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Panchayat verdict is anti-Constitution in spirit: Sitaram Yechury

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 12:54 IST
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The ruling

  • SC has upheld Haryana govt decision to impose compulsory qualifications on Panchayat candidates
  • Qualifications include being literate, having a toilet at home and no loan arrears

The criticism

  • CPI(M) gen secy Sitaram Yechury says the ruling is against the spirit of the Constitution
  • He says it violates the fundamental right to universal adult suffrage, and to contest polls

More in the story

  • What the CPI(M) wants the SC and Parliament to do in this matter
  • Why is Yechury blaming the BJP for the decision?

In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of India has upheld the Haryana government's decision to limit the right to contesting in Panchayat polls to literate people.

In the ruling, the Supreme Court, on 10 December, said "it is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad" and said it would be perfectly valid to disqualify a candidate if he or she lacks "basic norms of hygiene" by not having a functional toilet at home.

Also read - No Panchayat for illiterates: 5 disturbing things about the Supreme Court verdict

The Haryana government's decision comes hot on the heels of the Rajasthan government's decision to make educational qualifications compulsory for Panchayat elections.

But many have criticised the apex court's decision, stating it goes against the fundamental rights of citizens.

Sitaram Yechury, Rajya Sabha MP and general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), told Catch that such decisions and rulings are against the spirit of the Constitution. He said it's unfortunate this comes at a time when the country is celebrating the 125 birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar and reaffirming its commitment to the Constitution.

Yechury also said it wasn't a coincidence that such things were happening in BJP-ruled states. Excerpts from the conversation.

How do you view the latest ruling by the SC, upholding the Haryana government's decision?

We have very serious reservations. We think that with such a ruling, the SC has effectively diluted a fundamental feature of our Constitution, which is universal adult suffrage. One of the unique features of our Constitution is that every individual, irrespective of his/her 'caste, creed or sex', would be given an equal right to vote in elections and also to contest.

By putting this restriction, you are restricting universal adult suffrage which, we think, is going against the spirit of the Constitution.

Does this decision undermine the Constitution?

Yes, this ruling undermines the Constitution. Therefore, it should go to a full Constitution Bench, and Parliament should also discuss necessary legislative measures to protect universal adult suffrage.

Such moves are regressive and hit at the foundation of our Constitution.

At the beginning of the ongoing Parliament session, there was a special two-day sitting to reaffirm commitment to the Constitution. During that, you raised the argument that through these kind of decisions, governments are going against the idea of Ambedkar...

This is an irony and a contradiction. The Parliament is 'reaffirming' its faith in the Constitution. Babasaheb Ambedkar had said that the basic feature of our constitution lies in giving 'one man, one vote' and 'one vote, one value'. Now that is the principle that has been undermined.

Why do you think the government is going against the vision of Ambedkar?

Well, this is a question that I also want to ask, and the governments have to answer. All the state governments - not only Haryana, but also Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat... all of them.

It is not a coincidence that these are all BJP-ruled states.

Our understanding is that the BJP does not believe in universal equality. It is interested in implementing only RSS agenda to convert the secular democratic Indian republic into its vision of a rabidly intolerant fascist Hindu rashtra, and in that process, it believes in and has publicly stated its adherence to the varna system of Hindu society.

Also read - Want to be a Haryana sarpanch? First pass class 10 and build a toilet

CPI(M) gen secy says: "It isn't a coincidence that this is happening in BJP-ruled states"

The BJP does not believe in the equality of castes, apart from not believing in the equality of religions. This is part of its mindset and its project of bringing in a Hindu rashtra.

In recent years, the representation of poor, illiterates, marginalised and minorities has gone down - be it in political parties or Parliament itself. Why this is happening?

You see, governments in India have really not paid attention to implementing constitutional provisions and rights, both in letter and spirit.

This continuous communalisation of Indian politics has led to greater and greater marginalisation of the religious minorities. The Sachar Committee's report and findings are actually evidence of all that.

We are asking, in fact, for the implementation of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission, which was set up on the basis of the Sachar Committee's recommendations, to improve the welfare of the minorities.

"This ruling undermines the Constitution. It should go to a full Constitution Bench"

Instead of that, the converse is happening today. Religious minorities are increasingly being deprived even of the constitutionally-guaranteed rights as citizens of India.

The justification for recent decisions and the SC ruling is that there has to be a precedent, a standard, that representatives of the people have to set an example. Isn't that where basic education and hygiene become important?

However valid these arguments may be, the responsibility for not having access to education and hygiene doesn't belong to the citizens. It is successive governments which are responsible for this.

People are not illiterate by choice. The founding fathers of India debated why criteria like education, having property and faith must not be linked to the right to vote or get elected.

The Directive Principles of State Policy in our Constitution have directed the government to ensure that by 1960, that is in the first 10 years of our republic, all children between the age of 6-14 will be provided free and compulsory education.

"People are not illiterate by choice. You cannot penalise people for the government's failure"

Now that was the responsibility of the government, which did not fulfill it. You cannot now penalise the people for the government's failure.

Similarly, the criteria of sanitation that the Gujarat government has fixed, and other criteria that the MP and Rajasthan governments have fixed - all these are failures of the government, for which you are penalising the people. You are denying them the basic fundamental right to universal adult suffrage that our Constitution guarantees.

This is patently unfair. It is not the people's fault.

Are you worried because the states and the judiciary are speaking the same language on this issue?

That is a matter of concern. That is why we want the government of the day to consider legislative proposals, if necessary, under schedule 9, that was brought in as the first amendment to the Constitution, to ensure that the courts should not be party to deprivation of the fundamental rights.

Given that these decisions are coming from BJP-led states, do you think the NDA act on your suggestions?

They won't do it by themselves. It's only through people's pressure that this can be ensured. Building people's movement outside Parliament and pressure inside Parliament, that's the strategy our party is working towards.

When an issue like the National Herald case is dominating the House, do you think this would bring opposition parties together?

If political parties are committed to their assurance of observing the Constitution, they should support it. Every party should support it if it actually values the Indian Constitution, as they profess.

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First published: 12 December 2015, 6:55 IST
 
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.

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