Does Democracy’s performance depend on quality of elected leaders? Is the quality and competency of leader correlated with formal education? Is formal education better parameter to judge the appropriateness & competence of public officials than street smartness and grassroots experience? Whose responsibility it is to impart education to all –society, individual or state? Can educated leaders be better able to effectively enforce the public policies meant for social welfare and public goods?
These are some of questions which have come to fore after Rajasthan government passed an ordinance, just days before the notification for Panchayati Raj election, fixing the minimum educational qualification for contestant in PRI election.
Ordinance makes it mandatory that a contestant for panchayat samiti and district council election must have passed Class X; Gram Sarpanch, class VIII; and in Scheduled Areas, Class V.
Educational qualification is not the criteria in the elections at any level and Rajasthan is the first State to have introduced minimum qualification criteria. It was even seriously debated in constitutional assembly but none was adopted. Universal adult franchise without any qualification attached was adopted. But many things have changed since independence. Can same criteria continue to work or is there need for amendment to improve the quality of democracy in 21st century?
The major arguments in favour of ordinance by Government and its supporter are
- Positive and progressive reform to further the cause of education and it would act as catalyst to bring social change.
- It would bring forward better educated public official and ultimately it would ensure better enforcement of public policy
- It would bringing more accountability and transparency as they can no longer take excuse behind the veil of ignorance. Standard excuse that ‘I am illiterate and put my thumb impression on whatever papers were given to me’ would no longer work.
- check embezzlement of funds at the hands of illiterate panchayat level representatives
But opposition is not convinced and dissenting voices (including civil society, activist and disqualified people from such move) have put forward following points to counter the move:
- Ordinance route (which preclude deliberation and discussion) for such a radical change is un-democratic.
- Government is utilizing brute majority to stifle the debate and discussion in house and outside.
- It’s not their fault that they don’t have educational degree. State has failed in its constitutional duty to impart the education.
- Is formal degree more important than competency acquired through experience?
- Introducing selective disqualification is hindering inclusive participation of all in the grassroots development and governance of the country.
- move is discriminatory to a large section of the rural population, particularly women, dalit and Adivasi among whom the literacy rate is the lowest
- aimed to garner political advantage
Some relevant facts: – Literacy rate of Rajasthan is 66.11 percent; Female literacy is 52.12 per cent, only 46 per cent of the rural women are literate.( The Census of India, 2011).But literacy rate and educational qualification among the young population is much more than elder population.
Intent: The main Intent shown intent reform was to bring more qualified people in politics. Nobody can fault with intent but many are questioning the method adopted. Also move has political connotation which was visible when opposition congress struggled to find the better educated candidates.
- Can the ordinance stand the legal scrutiny?
- Status: So far none of court has entertained the petition to cancel the notification for election and declare the ordinance unconstitutional or ultravire. SC refused to entertain the PIL & (SLP) writ petition on issue and has asked the concerned parties to go to HC. SC asked the petitioner to knock the doors of HC. High Court has fixed date of 2nd march while refusing to cancel the election process. Meanwhile AG has opined in SC that entire election would be void if ordinance is declared unconstitutional.
- Main legal issues involved are
- Can differentiation qualification for voter and candidate be imposed?
- Can pre-requisites like having a toilet facility at home and not having more than two children stand the judicial scrutiny?
- Does it impose unequal burden on marginalized section of society and benefit the well off?
- Why for PRI when no such qualification exist for MP and MLAs
- Shouldn’t state be held responsible for failure to perform its duty?
Impact: So what could be possible impact and consequences of such move?
- Congress which have traditional leadership & most of them are dynastic in nature struggled to find the candidates. It was even admitted by PCC chief Sachin Pilot that we are having difficulties in selecting candidates due to last minute ordinance. This was more pronounced when considering the women candidates.
- This has one side effect- families with educated girls /daughter-in-laws were approached for ticket even when they don’t have previous political background.
- Whether other states would follow the example or it would remain one of case? Will courts find something unconstitutional in proposed move?
- It would surely reduce the average age of elected representative. Even if we set aside the eligibility criterion, more young people contest the election this time. It has also to do with higher political consciousness and engagement of youth.
The level of public discourse in India can be judged by fact that some so called Liberal Intellectuals projected it as fight between elite’s vs masses. But can 8th pass be considered elites in today’s knowledge society?
Anecdotes are oversold in this world. This is especially more applicable to mass media and liberal intellectuals. The case of ‘’Naurati’’ was highlighted as if she was icon of ‘non-literate’ but competent India. As if a grave injustice was done by making her non-eligible for election. As if she was destined to rule forever. As if all the illiterate person are going to do the good job. This was repetition of Lalu-love of media and so called liberal intellectuals.
It’s just matter of time but there is definitely need to fix educational qualification for all elected leaders from grassroots to parliament. It would improve the quality of discourse and debate and lead to more informed policy choices.
Through some accuse that more educated person would find the more ways of corruption but such arguments and logics can’t cut ice in modern, rational, young and aspirational India.
The need of hour is to fix the educational qualification for all level of public officials, improve the quality of public discourse and policy making, and making democracy more participative in both structure and process.
Liberal intellectuals need to comprehend the aims, aspiration and dreams of modern youth who are forming the base of demographic dividend and need to attune their thoughts and thinking accordingly to mobilise this huge latent energy for productive use. Only a visionary leadership with exposure to grassroots and constant engagement with people can mobilise this latent energy and enthusiasm for nation building.