LSTV Insights – Educational Qualification and Elections
Rajasthan Government promulgated an ordinance debarring people educated below 10th class from standing in Sarpanch elections. This was done a barely day after when on 24th December, Panchayat elections were declared by state Election commission. This casts showdown of doubts about intention of the government behind this step.
Many NGO’s and opposition parties filed Petition against this law claiming it to be unconstitutional, but they have been asked by Supreme Court to first try Rajasthan High Court.
Supporters claimed that this bill is progressive and ensures that dummy/proxy candidates are not fighting elections which come from local families who are traditionally in politics in villages. It is said that a family tries to wrest power at as many points they can by projecting all their candidates and hence excluding new comers in politics. So this type of act will help new generation to join local politics as many traditional local Sarpanchs will be forced to retire after this new law. Class 8th certificate in these times are not limited to only elite households, but downtrodden people are also studying in large numbers. This act will act as a suction pull and motivate masses to study at the time when primary education is fundamental right. There has been repeated stress that Local Governments shall be first point of interaction between public and state. So the need to provide quality services and for this they need to be literate.
Opposition has more arrows in quiver. In first place, they say this ordinance is unconstitutional and violates Article 14 that is of right to equality. Old people who had no means to study in their times will be excluded, without any fault on their part. It violates basic principle of democracy which is founded on the principle of Universal Adult franchise. It looks weird that a person who is not qualified to be elected as Sarpanch, is eligible to be elected as Member of Parliament (or even Prime Minister).
If this was to be done, it was better to start from the top. Supporters say that it’s easy to experiment at local level and then see the results. But in current democratic setup only local elections can accommodate local downtrodden people who have limited means to fight elections. Restriction here is uncalled for. After 73rd and 74th amendments, participation from the grassroots was on rise and this law will hamper this rise.
Further, this should have been done on the basis of empirical data, deliberation and consultation with various stake holders. But this was a surprise ordinance and indicates toward abuse of power.
Formal education cannot suggest that a person is desirable for a constitutional post or not. If we go by this ordinance then tall figures like Guru Rabindranath Tagore and Kamraj will stand disqualified. ASER report last year revealed that Class 8th qualified students were not able to solve problems of 2nd standard. Even if such laws withstand the scrutiny of court, then quality universal education which is affordable and available to all is prerequisite.