Saturday, December 19, 2015

Haryana Law on Minimum Qualifications for contesting Panchayat polls

The Supreme Court upheld the law proposed by Haryana government. The law specifies minimum education levels for various groups – class 10 for men, class 8 for women and class 5 for Dalits. As expected, there is a bumper crop of comments. Most of the commentators are criticizing the law, claiming that it goes against the fundamental rights, it is undemocratic and it is intended to deprive a vast chunk of the population from contesting elections.

Is this negatively affecting a majority of the population? This is where the plot gets murky. Both sides quote stats that is diametrically opposite. One side claims that 84% of Dalit women and 71% of all rural women would be ineligible by this new law. The other side quotes the overall literacy rate in the state as 76.6% and female literacy at 66.8%. The government’s affidavit states that 57% of the rural population above the age of 20 will be eligible. 

Before one goes into the merits and demerits of these arguments, let us ask a fundamental question. Aren’t raising the bar and improving the performance two wheels of progress? If one doesn’t raise the bar, then there is no incentive to improve the performance. And we have seen numerous manifestations of that in our political arena. 

Is this a case of the snobs mocking the proletariat? That is of course a very convenient and tempting tag. But if one looks at the debate that churned the society a century ago – should political freedom come first or social development? The first group was ‘freedom fighters’ and shunned the British rule even in areas where social evils were getting obliterated by them. The other group of ‘social reformers’ had moderate popularity at best. The first group won hands down. Whatever social reforms did happen, happened despite the ‘freedom fighters’, not because of them. As a result, we have a huge population that is not even ‘socially aware’, but is ‘politically empowered’ to the fullest. The results are there for all to see. No political leader or party is interested in eradication of the social evils, because perpetuating the social evils is their main feeder line.

Looking at the available (albeit conflicting) data, if one has to take a stand, then that stand will be either for raising the bar or improving the performance without any measurement. One can draw a parallel here with building toilets at home. Just as government was forced to facilitate schemes to build toilets in every household after making it mandatory for contesting the elections, the interest groups should focus on forcing the government to take education down to the smallest basti in the remotest corner. 

On the whole, there is another parallel that one can see here – the Delhi government’s proposed odd-even solution is being criticized with much enthusiasm and without much substance. For any kind of reforms, there is no sure-fire formula. One has to try different combinations, and hope that some of them succeed. 

Update: a quick look at some of the restrictions that exist today in some of the states throws light from another angle. Mahatma Gandhi was quite active in nursing leprosy patients, and it is not very contagious, yet leprosy patients can’t contest elections in Rajasthan, Andhra and Odisha. Thomas Edison and Ludwig Van Beethoven made a name for themselves despite facing hearing and speech impairment. But hearing and speech impaired people persons have to sit it out in Andhra and Odisha.

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