The members of the International Advisory Council discuss how to find a proper organizational model for Auroville.
It was a busy time for International Advisory Council (IAC) members Doudou Diene, Marc Tully and Mark Luyckx Ghisi who visited Auroville from September 30th to October 2nd, 2006. The Working Committee had provided them with ample background information about various issues. They also spent much time listening to presentations of various groups. Yet, they felt that the time was too short to fully comprehend the realities so that they could give meaningful advice on various issues. One of these was the problem of Auroville's internal organization and decision making process. At the IAC's request, the Working Committee organized an impromptu meeting with concerned Aurovilians.
IAC chairman Mark Tully opened the discussion, saying that the Council members have become increasingly aware of the problem of organization and were very interested by the paper produced by the Auroville Council which lists the problems in a very concise manner. “We thought it would be good to meet with you informally. So please speak out.” That Aurovilians certainly did. The concerns voiced addressed not only the problem of Auroville's internal organization, but also the functioning of the IAC itself.
The functioning of the IAC
“As we have been encouraged not to be diplomatic, I'll be frank,” said Frederick . He reminded the IAC members that the IAC was the brainchild of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. She had formulated its role as ‘to advise and ensure that the Aurovilians have the freedom to organize their own activities', stating that it was important that Auroville not become a department of the Government of India. “But up to now,” said Frederick , “the IAC has not played that role fully.” And he expressed an anxiety: that the Governing Board might take decisions without having obtained the prior advice of the IAC. “Our apprehension is that the GB will increasingly interfere, like it has recently done in the management of the land purchase committee by appointing half its members. We are afraid that such decisions will never be rolled back, as it is always difficult in a bureaucratic process to undo an earlier decision.”
The IAC members replied that their interaction with the GB had substantially improved. Earlier, there had been a clear lacuna in the information which they should receive, but that problem has, to a large extent, been solved. “We are much better informed than at the last meeting, and much much better than the meeting before,” said Mark Tully, even though 90% of the information had come from the Working Committee and only 10% from the GB.
The concerns raised by Frederick had to a certain extent been addressed in the IAC's interaction with the GB. The IAC had insisted on absolute transparency, in line with the recent Open Government policy of the Government of India. Also the structure of power was discussed, and the need of subsidiarity; that every decision should be taken at the lowest possible level. “The highest level has a sfunction to devolve power to the lower level, not to impose its views as in a hierarchical society. In no way should the highest level short-circuit the lowest level,” explained Mark Luyckx Ghisi.
Doudou Diene, though welcoming Frederick 's comments, added another perspective. “We have just started,” he said, “and 2 years is nothing. Only now is the complexity of Auroville becoming more evident.” He said that the IAC had already taken the decision to have twice-yearly meetings coinciding with those of the Governing Board, instead of once a year as was customary for previous IACs. “In this way we will be in a better position to advise. We believe that advising implies being part of the process, before decisions are made and executed.” Mark Luyckx Ghisi then invited all Aurovilians to email their concerns and proposals directly to the members of the IAC.
Problems of internal organization
The second topic of the interaction was how to build an appropriate Auroville organization. The problems listed by the Auroville Council were further enunciated by various Aurovilians. The main issue, as many see it, is the lack of leaders. The Mother envisaged a system of governance by people with an intuitive intelligence. But many Aurovilians argue that Auroville does not have people who function from the level of intuitive intelligence, and therefore propose to follow the beaten paths of democracy and elect people to certain positions. Others would like to follow Mother's indications, even if it means that many mistakes will be made. What is the solution? How can we build an organization where things are organized by the highest consciousness available to give a unified course of action to the administrative bodies, services and units of Auroville?
The functioning of the Residents' Assembly (RA), created by the Auroville Foundation Act, is at the root of this problem. The Act makes it obvious that the RA is the authority to take decisions regarding the Auroville affairs. But it does not mention how the RA should function. Attempts to make this body an active entity have not been successful; its meetings are usually attended by less than 10% of Auroville's adult population. However, without the adequate support of the residents of Auroville, there is no way to make the Working Committee and the Council effective. This state of affairs has given rise to questions such as ‘Should democracy, in one form or another, be at the base of Auroville's organization or should we find a way around it?' ‘As The Mother did not favour democracy, how can we create a government that is not democratic but that is still supported by the community?' ‘Should we create our own brand of democracy, an Auroville democracy?'
Another problem that is coming up is how Aurovilians deal amongst themselves with interpersonal problems. There is a basic understanding that an Aurovilian will not file a police complaint against another Aurovilian or go to a court of law for redress of any perceived injustice. Auroville attempts to solve such problems by offering mediation. But if one party refuses mediation, it may become necessary to advise people to have recourse to ordinary ways of seeking justice.
Seek the help of professionals
“It's absolutely clear to us that Auroville is not intended to be an ordinary democracy, or should be subject to authoritarian rule,” said Mark Tully. To find an ideal organization he advised that Auroville seek the help of professionals. “You can't be frogs in a well. Arrange a series of visits or lectures by people who understand constitutional problems. There are lots of people of goodwill around, and we will be happy to introduce Auroville to a few of them.” He then reminded the Aurovilians that they are not here only to pursue their own spiritual development but also to demonstrate to the world that human beings can live in unity. “Fundamentally, that responsibility is yours. If you don't take it, neither the IAC nor anybody else can save you from interference from the GB: for they have their own responsibilities under the Foundation Act.”
Have you gone beyond democracy?
Mark Luyckx Ghisi then asked a searching question: “Auroville aspires for divine anarchy and believes it should go beyond democracy. But in order to go beyond democracy, you must first be democratic. Have the principles of democracy been sufficiently applied in Auroville?” He explained that the ABC of politics is division of powers into the legislative, executive and judiciary. “The three should never be mixed. But I have the impression that the three are not clearly separated in Auroville. You have a legislative, which is the Residents' Assembly; you have an executive, the Working Committee and the Auroville Council, bodies that are badly hampered in their functioning with all the strains of the work but without the power; and through your mediation system, there is a bit of judiciary. But there must be a check-and-balance situation to ensure that no authority acts beyond its powers.” He denied that the principle of separation of powers was too far-fetched for an Auroville of only 1400 adults. “The principle even works in small monastic orders. And it is easier to install now than when Auroville has 50,000 inhabitants.” The first step, therefore, would be to ensure that division of power is built into the Auroville organizational structure. But how to go beyond that? Even Mark Luyckx Ghisi was not able to give examples of organizations that have gone beyond democracy. “I was a member of one of the think-tanks of the European Commission and we've gone through all that we could find in political innovation. Only in business a movement has started,” he said. A reference was made to the work of Dee Hoc, the founder of Visa, who introduced the principle of a chaordic [a word coined by Dee Hoc implying the mixing of chaos and organization] society and of other initiatives where the vision of business with profit as prime objective is being replaced by a vision where profit is a consequence. But clearly, solutions have to be found by Auroville itself.
Doudou Diene concluded the meeting with the observation that this was the best meeting he had attended in Auroville. “I think you are in a creative tension, and there is much frustration. But at the same time there is a movement behind the frustration, showing that Auroville is very much alive.” And he ended, “You have a challenge – that Auroville be an example to the world. We have a challenge, how as the IAC we can be meaningful. We'll do everything we can to help you.”
See also: The International Advisory Council