In a recent move, newly-formed Rajasthan government headed by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has decided to scrap legislation mandating minimum educational criteria for candidates in civic polls.
This step seeks to undo misconceived and elitist step of the previous government which brought Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act. This Act mandated that minimum educational criteria for contesting municipal elections and elections to zilla parishad or panchayat samiti would be Class 10.
For contesting sarpanch elections, candidate must have passed Class 8 for general candidates and Class 5 for a SC/ST candidate.
One fails to understand the logic of the government to insist upon minimum educational qualification only at the grassroot level and not extend this to members of Legislative Assembly.
On the face of it, this piece of legislation appears very progressive infusing educated candidate into politics. However, a deeper analysis reveals that it has its own flaws.
As per the data from 2011 Census, the literacy rate in Rajasthan was 79% for males and 52% for females. With an average of 66% literacy, Rajasthan falls well below the 74% rate of national literacy only to figure as one of the 10 states with least literacy in the country.
This act thus had effect of excluding a large section of society who did not have an opportunity to get educated from contesting election owing to their social disadvantage.
When viewed from constitutional principles, this legislation does not hold good. Preamble to the Constitution guarantees political justice and equality of opportunity. This takes within its fold right to equal opportunity to contest elections.
However, the legislation ignored the fact that large section of society continued to be illiterate and it took away the right to have equal opportunity in contesting elections. This legislation also sought to treat citizens on the parameters of formal equality, forgetting that formal equality leads to injustice when equity has failed to operate.
Here, a comparison can be drawn with the policy of reservation. Reservation is an acknowledgement of the inequality in the society and a positive discrimination by the state seeks to bring in an equal order. If opportunity was based upon the notions of formal equality, the only results that would flow would be marginalisation of people.
In a society of ours which is constituted by large mass of marginalised and underprivileged people, education was not a luxury of all. This is reflected by data of 2011 Census as well.
Equity required that citizens be educated first and then such a legislation be brought in. This act of equity would align with the Preamble to the Constitution which aims to bring about “Justice social, economic and political”.
Though the idea of educated people entering politics may seems very desirable, at this moment it is against the very spirit of the Constitution and democracy, alienating those who have not had access to education and is in its essence elitist blinded to the reality of the people.
Right of people to have guaranteed education has its own history. Article 45 of the constitution (as it was before 86thConstitutional Amendment),which formed a part of Directive Principles of State Policy, had put a duty upon the state to provide free education to children till they attained six years of age. This, however, was not mandatory for the state and only a guiding principle in their governance of the state.
Later, this directive principle was made a fundamental right under Article 21A in 2002 by the 86th Amendment to the Constitution. Right to Education Act was passed to this effect in 2009 which made it mandatory for the State to provide education to all in the age-group of 6-14.
Right to Education Act being passed only in 2009, it can be no justification to assume literacy of the people that too when the 2011 Census data shows to the contrary.
Through the Act mandating minimum educational qualification, the state had abandoned its duty to educate its people and right of the people to the same. In fact, this legislation made the right a liability on citizens to educate themselves who did not have the resources, social or economic.
This Act of the State was very similar to penalising citizens for a state wrong which they had never committed. If nothing, this Act had ensured that right to equal opportunity in contesting elections was impeded and not everyone could contest in it.
Even though the legislation may be lauded for its good motives, it was fairly nascent to be introduced in Rajasthan. The state must take steps to educate citizens before it can cast such a duty upon them. By introducing such legislations, previous elected government made a mockery of the very people who elected them.
Welcoming the step of the new government, now the onus is on the present government to take steps to realise constitutional aspirations of the people. Education must be made a ground reality available to everyone, irrespective of the hierarchy they belong to in the society. All this said, it is well in time that a legislation suitable for future was put to an end before it damaged our present.
(The writer is a student with the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru)