Over the years, many Aurovilians have
worked hard on sensible proposals for collective decision-making.
These tend to get shot down - often with maximum hostility - by
this or that section of the community. The surprising thing is
that anyone has the energy to try again…
Auroville's long march towards effective governance
has taken us through some twisted paths and byways in the last
few months. The destination may be as far off as ever, or it may
be just around the next bend. But at any rate, the journey has
recently been quite interesting.
Since March 2003, two widely differing proposals
for collective decision-making in Auroville have been drafted.
Much discussion has taken place in the Auroville Council, the
Working Committee, the unofficial forum known as the Tibetan Pavilion
Group, and doubtless around a hundred dinner-tables. And a final
distinction was conferred in the form of a speech on Self-Governance
by the Chairman of the Governing Board, Dr Kireet Joshi. What,
if anything, will emerge in terms of a policy proposal is not
The present stage of the journey began two years ago when Serge
and Carel drafted "Towards a Divine Anarchy", a detailed
proposal for making and implementing decisions in Auroville (see
AVToday No. 152, Sept 2001). After much general discussion, and
four revised drafts, it failed to gain community approval in March
2002. From the ashes of this proposal arose "The Experiment",
which came into effect in September last year with the endorsement
of the Governing Board (see AVToday No. 165, Oct 2002).
Perhaps it would have been wise to try out the new system on some
harmless issue. This did not happen. The first trial of The Experiment
was Matrimandir. A series of difficult meetings failed to resolve
Auroville's longest-running dispute, since when no policy proposals
have been through the process of The Experiment.
And there things might have rested for a while, but for a curious
Last November, a new Auroville Council and Working Committee were
elected. The previous Working Committee had enjoyed the services
of an informal support group consisting of about fifteen fairly
senior Aurovilians. When the new Working Committee decided it
did not require this service, the group decided to keep on meeting
anyway. They chose the Tibetan Pavilion [TP] as a venue for unofficial
weekly discussions on subjects that the members found interesting,
which included "Decision-making in Auroville".
The TP Group took a novel approach. Rather than defining how policy
proposals might be created, they decided to focus only on how
such proposals would be ratified by the community. Put simply,
if any Aurovilian could make any suggestion about governance at
any time, how would Auroville as a whole decide which ones to
A preliminary document emer-ged, which proposed a partially democratic
method. Under certain circumstances - which were fully defined
- an issue would be decided by votes cast at a meeting of the
Residents' Assembly; depending on the type of proposal in question,
a greater or lesser majority would be required for ratification.
This is direct, or Athenian democracy, which is still quite rare
in the world. A much more familiar system is representative democracy,
in which voters elect governors (or "representatives")
who then make all the decisions on their behalf.
The TP Group's suggestion was taken up for discussion by the Auroville
Council, some of whose members are also in the Group. At the same
time, the Council asked Serge to analyse The Experiment and produce
a report on how its processes might be improved. The original
intention was then to attempt a synthesis of the two methods.
However, the elements of direct democracy contained in the TP
Group document proved to be irreconcileable with the "intuitive
intelligence" elements in The Experiment.
At this point, Kireet Joshi announced that he would be visiting
Auroville and would like to address the residents on the subject
of "Self-Governance in Auroville". The meeting took
place on July 19th.
He opened his remarks by saying that, "There is present in
Auroville a certain egoistic conception of self-governance. Our
task is to see how we can arrive at a true conception, and how
we can implement that idea." He regretted the community's
apparent inability to co-operate in this venture.
Several times Dr Joshi stressed that the people of Auroville enjoy
enormous - indeed unique - freedom to manage their own affairs. "As long as you develop Auroville according to the Charter,
there is no limitation on what you can do. This freedom was deliberately
not defined in the Act. You have a complete freedom even to shape
how you will determine the governance of Auroville." In particular,
he said, the framers of the Act "avoided putting down that
this freedom would be exercised by election."
Developing this line of thought, he emphasised that Auroville
should not be an attempt to make a State, democratic or otherwise. "This is an inadequate idea. It should be a living body.
If you are going to create the kind of machinery that is used
by every Parliament in the world, there is no experiment. We are
not going forward. Sri Aurobindo wrote, 'The State is bound to
act crudely […]. It is incapable of that free, harmonious […]
varied action which is proper to organic groups. For the State
is not an organism. It is a machinery. And it works like a machine.
[…] It tries to manufacture. But what humanity is here to do is
to grow, and create.' This is what we are here to do in Auroville."
He concluded by commenting on the Residents' Assembly meetings. "At one time it was said that the Residents' Assembly's fundamental
function is to arrive at an agreement. This statement is good,
but not sufficient. It is not an instrument of agreement and disagreement.
The starting-point is wrong. The Residents' Assembly should meet
from time to time to generate harmony. Invite everyone. It is
to mature, constantly, the sense of all of us as a collectivity,
devoted to the Divine's will."
Since then, no progress has been made either on the revised Experiment
or the Auroville Council's partially-democratic proposal for ratifying
If "Self-Governance in Auroville" were a piece of classical
music, we would hear two main themes always playing against one
another. One represents a system in which Aurovilians directly
participate - by whatever means - in shaping their government;
the other represents rule by a responsible, enlightened elite.
Each tune has its own beauty. But they are in different keys and
different modes, so that they clash horribly with one another.
This is Dissonance.
Perhaps a time will come when our aspiration to be a different
(and better) community does not conflict with our practical, everyday
needs as a society. On that day, there will be Harmony. Until
then, we must struggle on as best we can.