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Rajasthan and Haryana Panchayat Amendments strike at the heart of Universal Adult Suf

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prasad1

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The right to vote and the right to contest are central to the concept of citizenship in an electoral democracy. Individuals can be disqualified from contesting elections on grounds of personal culpability. However, debarring "classes of people" because they do not meet some arbitrary qualifications militates against the very concept of democracy, especially where the disqualifications are a consequence of inadequate State capacity, says Ruchi Gupta.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Governments of Rajasthan and Haryana have amended their Panchayati Raj Acts to bar citizens without middle and secondary school education from contesting elections. The amendments, which disqualify about half of the rural population with Dalits, tribals, minorities and women being the worst hit, were upheld by the Supreme Court last month.

The Judges considered the question whether “a provision which disqualifies a large number of persons who would otherwise be eligible to contest the elections is unconstitutional” but dismissed it by arguing that “every person who is entitled to vote is not automatically entitled to contest for every office under the Constitution” and thus if it is “constitutionally permissible to debar certain classes of people from seeking to occupy the constitutional offices, numerical dimension of such classes, in our opinion, should make no difference for determining whether prescription of such disqualification is constitutionally permissible”. The Judges added one caveat to the above: “unless the prescription is of such nature as would frustrate the constitutional scheme by resulting in a situation where holding of elections to these various bodies becomes completely impossible.”

In the panchayat elections in Haryana, which concluded on January 24, more than half of the panches were elected unopposed. The numbers of unopposed candidates at panchayat, block and district level, too, have increased in both Rajasthan and Haryana. Even more shockingly, more than 5,000 (that is, more than eight per cent of the total) posts of panch remain vacant in Haryana because no one was eligible to contest! As per the numbers available for the 2010 elections, more than three nominations were received for each post of panch with an average of two contesting for each post.
Can it be anybody’s case that these vacant panchayats have democracy? If democracy is the bedrock of our Constitution, then each of these vacant panchayats is a rebuke and negation of our assertion that India is a democratic republic. These vacant panchayats alone constitute grounds for a review petition against the Supreme Court order.

There can be no democracy — a system of Government of, by and for the people — if we exclude 50 per cent of the population at the lowest tier from contesting for public office. As Indian citizens — rightly proud of our democratic traditions — are we going to allow those in power to abridge our citizenship and exclude us from our right to self-determination?
http://www.thehinducentre.com/the-arena/current-issues/article8184292.ece
 
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