Qualified implementer, unqualified lawmaker
The topic “Electoral Reforms” has kept the Parliament, the Government, the Press, and also the Election Commission engaged for a long time. The Election Commission has been very regularly addressing the Government in the last six years on different subjects requiring reforms. There were some lacunae pointed out in the law and hence, some measures were implemented for rectification. In March 2015, the Law Commission of India had submitted a comprehensive report to the Government regarding the same issue.
When the issue has not died, the recent Supreme Court verdict on fixing a minimum educational qualification as an eligibility criterion to contest panchayat polls in Haryana has been well appreciated in many quarters. It is congratulatory step by the Haryana Government to stipulate that general-category candidates for Panchayat polls must have a minimum qualification of completing class 10. But, is it necessary to bring quota system in fixing the minimum eligibility criteria for candidature? Why did the government allow relaxation of educational qualification for women and SC category? Why not make the minimum educational qualification equal for all?
Certainly, this decision could be a precedent preventing illiterate persons from participating in grass roots democracy. Even though there are other grounds for disqualification from contesting polls under the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, the educational qualification will probably play a major role in bringing the right kind of people into the law making system. The amended law would now disqualify 68 percent Scheduled Caste Women and 48 percent Scheduled caste men in Haryana from contesting the Panchayat polls. The Supreme Court judgment is an exclusionary judgment as it will prohibit 52.3 lakhs people out of the total 96 lakhs of rural population to contest in the rural local body election. Also, states like Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Chhattisgarh have also made certain eligibility criteri like candidates must have toilets at home, have not more than two children, no speech and hearing impairment, etc. However, after this Supreme Court judgment, Haryana may be a role model for other states and this may influence the state governments to amend their laws in the similar fashion.
Now the question arises; what is for the candidates of Assembly and Parliament elections? The Supreme Court intervened in a matter related to local body election and passed a favorable judgment. Haryana government would implement that and also would bring an ordinance for similar qualification fixation for the candidates of Urban local Body elections. But, isn’t it necessary to really think about the minimum education qualification for the MLA and MP candidates? If necessary, who would take the initiative? Does the state government have the power for any such amendment in Assembly and Parliament elections? And another important question is if Panchayat election candidates should have minimum education qualification of matriculation, then what should be the minimum requirement for MLA and MP candidates?
The Election Commission and the Government must take cue from the recent verdict and the process electoral reform may be given more importance although both the Election Commission and Law Commission have done their initial part. Both the Commission undertook an extensive study to suggest electoral reforms, held various rounds of discussions with the stakeholders and analysed in-depth the issues involved. The responses from different political parties from across India were not encouraging. Now a report from Law commission is already pending with the Government. Surprisingly, when media is running after many raging issues, it is maintaining a kind of silence over the electoral reformation. It seems as if there is no media focus on it? Probably it is the right time all should pull up shocks to make the reforms possible.
The topic of qualification of politicians is always in debate. Nitish Kumar’s Ministerial team has seven members with a Masters degree, nine with a Bachelors degree, and twelve have just gone to schools. Similarly, even though Haryana has amended the recent local body election act, there are five MLAs who are non-matric and one member is illiterate in its Assembly. There are similar examples in other states. Even many members of Parliament and ministers have remained in controversy related to their educational qualifications. There are several reports published in media regarding the insufficient qualification of several prominent leaders who have not even passed matriculation. But still many such leaders now and also in the past have enjoyed the role of being law makers.
In established democracies like the United States, Canada, and Australia, the Constitution allows trial by jury which is a form of democracy in the courts. According to US law any ordinary citizen is eligible to become a member of the jury whose inclusion makes it representative of the diverse ethnic and economic background of the community.
There could be different arguments for and against making the minimum educational qualification a major criterion for election candidates. For instance in democracies across the world the eligibility criteria is generally restricted to age and the education levels are similar to both for contestants and voters. Though international standards for democratic elections are not prescriptive norms the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates every citizen must be provided with right and opportunity without discrimination based on distinctions of race, color, sex, language, religion, property, birth, or other status and without unreasonable restrictions to vote and to be elected. Secondly, there are also some larger issues which are crucial to a democracy. To disqualify any contestant based on the basic educational qualification may go against the grain of Article 15 of the constitution which not only prohibits discrimination but also permits the state to make special provisions for the advancement of women as well as socially and educationally backward sections of the society.
Thirdly, what would happen if the MLAs or MPs could not perform in the floor of the house even if they have strong educational background? For example, there have been many criticisms against some prominent leaders of India in the recent past and the list includes many top notch leaders like former Prime Minister, former CM of some states and many other big guns of different political parties. Many educated leaders have been criticised for passing illegal and defamatory remarks against their colleagues in the house despite being well educated and qualified.
But, again there could be a fourth argument that a government has normally three divisions which include Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. People who wish to be in Bureaucracy have to go through some vigorous process and they are desired to have essential qualification as well. So why are the same rules not applicable to the entire legislature? How could it be justified that the law executors need to be qualified, but not the law makers?
(Views expressed are strictly personal)