Local body elections: Gujarat government laws which make sure that poor people cannot contest polls

voteBy Nirjhari Sinha*

The Gujarat government amended the Gujarat Local Authorities Act in 2005, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was still Gujarat’s Chief Minister. Three acts were amended: the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporations Act, the Gujarat Municipalities Act, and the Gujarat Panchayat Act.

Under these acts, a person with more than two children cannot contest local body elections. If a person is found to have a third child after being elected, he/she will be disqualified by the competent authority. The Act was implemented in August 2006 with prospective effect. A provision was made to ensure that persons with more than two children prior to the commencement of the Act would be exempt.

According to the ‘Objects & Reasons’ clause in the amended Act: “Growth of (India’s) population… is alarming. In order to stabilize (it), it is considered necessary to amend the local authorities laws so as to prevent a person having more than two children to be a member of panchayat, or the councilor of a municipality or municipal corporation. This is an important step towards the implementation of national population policy.”

The Act applies to 14,000 gram panchayats, 26 district panchayats, 223 taluka panchayats, 159 nagarpalikas and eight municipal corporations in Gujarat. The panchayats are under the rural development department; municipalities and municipal corporations are under the urban development department. Different authorities at each level ensure implementation of the two-child norm.

Another Act, The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (amendment) Bill, 2014, has been enacted by present chief minister Anandiben Patel to carry forward Swachh Bharat Abhiyan campaign by the Prime Minister. This act makes it compulsory for a person to have a toilet at his residence if he wants to contest local body elections. “Curbing open defecation is vital from the point of view of creating hygienic conditions and cleanliness and preventing water contamination. Particularly, the female members find themselves in a shameful condition for compulsory resorting to such open defecation,” the state government stated in the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (amendment) Bill, 2014 that was passed by majority vote by the state legislators.

To enforce this legislation the state government has amended the relevant provisions of the Gujarat Provisional Municipal Corporations Act, 1949, the Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963 and Gujarat Panchayats act 1993. “The person who does not have the toilet facilities at the place of his ordinary residence cannot become a councillor or a member of the municipal corporation, municipality or the panchayat as the case may be.”

This amendment is applicable to local-self government bodies like municipal corporations, municipalities, taluka panchayats, district panchayats and gram panchayats.

It is a well-known fact that people from economically backward class, have more children than upper middle and rich class. Reasons being

(1) Lack of formal education is one of the main causes.

(2) Lack of sex education which includes use of contraceptives, family planning.

(3) Children are hope for the future, social status.

(4) A poor person has less control over their life in general, including family planning.

(5) The desire to have a male child also leads to large families.

It is hard to think about the future when daily life is a struggle and they have to work day and night for two square meals. We in India have this horrible confluence of poverty and the prevalence of religion which results in resistance to sex education and birth control.

While economic backwardness can be scientifically and statistically shown as a cause of large families, the cases of families not having toilets in their houses is much easier to equate with their poverty.

On the other hand, middle class is blessed with resources, money, education, and houses with toilets. They can dream of starting their own businesses, save for children education, plan for health insurance and retirement funds etc. Clubs, malls, movies, restaurants and resorts keep teenagers entertained and they do understand the value of small size family.

The Gujarat government, which is mostly constituted of upper middle class and rich population, loves both these acts because it takes away the right from economically backward population to contest elections. In the present form, these amendments deprive SC/ST, OBC and Muslims from their constitutional right of contesting elections since maximum number of people below poverty line belong to these communities. The intent of these acts is not easy to decipher but the hidden agenda is to create a Brahminical/upper class society who control a disproportionate amount of wealth and political power.

These amendments are akin to Dhronayacharya asking for Eklavya’s thumb as Guru Dakshina in the mythological epic Mahabharata. Drona believed that only Kshatriyas deserved to learn martial arts, which is why he never taught these skills teklavya-dronao non-Kshatriays. When he learnt that Eklavya, who belonged to a lower caste, was a better archer then Arjuna as Eklavya, he could make a dog stop barking by using arrows without harming the dog. Drona was distressed. When Drona learnt that Eklavya had done his self-learning by accepting Drona as his Guru, Drona asked for a guru dakshina which was the thumb of Eklayva’s right hand to reduce his effectiveness as an archer.

When questioned by Arjuna later, Drona replies: “What would happen to society if the lower castes start learning the martial arts reserved for Kshatriyas? I had to do this to preserve stability and social order. My goal is to make you the best archer in the world and remove all barriers towards that goal.”

In a participatory democracy, the right to contest elections is equivalent to the right to be a warrior/ruler in the olden times. And Drona did not want any warriors/rulers to arise from the lower castes. Our present day political establishment continues to follow the same tradition and do not want any Eklavyas to challenge their political might.

*Senior trade union activist. Courtesy: http://www.truthofgujarat.com/

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