“Rajneeti karni hai hamare bete ko, padh likh kar kya karega?”
I’m sure most of you are already familiar with the perception underlying the above statement- it is the general Indian understanding that one doesn’t need to be academically qualified if he/she wants to venture into the field of politics, especially if he/she is from a political background. Anybody can become an MP, sarpanch, minister if he/she knows how to play his cards well in the elections and has an established vote-bank, right?
Not anymore though.
In a revolutionary judgment titled Rajbhala and others vs State of Haryana and others, pronounced on 10th December, 2015, the honourable Supreme Court of India dismissed a plea challenging the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, and upheld all the amendments. The amendment makes it mandatory for a person contesting elections at the panchayati level to have a minimum educational qualification like that of being a tenth-pass.
The other disqualifications include failure to pay arrears to any primary agriculture co-operative society or agriculture co-operative banks, failure to pay electricity bill arrears and not having a functional toilet at home.
However, this article will restrict itself to the educational qualificationS included in the Act.
The decision of the Supreme Court should be welcomed, as it is a step towards improving the political scenario of our country. Why?
Because this judgment is now a precedent for introducing educational qualifications for other important political posts like that of a Member of Parliament and members of State Legislative Assemblies. And this is what our country needs right now, as is clear from the current degraded political class where parliament is always adjourned, no consensus is reached on any important bills, people throw chairs and abuses at each other, at least two or three major scams occur each year, the law-makers are themselves the law benders.
The panchayats of our country often act like kangaroo courts and impose brutal punishments on people residing in their village, with absolutely no authority or power to do so. In a recent case which occurred in Haryana itself, a couple was kidnapped and brutally murdered, allegedly by family members, on the orders of their village khap panchayat which justified the killing on the ground that it was incest as the couple belonged to the same Banwala gotra. In Uttar Pradesh, the khap panchayat ordered the villages to rape and parade two Dalit sisters naked around the village because their brother had eloped with a married woman.
Such actions reek of ignorance. If we do not make amendments now, we allow things to remain as they are.
Despite sixty-eight years of independence, the status quo of the country is depressing and it is clear that the current system is not working and needs to be fixed. Introducing educational qualifications for such posts is a step in this direction because drastic times call for drastic steps.
Let’s take a look back at history.
On November 26, 1949, during the course of formally adopting the Indian constitution, Dr Rajendra Prasad, former President of the Republic of India, spoke the following words:
“I would have liked to have some qualifications laid down for members of the legislatures. It is anomalous that we should insist upon high qualifications for those who administer or help in administering the law, but none for those who make it except that they are elected. A law-giver requires intellectual equipment but, even more than that, the capacity to take a balanced view of things, to act independently and above all to be true to the fundamental values in life- in one word, to have character.”
These words clearly demonstrate that our forefathers understood the importance of education and found it absurd that the law-makers of the country, the Parliamentarians, hardly require any qualifications to hold their post.
The argument by critics which states that since our constitution-makers did not introduce such a qualification while drafting the constitution, it is implicit that they did not deem this qualification to be necessary for being a leader/representative of the people is unfounded. When the sculptors of our nation made the constitution, the literacy rate in the country was only 18.33%. However, the situation has now changed and it is illogical to relate the conditions prevalent in one era to a totally different era. The literacy rate in our country, according to the 2011 census, is 74.04%. This implies that more than fifty percent of our population is literate and thus it is reasonable to impose such a qualification upon the people for the greater public good.
It is also essential to note, as already pointed out by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, that while we require administrators of justice, who are the lawyers and the judges, to have exceptionally high academic qualifications and to have had a certain number of years as experience, our law-makers, who are the members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies have no educational qualification. So to make the law you don’t need to have an academic backing but to administer the same law you do, and that too a very high one!
Talking about History, it itself is testimony to the fact that because of well-read and literate leaders in our Constituent Assembly were we able to draft a Constitution for our nation and usher in a new, independent era for everybody. This only highlights the importance of education and why a leader should atleast have a basic academic qualification.
The most common criticism to the said amendment is that the law disenfranchises a significant number of people from contesting elections, since most people in our country are uneducated. What about their rights, the critics say. This move, according to many, is against the spirit of Article 14 of the Indian constitution, which states that The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
The critics hold that since the state of Haryana has a poor status of education [what about the poor status of politics in our country, just saying], a vast number of people who are uneducated due to poverty, lack of facilities or choice will be denied their right to contest the elections.
