The Big Picture – Haryana & Rajasthan: Education criteria in local elections
In an unusual move the opposition in Rajya Sabha led by congress recently managed to get an amendment passed to the president’s address delivered by the president at the beginning of the ongoing budget session. In what is considered as an embarrassment to the government the amendment expressed that the president address did not support the right of the citizens to contest Panchayat elections in the backdrop of restrictions (Minimum Educational Qualification criteria) imposed in Haryana and Rajasthan. Local body elections in these two states have already been held. Incidentally, these laws have also been upheld by the Supreme Court. On the other hand, both Haryana and Rajasthan state governments have defended their laws. They say there are already enough schemes in the country to ensure minimum educational qualification as required by the law. Also, according to them, such laws encourage people to send their children to the schools.
But, few activists argue that these laws are against the very spirit of 73rd and 74th amendments. These laws also violate the right of every citizen to vote and to contest elections, which form the basic structure of the constitution. It may be noted here that due to these restrictions, many able candidates were debarred from contesting elections. In one way, it can be said that this law has prevented many people from coming to the mainstream. Besides, such laws do not hold good for states like Haryana and Rajasthan. For example, in Haryana 83% of Dalit, 67% of general women and overall 64% of the citizens have been excluded due to the conditions imposed by this law. Also, the number of candidates contested in recent elections was one fourth of the previous election and 53% of people were selected unopposed. Activists also allege that all important organisations in the country, including the Election Commission of India, have failed to protect the rights of citizens. Therefore, according to them, Rajya Sabha has done the right thing by underlining this issue in the ongoing session.
The Supreme Court’s interpretation is based on the fact that uneducated or illiterate people getting elected to the local bodies can easily be misled by officials if they don’t know to write and read. In such cases, administrative actions that they are going can pose many challenges. The Court has further observed that it is only the education which can give people the power to differentiate between right and wrong, and good and bad.
However, this is seen as a setback for the evolution of democracy by some people. They argue that the primary role of public representatives is to put forth the point of his/her electorate. The court has also ignored the fact that it is the native wisdom of the people that has saved this democracy for years now. In all, it seems that the education criteria have been over emphasized. Some activists are also questioning the average education level of Legislatures which passed these laws. They say, if these laws are to be put in place then they should first be imposed at the top level, that is top-bottom approach should be followed. Besides, education in India is not yet universalized and we are not a 100% literacy country. Interestingly, such laws have also prompted persons to get false certificates to contest elections.
Following the footsteps of Haryana and Rajasthan, even the Maharashtra state government is planning to introduce such law. But, before proceeding further the Parliament should rethink on the whole issue. Because, such laws, in the long run, may also promote elitist representative systems.