A NOTE ON PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY
M.P. Parameswaran, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad*
There are two opposing views on the future of human kind.
One view hold that finally humanity has discovered, after a number of „grave mistakes‟,
the gravest of which was the attempt of building socialism during the twentieth century, the
“correct path” for “bright future”- the path of “market controlled society”! No more experiments
are to be conducted. “They will not be tolerated”!
The opposing point of view is that market controlled democracy:
- is anarchic
- is unjust
- will lead to impoverishment of many and enrichment of a few
- will lead to resource depletion, waste accretion and catastrophic environment changes
- will lead to increasing conflicts which may escalate to all-destructive global wars
They argue for some form of “social” control rather than the control of the “market”. A
few still maintain “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” as the form of social control; others opt for
More and more people across the world in all the countries are coming to the side of
“Participatory Democracy”. A number of experiments in Kerala , India, in Cuba, in Porto
Alegre, Brazil etc. etc. are being conducted to broaden and to deepen participatory democracy.
They are to be studied, experience exchanged, networks established and a world movement
based on participatory democracy has to be built up.
Democracy, if it means a government by the people, demands participation. Participation
has to be creative. If not, it is only “mass slavery”, to put it in strong words and mass
involvement of the people in the execution of projects conceived by a few, to put it mildly. Such
non-creative participation will not be just and unjust things are not sustainable.
Yes, sustainability is a concept that has been introduced into development debate only in
recent years. It could mean simply extension of the date of exhaustion and extinction or total
prevention of the same. This gets automatically linked to the understanding of the concept of
Participatory democracy should ensure just and sustainable development. Participation,
obviously, has to be universal and not limited to a few individuals. This suggests that both
economic and political activities have to be on small enough scale- on human scale- so that
citizens can meaningfully participate in them. This goes against the hither to experienced trend
of human development, which has been one of an ever increasing magnitude of economic
operations and concentration of economic and political power into fewer and fewer hands.
Participation, also demands ability to participate, the necessary knowledge and skills and
also the willingness to participate. The majority of people in any country is historically
conditioned to supplicate and not to participate. This attitude stems, also, from the inability to
participate. How can the billion plus citizens either in China or in India participate effectively in
taking decisions that affect all of them? What can ordinary US citizens do in the country today
ruled by billionaires and corporate giants?
Participation demands political decentralization and devolution of powers-both political
The question often asked is this: how can the small economic and political units face
competition from the larger ones? Competition is a rule in the game. Societies make the rules.
There has, never been and even now there is not a single society which allows free competition.
It is always tempered by the interests of the ruling class. However, even if the rules of the game
are made more favourable to the people at large still criteria of participation and sustainability
demand small to become not only beautiful but also powerful. Similarly, powers devolved from
top to bottom as a grace cannot be held on to. Those who gave powers can take them back.
Powers are to be won and kept.
So, true participatory democracy demands revolutionary changes in the economics, ethics
and politics of the society. These revolutionary changes are to be brought about through
processes which in themselves are in consonance with the desired changes. One cannot bring
about or strengthen democracy through dictatorship, cannot strengthen politics through
politicking, cannot enhance ethics through corruption.
a) Motive for economic activity : social good in place of private profit.
b) Regulation : social control with space for individual initiative through a socially tempered
c) Production: for consumption rather than for exchange. No dictatorship of commodity.
d) Small scale dispersed production: to be economically viable and environmentally safe.
Small has to become powerful.
e) R & D work : geared consciously to make small powerful and not to help large scale or
enrich the already rich.
f) Primacy restored to the primary sector.
g) Increasing local self-sufficiency and reduced transportation of humans and commodities.
h) Increasing reliance on solar energy and “on conversion of waste to wealth”
a) Increasing wisdom to differentiate needs from greed.
b) Human progress to be understood in human terms and not in terms of material
c) Understand the physical and spiritual aspects of the quality of life.
d) Recognition of the fact that „participation‟ is not only an economic and political
necessity, that it is a spiritual necessity too.
e) Recognition of and respect for the rights of women, children and unprivileged.
a) Every able bodied citizen will have to undertake some responsibility, small or large in the
day to day management of the society.
b) Each citizen to acquire knowledge and skills to take up such responsibilities.
c) Elections are not to be taken as a once in a five year act, an act of giving an irrevocable
powers of attorney- Right to recall essential.
d) Right to information, willingness to look into and ability to understand what one sees.
e) Inversion of power pyramid and conversion into cooperative concentric circles- local
community at the centre with larger and larger formations as outer rings. Ultimate
sovereignty to the local community. The strength of larger ones derived from what is
agreed upon at local levels.
f) Conscious programme to educate and enable citizens to take up the responsibility of
These are some of the ideas that are being discussed on various platforms. They are to be
developed through praxis- on sufficiently large scale and under diverse conditions.
Perhaps a new type of ideology may emerge from this praxis,
- which is different from the market ideology
- which is different from marxist ideology as was practised in the 20th century
- which is the product of a collective brain, on the basis of abstraction from a wide
variety of experiences
- which does not offer the scope to become a dogma
- which enable sustained and sustainable development of the human species
- which can lead to a world where wars become unnecessary.
These and many similar issues could be and should be discussed on international
*M.P. Parameswaran, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad – People´s Science Movement