeship” was Mahatma Gandhi’s word for his theory of economics. He believed that we were all “trustees” of our wealth and skills and were to manage them for the good of all and only take what we needed and no more. We were not “owners” who were to use all we could get our hands on for our own self-interests.


The Indian American business man hired me to assist him to convert his business into a trusteeship business. He, fourteen of his top employees, and I journeyed to India to study trusteeship. We were able to have a meeting with JP because the wealthy Indian-American business owner was the man who had provided JP with the dialysis machine.


At this time JP was the spiritual ruler of India. A few days before we met with him, there had actually been fist fights in the Lok Sabat (the Parliament) over the issue of allowing the slaughter of cows so people could eat the meat. The Hindu religion, as you may know, is against the slaughter of cows for food. The next day the front page of the India Times reported that JP believed it was too early in the changes that were occurring to take on this issue and that it should be tabled for a later time. The following day the Lok Sabat voted unanimously to not slaughter cows. This was the kind of power JP had in India at the time. He was the spiritual leader, the second Father of India.


When we met with him we had a half an hour. Then he would have to return to his dialysis machine. I asked him questions about trusteeship for the entire half an hour. I knew what he would give as answers to all the questions. I was focusing on using the time to establish a very deep, quality relationship with him. I really only had one question I wanted to ask him.


At the end of the time I said that I had one last question for him and it would be OK if he chose to not answer it. I would understand.


 “Go right ahead,” he said.


I said, “If you had to do it over again, would you have turned the People’s Committees into the Janata Party.” The public officials and news media in the back of the room, who had been jabbering away, suddenly shushed each other into silence. I was fully aware that I was asking the question that was not to be asked.


JP gave me the politically correct answer. “It was a difficult time in the history of India. We had to take a decision. We looked at all sides of the issue and concluded that it was best to create the Janata Party because we believed it would be best for India.” Then he looked me straight in the eyes steadily without blinking and said, “Does my intelligent American friend have any other questions for me?” He gave a certain kind of emphasis on the word “intelligent” as he starred deep into my eyes such that I knew clearly what he was saying to me. Without blinking either, I looked straight back into his eyes and said, “Thank you so very, very much.”


With his eyes he had clearly communicated to me that it had been a mistake to convert the PC into the Janata Party. He was now stuck making the best of the situation. But I could feel his sadness. He believed he had let Mahatma Gandhi down. He had come to see the importance of creating a consensual governance system based on oneness instead of separateness as Gandhi had and then he gave into the pressure of a moment and let it slide back into the less mature system. There was a quality in his eyes of an older man speaking in code to a younger man who saw the truth of his situation. With his eyes he was saying, “If you see the mistake that both Gandhi and I made, you have a responsibility to step forward and correct it and not fail like we did.” It was the eyes of an elder speaking to those of a younger. I was in my mid-thirties at the time.


Six months later, JP died. On his death bed he told his secretary to report that it had been a mistake to have turned the PCs into the Janata Party.


The Janata Party ended up being attacked by its enemies to the point, as with all parties in competing political systems, people did not know what was true or false. So it became seen as just another corrupt political party. It lost the next election and soon disappeared from existence.



Tibet Could Pick Up

Where Gandhi and JP Left Off


What I believe is possible is for Tibet to pick up where both Gandhi and JP left off.


It could create a cooperative, co-creative, consensual governance system. Each village or group of 50-100 adults could create their own PC or representatives from the different affinity groups in the village or group. This group would make decisions by consensus. Since it is by consensus, everyone would be working to find the common ground that all could agree upon. The focus would be on the context, the donut, of agreement getting thicker and thicker and the differences inside the donut of agreement getting smaller and smaller. People would be talking with each other for the purpose of finding greater and greater common ground.


As mentioned earlier, in the competing political climate the right wing religious leader, the left wing progressive, the feminist leader, the minority leader, etc. never talk to one another. They organize armies and fight each other through the media and ballot boxes. This is a very unhealthy, immature, polarizing, and slow change way for evolution to occur.


In the PC system, these leaders are sitting around a table and talking to one another with the entire village watching. They are seeking to find where they can agree on things and how they can accept and adjust to the places where they disagree. They also are committed to continuing the conversation for the purpose of sorting through the disagreements to as much agreement as they can find. The focus is on finding truth together, not on winning.


And the entire village is free to watch this process, and participate at times as well. This applies pressure to be truthful and to focus on nothing other than finding deeper, wiser, and self-evident truth together. This is a growing process rather than a fighting process. By staying in the conversation with one another, and the community insisting on openness and honesty in the search for truth, and more and more truth is uncovered and agreed upon as people stay in the conversation. Once a truth is seen by all, sooner or later there is no ability to act like it has not been seen.


There are people on the planet who still think the Earth is round. Given what we now know, who does not believe that in a caring conversation these people would not come around within a reasonable period of time to agreeing the Earth is round. It is the conversation seeking agreement which brings truth to the place where it can become known. If people are left alone to fight in ignorance, they do not find truth.


