Educational qualification for elected representatives: A binary debate

In the daily deluge of news, a small update went unnoticed. Rajasthan’s newly elected Congress government decided to abolish the minimum educational qualification required to contest elections to panchayats and urban bodies. On the face of it, the decision and the rationale look simple.

Educational Qualification: An Unviable Proposition

What has educational qualification got to do with elected representatives? Is educational qualification a required criterion to be considered while choosing among the election contestants? Does the presence of educational qualification confirm that the elected representative is a better choice for the electorate?

The Indian Constitution does not require any basic educational qualification for the elections to the legislative assembly or the parliament. So, why should it be required for the local bodies?

The democracy bestows the fundamental right to contest an election to every citizen. So, why have a requirement of educational qualification that would disenfranchise a certain section of the society?

There is no guarantee that educated elected representatives will be more efficient and deliver better governance as compared to uneducated elected representatives.

In view of considering every Indian equal, minimum educational qualification requirement did not make sense.

Educational Qualification: The Background

We also need to know from where the minimum educational qualification for elected representatives came in.

In December 2014, Rajasthan became the first state in India to pass the legislation that required panchayat poll candidates to have minimum educational qualifications: Class X for the Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samiti polls, Class VIII to be a Sarpanch and Class V for scheduled areas.

Haryana soon followed suit. This was promptly challenged in the Supreme Court. A two-judge bench agreed that the education clause alone would result in disenfranchisement. Yet, ruled the judges, the “prescription of an educational qualification is not irrelevant for better administration of the panchayats”. In other words, the law would stand and the petition was dismissed.

Educational Qualification: A missed event in Indian democracy

Ideally, there should have been neutral research on the impact in Rajasthan and Haryana basis this law.

Has this law worsened the quality of governance? Or it has been for the betterment? The comparison could have been with the earlier period in the same state and between states, not having this law.

Who have been the people – gender, class, caste, religion who have been disenfranchised due to this law? How has the representation of the electorate changed in before/after period and across the spectrum?

Has there been any change in the way people perceive education for them basis this law? Meaning, has there been any improvement in the literacy rate of the area as people would try to make themselves eligible for the elections?

What have been the general public’s views on the efficacy of this law?

Last but not the least, where is the education budget being spent for adult education and what has been the output that even after 72 years of independence, the focus remains on minimum educational qualification and not anything beyond?

Conclusion

In the absence of state’s focus and delivery on 100% literate population, there is no other way out but to remove the minimum educational qualification law to ensure that everybody has the right to contest the elections. Even though, the Supreme Court has held the validity of the law.

It would have been prudent if dispassionate research was conducted to validate the basis of the law, if there was one put forth by the governments who enacted them. However, the decision-making continues to be held ransom to the vagaries of the changes in the government with no proof of concept requirement.

Along with this, India also misses the opportunity to know if minimum educational qualification did make a tangible difference or not.

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