ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Degrees of Education

The BJP's complicated relationship with education and elections.

The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) governments of Rajasthan and Haryana have recently passed laws that disenfranchise large numbers of people who have not been able to finish school from contesting for elections to local bodies. The lofty argument given by the governments was that those who were elected to head panchayats and gram sabhas should be educated, otherwise they will fail to discharge their duties properly. Given the social conditions of these two states —with social indicators yet to reach the level of many of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa—what this anti-democratic law meant was that millions of women, Dalits, tribals and members of the minority communities were barred from holding elected office. In one fell swoop, these two governments undercut two decades of empowerment that the 73rd amendment of the Constitution, and the subsequent reservations for women, had achieved in rural areas.

Education has for long been the road to empowerment and upward mobility for those who had traditionally been marginalised and discriminated in our social structures. From the earliest of radicals, whether of Young Bengal, Phule and Agarkar, to Ambedkar and Gandhi have stressed the importance of education to emancipation and self-rule (or democracy). However, it took the innate reactionary genius of the BJP leaders to turn education into a lever for protecting the power of the local strongman from the challenges of the dispossessed and deprived even at the lowest levels of the panchayati raj system. Many of the dominant and upper castes in the rural areas, particularly their more domineering patriarchs who want to control the panchayats, may also not have cleared school or gone to college. But they have the wherewithal to “manage” school certificates and college degrees, as much else. After all, the powerful and resourceful in India have “managed” to get democracy to deliver for them for close to seven decades. They have even “managed” merit through the old-boy networks, caste connections and capitation fees. The meritorious and educated, and the Indian state they control, have managed to deny education to the millions of poor and are now saying that since they have no education, they cannot have political power.

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