A Design of People’s Committees For Our Time


The way I see some of the particular structures unfolding is as follows.


Each person who so chooses becomes a member of the government system. A person can join or leave at any time. Each person has one vote.


Each person then chooses to be part of a group or village. Each person can choose to be part of whatever group he or she chooses to be in.


It could be the immediate village. It could be a close group of families and friends. It could be with a group at work, or at church or temple, or a professional association, etc. The person can only exercise his or her vote through membership in a group of 50-100 people, a People’s Committee. This is to encourage the re-villaging of people’s lives in a modern context. Many people in the modern world have forgotten what they are missing by not being in a closely knit community of friends.


Then each PC can elect a representative to a federation. Once this first federation has more than 50 people in it, but less than 100, it elects a representative to the next level of federation, a second level federation. Stages of federations continue until the highest level federation has more than 50 but less than 2500 people. Once it reaches 2500, each group of 50 elects a representative to create the next highest stage with 50 members.


This last stage of federation is the Congress. It, like a board of directors, chooses the chief executive officer, the President. The President chooses a cabinet and manages the country. The Congress establishes policies and the President executes them. Once again, the cooperative model argues for having a system of priorities given priority over a system of checks and balances. The members have the most power. The Congress, like a board of Directors, has the second most power. The President has the third most power.


What is key, however, is that priority is given to the freedom of the individual. Second priority is given to a system of governance that is attractive to all so all will freely choose to re-village their lives and give priority to the common good. Third priority is given to discussions of stages of maturity and eldering people up those stages to the higher stages of maturity. This has been discovered throughout the ages as the most important area for any society to priority because it is the best thing to do for the happiness of the individual as well as the community as a whole. This conversation is virtually absent in our modern, industrialized societies.


Of course, for laws to be passed it would be necessary to have this Congress and the President be in agreement. Then there would also be a judiciary, and many other governance structures.


But the important thing to note is that this is a system of government people can freely join or leave at any time. In addition, it governs by attraction rather than by force. Hopefully, people are eldered through stages of maturity to where they choose to be a responsible member of the community. Laws such as those created by any other governing body in the world can be enacted. But the main purpose is to teach a code of behavior that people choose to commit to such that there is less and less a need for force to deal with unhealthy behavior.


Also, every effort is made to leave as much power as possible to the lowest level of power, the individual and the PC. Power flows from the bottom up and then only when absolutely necessary. It is governance by attraction, not by force.


A Parallel Elder System


There could also be a parallel elder system of government that would be created in the same way. It, however, would have no actual legal power. Its only power would be the power of persuasion.


This system of elders - men and women over 50 years of age, or, perhaps a system for the monks, would give priority to watching to be sure all was being done openly and in a mature way. If it was not, it would bring attention to it until it was cleaned up. The people would greatly value this elder group which nurtures and elders the people and the system and keeps everything above board and wise.


The Dalai Lama could sit at the top of this system. This would be the spiritual leader of the nation. His power would not be by force but by loyalty and respect. This is the greatest power.


It is the power enjoyed today around the world by Nelson Mandella and the Dalai Lama. It is the kind of power JP and Mahatma Gandhi had.


A Nation Based On Agreement

Not On Geography

Is A More Mature System of Government


Notice that no one chooses some one for an office accept in a group of 50-100 people who know each other. There would not be an election of someone by 250 million people in a competitive process. Any group would be free to remove a person at anytime, but it would be assumed that they would be chosen for a certain period of time, such as two to six years.


The most striking aspect of this governance system is that it can be set up without regard to defining the nation by land. It is a nation by agreement, not land. It can also be a nation by land. But this system of government can be set up with Tibetans in China, among those in India, and among those anywhere in the world.


In fact, it can also be allowed to go beyond the Tibetan culture to allow for anyone on the planet to set up a PC. In other words, what is done for Tibet could be extended to people anywhere with the goal of creating a parallel, complementary governing system for the entire planet based on consensus - Gandhi’s dream. The Tibetan section could be one section of such a system. This would be a way to extend democracy - consensual democracy - around the planet without confronting existing governments. Then, just as Mahatma Gandhi believed, it would eventually be the governing system most highly valued by the people. The dictatorships or majoritarian democracy system would become secondary. And Tibet will have created not only a more mature governing system for Tibet but for the planet by allowing others to participate as well.


If the government that one is primarily a part of is defined by the geography of one’s birth or where one is currently living, there is not free choice. However, if it is defined by agreement, anyone anywhere on the planet can join it. This, therefore, is a more mature governance system also because one can choose to join it or leave it at any time. Also many different ones can emerge based on different believes, but by their very nature they will federate together for the purpose of building as much common ground as possible. It is the nature of the consensual system.




As you can imagine, there is much more that could be discussed. But this is the beginning of the idea of a consensual democratic governance system based on the idea originally put forth by Mahatma Gandhi.