Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Haryana: Enhancing quality of democratic representation for a
Democracy that delivers
The question of palpable tensions between elect-ability and functional ability of an elected representative has always figured as a prominent theme in contemporary discourse about democracy world over. This discourse often opens with a matter of fact-ly observation that democracies are increasingly being seen as failing to deliver. Many believe that while acceptability of democracy continues to be unquestionable, there is enough empirical evidence suggesting that efficacy of democratic governance has always remained doubtful.
Of the several factors responsible for this abysmally low result-orientation of democratic governance, the most commonly discussed is about the quality of elected representatives. Those who get party nomination, by hook and in some parties possibly even by crook; are more often than not, unable to boast of any high personal qualification. Electability or ability to get elected remains the single most decisive factor in award of candidature. This is bound to affect quality of representation, impacting on deliberations, decision-making and delivery in a democratic set up. And being a part of competitive democratic polity, there is obvious limitation for any single party taking a meritocratic view. Obviously then, electability becomes the common single denominator leading to a situation where people get a representative that they in fact do not deserve.
Driven by the need to overcome this quality-crunch, democracies in different countries have evolved some screening mechanisms. Measures such as Term-Limit to facilitate entry of fresh blood, qualifying thresholds for parties and candidates, age limit and similar such regulatory provisions were introduced by different countries at different levels.
Last August, Haryana amended the existing law mandating that matriculation is required for a general male candidate, middle pass for a general woman candidate and for Scheduled Caste (SC) male candidate and only Class 5 pass for a SC woman candidate, as minimum educational qualification to be eligible for contesting the elections to the Gram Panchayats or village bodies and other Panchayati Raj institutions. Besides, possessing a functional toilet at home was also made a mandatory eligibility criterion.
Many opposed these amendments and it was later contested in the apex court as well. It was argued that whether man or woman, SC or general, the functions of a pnchayat member is the same and hence if a Class 5 pass is enough to discharge a member’s function, why has a higher qualification of middle pass and matriculation pass been imposed? It was also argued that the amendment goes against the spirit behind the principle of adult franchise. However, much to the dismay of the critics, the apex court upheld the amendment, which is now in force. In fact, the State went ahead with elections to village bodies under this amended act and the impact of the same is highly remarkable and hence noteworthy!
There are many achievements that have truly created a new history. For the first time, Haryana, a State that had acquired a bad name for female feticide saw several young women making it to the positions of Sarpanch! Also, most elections were held without any violence, the reason being that many congenial hooligans were automatically driven out of the fray.
It has also helped achieve greater gender justice as the number of women making it to rural local self-government institutions has gone beyond the quota limit of 33%. The State has as many as 43% women members across its Zilla Parishads while in Taluka Panchayats the number of women is 42%. More importantly, a total of 41% villages are now headed by a woman as its Chief, or Sarpanch.
A by-product of this new measure making minimum education mandatory is the fierceness of the contests disappeared hugely. Of the total 70071 seats for which elections were held, on as many as 39249 seats the elections were unanimous. This takes the number of Consensus Candidates to a whopping 56% ! Again, of the total 6187 Sarpanchs elected, 274 got the mandate unanimously.
Much to the surprise of many, this amendment, being assailed as 'meritocracy' -promotion has also led to social democracy with greater representation to the marginal sections of the society. Table below is a testimony to the fact that many more backward class candidates have made it to the elected bodies, leaving the statutory quota figures far behind.
Those who relish in falsely portraying BJP the fall guy would do well to understand that one of the BJP ruled states has sent several backward class candidates from non-quota seats to the elected bodies promoting greater social harmony.
Not only SABKA Sath, but the verdict of Haryana Panchayat elections has also brought the yearning for SABKA Vikas to the fore. In a way, this is an example of democratisation of aspirations too. Manju, first time entrant to village Panchayat from Janoli in Palwal wants to make her village a model village while Sunita, newly elected Sarpanch of Village Nagpur from Fatehabad district has resolved to make villagers addiction free. Also noteworthy is the fact that with toilet-at-home as a mandatory qualification for the contestants, the State saw construction of as many as 51530 toilets in record period of time, a feat unheard of!
However, one thing is beyond doubt! The real test of the impact of these amendments will be in the way these representatives conduct themselves. This will largely depend upon the quality of deliberations, decision-making and delivery. Also under the watch will be their public conduct. Happily both, the State Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Rural Development Minister O P Dhankad – together architects of these reforms -- are conscious of this and they are working on a massive capacity building campaign of these newly elected representatives.
When popular confidence in democracy is under severe strains mainly due to the quality of public representation, although debatable; reforms oriented experiments are always very important. Not satisfied with mere shedding tears about degeneration's in our democratic system, particularly the quality of representation; Haryana has taken a bold step. Apex court has already validated these reforms. Now, it is for the new entrants in Haryana’s Panchayati Raj institutions to establish that quality representation also leads to good governance, leading to achieving egalitarian goals of a society where justice, harmony and avenues for aspirations are accessible to all.
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe is the National Vice-President of the BJP. Views expressed here are in personal capacity.