However, it is to be kept in mind that Article 14 allows the state to classify people on the basis of intelligible differentia between them and if the particular classification has a reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the act. In the present case, there is considerable difference between people who are academically qualified versus people who are not, and it certainly has a nexus with the object of the act, which is, as submitted by the Learned Attorney General before the Supreme Court, to have “model representatives for local self government for better administrative efficiency which is the sole object of the 73rd constitutional amendment”.
And let’s face it, being a panchayat member or a Parliamentarian (we are hoping this extends to MP/MLAs as well) is not an easy job. They are the ones who have control over public finance and laws. Parliamentarians pass the budget and budget supplements. Such things require educated leaders from the grass-root level itself.
At this point, I would like to point out an amusing thing to all the critics who argue that it makes no sense to impose such qualifications upon panchayati leadership before imposing it on our MPs and MLAs.
In India, the qualification for appointment of peon in the government office is as follows:
1) Recruitment of Peon (Government of India) – Qualification: Middle School Certificate or equivalent.
2) Lower Division Clerk (Government of India) – Qualification: 10th class or equivalent from a recognized board.
3) Storekeeper (Government of India) – Qualification: 10th class or equivalent from a recognized board.
Why is there a hue and cry when such qualifications are imposed upon our leadership, which our peons and clerks are already subjected to? Are we implying that one needs to be a tenth pass to be a peon or a clerk with the Government of India, but to be a Panchayat leader or MP, sab chalta hai?
Secondly, it is also being pointed out that the State is supposed to, under Article 21A, Right to Education Act and Directive Principles of State Policy, provide free and compulsory education to all children till the age of fourteen. I completely agree with that, and also succumb to the fact that the State has, more or less, failed in its duty. However, I argue that through these amendments in the grass-root and the national level, the educational standing of the country will only increase and the Government will be forced to work for the educational sector of the nation.
This can happen through two ways.
One, this will create an incentive for people to educate their children, who, despite having the money and the resources, choose to be illiterates. Such people do exist in rural India, and they are not a minuscule number. This will especially affect the children belonging to political families, where it is easy for them to join the family lineage.
Thus, the importance of education will be enforced in the Indian psyche.
Secondly, since the Government itself will impose such an exclusionary qualification, it will be pressurized by the people to establish schools, hire teachers and invest in this sphere. The government’s neglect will come to light and it will be held accountable for the same. After all, for how long can we just sit and wait for the Government to do what it was long supposed to do? A compelling situation has to be created to accomplish the task which we had set out to achieve long ago.
Moreover, it is a settled position of law that when something is needed to be done for the benefit of the general public at large, it is reasonable to restrict an individual’s rights. The maxim Salus populi suprema lex esto, which means the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law, is applied in this case, where it is extremely important for the public to have good leaders, albeit at the cost of some individuals being denied their right to contest elections.
There, I said it.
I urge my readers to think – How can we expect better administration, less corruption, cleaner and greener roads, minimal crimes in a country whose leadership does not have a clear perception or sense of justice?
I am not belittling people who aren’t educated or stating that they cannot run the country. However, being educated plays a huge role in giving an individual clarity of thought and purpose and thus, such a person would not just be able to run the country, but run it effectively.
Opinions and criticisms like ‘you can still have knowledge without having an academic qualification’ do have merit in them; however, it is important to realize that such ideas only sound good and are not practical in the real world context.
However, submitting all of the above, I agree that the judgment is not without its flaws. The question on whether right to contest elections is a constitution or statutory right is argued on till great length, despite the issue being res judicata.
There are other legal issues for which explanations have not been provided. Nevertheless, I still believe that the judgment stands for something which, as status quo warrants, is needed urgently in the society. If this judgment acts as a precedent for other posts as well, the face of Indian politics will change.
In fact, it has already started changing, as witnessed in the recent panchayat polls.
The imposition of educational qualification has resulted in a substantial rise in the number of graduate sarpanchs in the state. More than 10% of them are graduates or have higher degrees as compared to 7% in the prvious panchayat polls.
What is even more, a woman named Yukti Chaudhary, who has an LLM in International Human Rights from none other than Harvard Law School, recently won the elections in the state for the Fatehabad Zila Parishad. There are so many other instances of people with MBA degrees who won the poll this year.
It is brilliant news to have such people as our leaders, because not only will they work efficiently for the nation but also set an example for other qualified people to pursue the notorious field of politics, which every person thinks twice before stepping into.
Mrs. Yukti herself commented upon this and stated that education would help her and others like her in understanding policies of the state for better implementation of the same.
Things are changing, and we hope they continue to do so for the better.
(Image Courtesy: Flickr)