Every time there is an election looming in India, discussions centre around the quality of politicians who actually contest. Recently two developments created huge discussion.
First, the ordinance that the government tried to pass; an ordinance protecting political leaders with criminal cases filed against them from losing their seats in Parliament and Legislatures and
Second, the Supreme Court of India judgment that asked the election commission of provide a choice to the voter of rejecting all candidates on the ballot.
A common refrain for the last few decades has been the criminalisation of politics and the steady distancing of the educated middle class from governance.
While education levels of the representatives have been steadily improving over the last few decades, they lag those in middle-class and upwardly mobile India. There is however one aspect where only educated people are supposed to get involved in elections. This is the provision for representatives to be elected by university graduates! The contestants and voters have to be university graduates.
This provision comes from the quaint British system of University Constituencies. The provision is applicable to all States in India which have bicameral houses (two houses – Vidhan Sabha and Vidhan Parishad). At the present moment there are six such states; Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
Once elected, the Member of the Legislative Council has the same authority and power as a member of the legislative assembly. (S)he can be a minister / chief minister; have a local area development fund, bring in a private members’ bill, participate in debates in the house etc.
Quite often this route is often used by professional politicians who have lost the general elections. On rare occasions it is used by those who are generally considered unwinnable candidates. It is, for instance, difficult for a mild mannered technocrat to rabble-rouse and win elections unless (s)he is contesting from a safe seat.
What helps politicians capture this route easily is that voters are by and large unaware and the % of eligible voters who actually cast their ballot are even less than those who vote in the general elections.
For instance, In Maharashtra the Pune Graduates Constituency consists of five districts namely Pune, Satara, Sangli, Solapur and Kolhapur. In the July 2008 election the constituency had 3,93,000 eligible voters, out of which only 1,34,438 (34%) graduates cast their vote. The winning candidate had the support of only 52,707 votes (graduates).
IMO, the graduate constituency provision enables educated voters to contest and / or choose a candidate. The elections use a preferential voting system which means you can actually rank your choices in order of preference. This means that you can indicate more than one choice and your votes have differential weight but they all count in the overall scenario.
This is a great chance for the educated citizens of India (well the 6 States anyway) to engage directly in the governance process. What you need to do is not complicated:
- To be eligible to cast your vote, you need to be registered as a voter.
- Download the form for registration here or here.
- To the form you need to attach, proof of residence and proof of graduation (degree / mark sheet) and submit the same with one photograph to the Electoral Registration Officer. If anyone in the Pune city area has a difficulty, drop me a comment on this post with your e-mail and I will get in touch with you. Your mail id will not be published on the blog.
- When elections are announced, you go to the election office and cast your vote. Since the electorate is limited, there is a much better chance of interacting with the candidates and understanding their positions on particular issue(s) better.
For long have educated voters bewailed the lack of good candidates. Graduate constituencies offer a way out to put in at least a few educated candidates in positions of decision making.
That is how the system can and does change – one step at a time. One day there will be critical mass and it will tip over.
If educated voters want to make an impact on governance in India, this is one of the ways they can contribute.
It is not too difficult.
It needs a few hours of your time – to register (once) and vote (every 6 years).
Are you up to it?