On September 17, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the Haryana government’s decision to impose educational and other criteria on candidates contesting the panchayat elections. The court’s decision was in response to a petition filed by three persons who wished to contest the panchayat elections, but would have been unable to do so under the new criteria.

Earlier, on September 7, the Haryana state Assembly had passed the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, laying down minimum educational qualifications necessary for candidates in the elections to the local bodies at the village and district levels. According to the amended act, all male general category candidates should have passed class X, female general category and SC candidates should have passed class VIII, while female SC candidates should have passed class V. The amended act also bars from contesting elections all those who have loan arrears due to co-operative banks, who have failed to pay electricity bills or do not have a functional toilet at their place of residence. It may be noted that the amendments to the act were passed in the state assembly despite the fact that the Punjab and Haryana High Court had stayed the ordinance related to this on August 21.

The petitioners have described the amended act as a “harsh and severe penalty on its citizens for being poor”. They have blamed the government for its failure to provide free and compulsory education to children of age 6-14 years, as mandated under the Right to Education Act. In the absence of regular water supply and sanitation in the homes of the rural and urban poor, having a functional toilet remains a dream for most, and it is the state that has failed in its duty to provide the poor with these facilities. They have pointed out that more than 70% of women and SC aspirants and more than 56% general male aspirants would be unable to contest if the amendments had been put in place.
This Act, which the Haryana government wants to pass, constitutes a cruel attack on the right of people to contest elections. It is very clearly aimed at keeping out candidates from the working class, peasantry, women and poorer sections, thereby strengthening the domination and monopoly of the rich and propertied sections over the village and district local bodies.

Lok Raj Sangathan condemns this attack of the Haryana government on the right of people to contest elections.
The electoral system in our country, at all levels, is already heavily weighted in favour of the established political parties of the ruling elite, who reserve the right to decide who should be their candidates for the elections. People do not enjoy the right to select their own candidates. They are forced to vote for one among the candidates chosen by the established political parties, which have betrayed their interests time and again. Once elected, people have no mechanism by which they can demand accountability from their elected representative or seek his recall, if he or she violates the people’s mandate. People have no power to influence any decisions made by the government, which are inevitably made to serve the interests of the big monopolies. People have no power to initiate legislation.

The majority of our people are already heavily disempowered in the present system. The entire electoral process is designed to keep out candidates who are not nominated by one or other of the established political parties of the bourgeoisie. On top of all this, if criteria such as educational qualification, ability to pay back loans, electricity dues etc. are imposed, as the Haryana government is trying to do, then this will make it even more difficult for poor people, workers and peasants, those who are really interested in bringing a change in the conditions of society, to select candidates from among their midst, or to stand for elections and challenge the monopoly of the established political parties of the most powerful sections of society.

LRS congratulates the courageous women and men who took a bold stand against the amendments to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, which forced the court to stay the amendments for the present. It is essential that people take a united stand against the present political process and electoral process and the amendments that the ruling bourgeoisie is trying to bring about to further strengthen the domination of their established political parties over the political process by further excluding the masses of people from contesting elections.

by Sucharita

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