The Supreme Court judgement upholding the constitutional validity of the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015 (Rajbala & ors. v/s State of Haryana) which mandates that those contesting Panchayat polls should have passed 10th standard and lower formal educational norms for persons belonging to Scheduled caste community could pave the way for imposition of such educational standards in other regions for local governing bodies including Zilla Panchayats and Municipal corporations. The probability that the Election Commission of India could also evolve minimum educational qualifications to be a member of the State legislature/Parliament in this area currently ‘unoccupied’ by an Act of Parliament seems likely as was done by the ECI making it obligatory for contesting candidates to file affidavits in respect of criminal antecedents, assets and liabilities and educational qualifications invoking the letter and spirit of the Right to Information Act.
I would list the Haryana Panchayati Raj amendment as regressive and anti-democratic as it disenfranchises a vast rural majority from contesting elections as adult franchise should not be restricted only as a right to vote. It was expected of the Supreme Court to take a progressive view in context of democracy, justice and equity. However, the two-member division bench speaking for the apex court got influenced with the strict technicality of the subject holding that the right to contest election being statutory and not a fundamental right, the qualifications/disqualifications can be imposed by the State legislature and that courts should not interfere with the collective wisdom of the legislative body. Further, the apex court thought the way educated urban Indians think. The judges proclaimed “It is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad. Therefore, prescription of an educational qualification is not irrelevant for better administration of the Panchayats”. I fail to understand the source of this groundless logic. Undoubtedly, this is judicial arrogance and pretentious posturing. Though erroneous and not supported by facts, the wise judges expounded that “basic education enables to more effectively discharge various duties which befall the elected representatives of the Panchayats”.
I would submit that education is definitely the enabler but not necessarily formal education. Any person, not formally educated or armed with a certificate from a Board of Education cannot be considered to be suffering from any disability to discharge the elected office at the Panchayat level. Any person who finally gets chosen as the representative of the people amongst competing candidates through the fair electoral process should be deemed to possess skills, qualities and qualifications to occupy the elected office. Education for democratic participation cannot be imprisoned within the four walls of school classrooms to be measured by a formal degree.
Mr. Rajendra Prasad speaking in the Constituent Assembly expressed his wish that some qualifications should be laid down for members of Legislatures as he found it anomalous that high qualifications are prescribed for those who administer or help in administering the law but none for those who made it except that they are elected. At the same time, he added that adult suffrage is a very big step taken. To quote him, “In my opinion, our people possess intelligence and commonsense. They also have a culture which the sophisticated people of today may not appreciate, but which is solid. They are not literate and do not possess the mechanical skill of reading and writing. But, I have no doubt in my mind that they are able to take measure of their own interest and also of the interests of the country….. in fact, in some respects, I consider them to be even more intelligent than many a worker in a factory”. After the success of the democratic experiment of adult suffrage and absence of any formal educational qualification to contest elections for over 65 years, such a restriction now is unnecessary and ridiculous. The past has proved that those who contest elections with or without formal qualifications are those who have their feet firmly on the ground with full ability to understand the pulse of the people and keen to have a realistic view of issues.
Any person differently challenged for want of formal education but who runs a family, sends the child to school, earns his bread and takes the plunge to pass the tougher examinations of elections can in no way be considered to be uneducated or lacking in emotional and social intelligence. If the formally educated make better political workers, it is for the electoral market to test. Why bar and disenfranchise the not formally educated?
The right to vote and the right to contest are constitutional rights and should not be allowed to be tampered on flimsy and unconnected grounds. This should be the issue to be decided by a Constitution Bench as it is a critical matter in democracy. The educated urban Indian is free to think that compulsory formal education will throw up competent, smart and clean Panchayat leaders. But, the judiciary should think objectively, wisely and justly.