Should There Be A Promulgation Of Minimum Education Qualification For Politicians?

It is undisputed that education is momentously fundamental for creating and sustaining, not just a Democratic State but a State by itself. Predominantly, possessing notable educational qualification is an implied requirement for lawmakers in most developed as well as developing economies and much weight lies on the same during elections. In our Country, educationally qualified politicians are not necessarily the ones that participate in policy making for the Country or for district development; leaders having a standing in polity so as to influence the status of policies concerning education, economy and social growth. It should be innate that there be a reasonable minimum promulgated qualification for our MLA’s/MP’s as the same would ensure that they possess the required knowledge and skill set to understand and analyze various dynamic social-political issues while influencing policy making but that is not at all the case. We have witnessed on multiple instances that during germane parliamentary debates, when well-informed sagacious opinions are required, we find our parliamentarians deliberately segueing, partially to serve their party’s interest over the general welfare of the Country but mostly due to a lack of comprehension with respect to the nuances of the topic accompanied with sub-par knowledge of the subject.

In order to be able to appreciate the global or even local economy, our lawmakers and political leaders need to be qualified. Certain mandatory educational qualification for parliamentarians can prove to be revolutionary and groundbreaking. In the UK, Boris Johnson (MP for Henley from 2001 to 2008, Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2016 to 2018) is from Oxford University with a degree is in Literae Humaniores; Ex-Prime Minister of UK, David Cameron is from Oxford, similar to his predecessor, Tony Blair; UK’s Prime Minister during 2007-10, Gordon Brown has a Ph.D. to his merit and so does Germany’s, Chancellor Angela Merkel; Chinese President Xi Jinping holds a doctorate and Japan’s 57th Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a master’s degree from the University of Southern California; France’s François Hollande has a postgraduate degree Ecole Nationale d’Administration; Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has an honors degree in applied economic geography at the University of New South Wales while his predecessor, Tony Abbott is a Rhodes scholar from Oxford; Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a B.A in English from McGill University and a B.Ed. from the University of British Columbia while his predecessor, Stephen Harper has a master’s degree in economics. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin also has a PhD to his account. 

While it is understandable that our Country is a developing economy and only a handful get the opportunity to receive an education from Ivy League universities or other well reputed International Universities for that matter, the same does not imply that the Government and Private Universities in the Country cannot provide satisfactory education with respect to pertinent subject matters concerning Indian polity. It is also understandable that sizeable population in our Country, to this date, does not have access to basic education due to diverse socio-economic issues but that is not a well-founded justification to validate the non-existence of bare minimum education requirement for our Parliamentarians.

To contest in elections should not be a matter of right and it should not be propagated as one either. This very fundamental fact has even been observed and upheld by Indian Judiciary with respect to State laws. In March 2015, the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Amendment Act specified the minimum educational qualifications for persons who wanted to contest elections at the local/panchayat level. It required candidates contending for Zila Parishads and Panchayat Samitis to have qualified 10th standard. Further, those contesting for sarpanch elections have to be 8th standard pass outs. In the scheduled areas, the eligibility has been limited at 5th standard. Similarly, in Haryana,  State laws for pertaining to Panchayat elections made it compulsory for general male candidates to pass 10th standard and general female candidates to pass 8th standard while for Dalit male candidates, passing 8th standard was made compulsory and for Dalit female candidates, passing 5th standard was required.

The laws were put under Judicial scrutiny and were rightfully justified by the Supreme Court, which had methodically upheld them on the following two grounds: Firstly, education was and has been seen by the judges as a precondition for efficiency. The decision, by a bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and Abhay Manohar Sapre, pertaining to the Haryana State law, upheld that education will “enable the candidates to effectively discharge duties of the panchayat”. Secondly, the same judges further applied a moral viewpoint and stated that “it is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad”. The above two instances of the judiciary affirming and upholding a minimum education precondition for the political leaders and influencers affirms the standing that education or the lack thereof has a proportional effect over the governed which is precisely why it needs to be regulated.  Notably, the minimum qualification prescribed for panchayat elections by the above States should not be presumed to be a benchmark and thereby imposed alike on other legislators such as MLA’s and MP’s since their vested responsibilities and the requirements of their designation are far more intricate.

