Today, the Supreme Court finished hearing arguments and reserved judgment in constitutional challenge to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, bringing to an end a protracted judicial process that began last year with the passage of a similar ordinance in Rajasthan. On this blog, we have been covering the developments since that time. Here is a curated list of blog posts on the subject, as we await judgment in this important civil rights case.
- The Constitutional Challenge to Rajasthan’s Panchayati Raj Ordinance, January 5, 2015 (arguing that educational and other disqualifications contravene the freedom to vote and to contest elections, which are protected by Article 19(1)(a)), available here
- The Rajasthan High Court’s (interim) Decision on the Panchayati Raj Elections, January 16, 2015 (arguing that the High Court’s focus on the number of people disenfranchised by the law ignores the character of an individual right), available here
- Guest Post – I: The Panchayati Raj Ordinance Case and Article 14: A Codicil, January 17, 2015 (Vasujith Ram argues that educational restrictions bear no nexus with the stated objectives of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, designed to introduce local government), available here
- Guest Post – II: The History of Educational Qualifications for Democratic Participation in India, January 20, 2015 (Udit Bhatia discusses the history of educational qualifications on voting and contesting, from colonial times to present day), available here
- Guest Post: The (New) Rajasthan Educational Qualifications Ordinance: Lessons from Pakistan, August 3, 2015 (Ayushi Singhal argues that Article 21A casts an obligation upon the State to provide education, because of which it cannot penalise its citizens for not having one by disqualifying them form contesting; she also draws upon the experiences of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which struck down a similar legislation), available here
- Haryana’s Educational Qualifications Ordinance Becomes an Act, September 9, 2015, available here
- Election Disqualifications and the Constituent Assembly Debates, October 1, 2015 (arguing that a close reading of the Constituent Assembly Debates prohibits the kinds of disqualifications imposed by the Rajasthan and Haryana laws), available here
- Paragraph 85 of Justice Chelameshwar’s Dissenting Opinion in the NJAC Case, October 19, 2015 (drawing out the conceptual distinction between age-based restrictions and substantive restrictions upon voting and contesting), available here
- Election Disqualifications, Representation Reinforcement, and the Case for a New Standard of Article 14 Review, October 22, 2015 (arguing that the structure of a democratic republic and the nature of judicial review requires a higher threshold under Article 14 for laws that tinker with the election process), available here
For the reasons that I’ve provided in the essays above, I believe that the Haryana Act violates Articles 14, 15(1) and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and is completely inconsistent with the structural foundations of republican democracy that form part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The basic purpose of elections is not to select the most effective, or most competent candidates based on some a priori screening process that excludes certain sections of the population altogether, but to give effect to the peoples’ choice. Consequently, a bar upon standing for political office is equally a restriction upon the right to vote. Furthermore, the restrictions – educational, property and debt-based – target the most vulnerable sections of the society (especially women), and ensure further exclusion and marginalisation from political power.
It remains to be seen whether the Court will look at things the same way. However, at the very least, it is to be hoped that it will seriously engage with the constitutional questions, and not merely give us the trite “the right to stand is only a statutory right” slogan. That is true, but as I (and others) have tried to show, the issue is far deeper and more complex than the simple absence of a right to stand in the constitutional text.