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This Quote Means: When Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Every village has to become a self-sufficient republic’

GS-1 Modern History: The Freedom Struggle — its various stages and important contributors/contributions from different parts of the country.

April 24, 1993 marked the implementation of a significant law, the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992, which granted constitutional status to Panchayati Raj institutions. This day is now celebrated as National Panchayati Raj Day. The theme of this year Panchayati Raj is “Inclusive Development”.


The Panchayati Raj law, which governs India's rural areas, is based on Mahatma Gandhi's central principle of establishing a Panchayati Raj system, where local people can participate in the decision-making process for their villages' betterment, such as improving schools, roads, and water resources. 

Gandhi envisioned a Congress Party that transformed into a volunteer organization consisting of Panchayat-like units in all Indian villages, interacting with residents to achieve swaraj after India gained independence from British rule in 1947.

The Quote

  • The full quote by Gandhi, as published in the Harijan magazine in 1946, is as follows:

    “Independence must mean that of the people of India, not of those who are today ruling over them… Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus, every village will be a republic or Panchayat having full powers. It follows, therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs even to the extent of defending itself against the whole world.”


Context of the Quote

  • Gandhi believed that true independence for India must come from the people, not just from those currently ruling over them.

  • He advocated for a system of governance that starts at the bottom, with every village functioning as a self-sustaining republic or Panchayat with full powers. 

  • In this system, the adults of each village would elect a council of five people and a head among them to serve as local representatives.

  • Gandhi emphasized that this does not mean rejecting help from the outside world, but rather developing self-reliance and the ability to take care of basic needs in harmony with nature and the community.

  • To achieve this, he suggested that every person should contribute their labour to public works like sanitation, grow their own food locally, establish a rotational force to guard the village, provide education for all, wear hand-spun khadi to support local artisans, and avoid intoxicants.


Decentralized Democratic Governance and Swarajya in Villages according to Gandhi

  • Gandhi believed that in a society composed of countless villages, there should be ever-widening circles of power and influence, rather than a hierarchical pyramid structure where those at the top hold all the power.

  • Villages should be viewed as equal and important micro-units that form the backbone of a decentralized democratic system of governance.

  • The power of the Center ultimately derives from the coordinated efforts of these micro-units.

  • Gandhi acknowledged the challenges in implementing this vision, but believed that even one ideal village could serve as a template for the entire country and perhaps even the world.

  • The idea of swarajya in villages is also connected to Gandhi's broader goal of preserving Indian traditions and resisting external influences.


Issues with Village-level Governance and the Journey towards the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments

  • Prior to the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, India's Constitution only recognized a two-tier form of government, with local institutions mentioned only in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP), which is not enforceable by courts or bound to be followed, only meant as a guiding document for governments.

  • The lack of focus on local governance led to issues such as absence of regular elections, insufficient representation of marginalized sections, inadequate devolution of powers, and lack of financial resources from the state and Centre.

  • Committees such as the Balwant Rai Mehta and Ashok Mehta Committees were formed to study these issues and make recommendations.

  • In the late 1980s, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made local governance a priority and with cross-party support, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act was passed, providing constitutional status to Panchayati Raj institutions.

  • This meant that the provisions for local governance could no longer be easily ignored as they were now enshrined in law and a part of the Constitution.

  • The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, passed in the same year, addressed local governance in urban areas and the constitution of municipal bodies.

The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act of 1992

  • By making PRIs a mandatory third tier of governance, the Panchayati Raj Act brought significant changes to the dynamics of rural development. It allowed a large section of people, particularly women, to participate in the administration of their localities and have a say in decision-making.
  1. Devolution of Powers
    1. The state government may devolve powers to Panchayats for implementing schemes for economic development and social justice.

    2. Panchayats may be authorized to levy, collect, and appropriate taxes, duties, and tolls.

    3. Grants-in-aid may be provided to Panchayats from the Consolidated Fund of the State.

  2. Representation
    1. Women's representation is mandated in one-thirdof the seats.

    2. Women now constitute more than 45% of the nearly three million Panchayat and gram sabha representatives in the country.

    3. Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe groups are assigned seats in proportion to their presence in the population.

  3. Term and Elections
    1. Representatives have a fixed term of five years.

    2. A procedure is given for conducting timely elections.

  4. Finance Commission
    1. The Governor of a State constitutes a Finance Commission to review the financial position of the Panchayats.

    2. The Finance Commission recommends the requirements of the Panchayats and how they can be met.

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Fact File

National Civil Services Day: What is the history behind the day?


  • The Government of India observes 'Civil Services Day' every year on April 21 to celebrate the exceptional work done by civil servants and encourage them to serve citizens better.

  • This year’s theme: 'Viksit Bharat: Empowering Citizens and Reaching the Last Mile'.

  • On this day, the Prime Minister presents Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Public Administration to districts/implementing units for priority programme implementation and innovation categories.

  • The first National Civil Services Day was celebrated on April 21, 2006, in honor of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's speech to Administrative Services Officers at Metcalf House in Delhi in 1947, where he referred to civil servants as the "steel frame of India".

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