Making minimum education mandatory should not be looked at as a deterrence or prejudice against the population but rather as a mode of constructive reinforcement for the majority. Putting constructive conditionalities such as education in the aforementioned cases, are likely to cause people to take the prescribed steps to make themselves eligible. The fact that such promulgations can have fostering effects was observed and affirmed by the 2003 Supreme Court verdict declaring that the citizens who have more than two offspring could not contest in panchayat elections. In this particular case, the judges realized and opted to use the electoral system to promote family planning and population control.

The quality of a leader to competently keep himself informed and updated with respect to international global politics, economics and other aspects of policymaking are proficiency and knowledge. Knowledge cannot be gained through sheer practical experiences of an individual for the simple reason that there are checks applied over the same. There is no denying the fact that qualities of a leader are innate but in order to refine and more importantly, realize these qualities, an individual needs education more than anything else. What is ideally required is that an aspiring political leader’s understanding of national and international polity is tested by some form of grading methodology, even if to simply to ensure that the bar for professional qualification of our future leaders in not non-existent.

A radical overhaul of our leader’s credentials becomes more important in light of the undisputed fact that voting in our Country is heavily influenced by politicians by means of existing prejudices in the society.  Appealing to a group’s biases for getting votes rather than raising material issues during elections and thereby shredding off secularism, one election at a time, is only going to take us back to an era that our predecessors had so wistfully fought to get out of. The era of demagogues leaders needs to end and for that, we need prudence ingrained through education in the mind of our leaders who can separate themselves from favored prejudices and ask for votes to address the issues that genuinely matter. We look upon our politician as able individuals who can efficiently guide and govern lawmaking but if the politicians do not have a proper academic background, the impact that s/he may have on the national and global economy is quite likely to be nugatory or worse.

In spirit, founding fathers of the Indian Constitution intended to keep the doors of governance open to all citizens alike. Putting a minimum qualification requirement on all citizens is bound to dampen the vision of inclusivity of all in influencing the Country’s governance. There is a general apprehension surrounding the idea of a promulgation of minimum qualification for the very patent reason that the same is bound to eliminate and disempower certain backward and disadvantaged communities which also includes women.

Even after 71 years of independence, almost a third of the total population is still uneducated. India has the largest population of illiterate adults in the world with a massive count of 287 million, amounting to 37% of the world total. 47.78 % out of school children are females. By next census (2021), the minor girls will be calculated as illiterate women, which would then have a proportional impact on the education of their children. Despite the fact that India’s literacy rate has improved since Independence – from 12% to 74% till the last census (2011), it still houses the largest illiterate population in the world. Considering how poverty is the factor attributing most towards India’s illiteracy rate, It is not in the hands of the general public to do much to change the same.

A mandatory education qualification would have the potential to create an impenetrable barrier between the literate and the illiterate. If such an ordinance were to be passed, it would effectively preclude more than half of the people, especially the ones belonging to certain underprivileged categories from ever being a party to the Governance reforms in the Country. A minimum educational qualification might very well open the channels for the imposition of more restrictions over the qualification requirements for the legislators and the same might be prejudicial towards the majority of Indian population.

What would qualify as just and reasonable qualifications for the legislators is a highly subjective issue? Such an idea might sound convincing in the rhetoric but is quite untenable due to a plethora of practical reasons. There are not many substantial types of research in hand that might determine, fairly as to what extent of education qualification would make for good and efficient policymakers and leaders. A lot of leadership qualities are either innate or acquired through an individual’s experience, their background and their grass root connections with the general public. Such attributes cannot be ingrained through any form of education.

Our Country has been a witness to both – Educated and Uneducated persons blooming into remarkable leaders and vice versa. Education’s acquirement or the lack thereof has not set milestone standards to tentatively determine that one is more fruitful than the other. A lot of outstanding leaders of present and of past hail from India villages and poor families with little to no education to their record. Democracy is all about majority’s voice. What constitutes the Parliament is what constitutes the majority. The voice of the majority exists in the Parliament and the same should be accepted in its unadulterated form.

About Gunjan Richharia

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