Why is a party which has leaders with dubious or less than stellar academic credentials insisting that panchayat candidates have minimum educational qualifications?
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) governments in Haryana and Rajasthan have made it compulsory for anybody wanting to contest elections for the post of panchayat head to have passed the class VIII and X examinations. The BJP, along with its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), is the only major political outfit in India demanding educational qualifications as a prerequisite to contest elections.
Some of our political leaders may not be highly educated, but the bureaucracy certainly is. Going by the fact that they clear one of the toughest selection examinations in the country, our Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers are among the “best brains” we have. But if we evaluate the performance of IAS officers in terms of their implementation of social welfare policies and programmes, the less said the better. India’s social indices have been continuously slipping in a time period when many “third world” countries around the world, notably Bangladesh, have been improving theirs. Why haven’t we been able to? Many of our politicians may be corrupt. But a sensitive and controversial question remains, namely: can our politicians get away with corruption without the bureaucracy’s collusion? Why should one not conclude that formal education in itself holds little merit, in terms of the decision to avoid indulging in corruption. It is wisdom and understanding, honesty and integrity that make the difference in that decision – and a person need not necessarily be educated to possess those qualities and values.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s educational qualifications have recently caused a controversy. Apparently, Modi got his BA through “distance learning” and his MA as an external candidate. He passed his BA examinations only the second time around, taking four years to complete his degree. The subject of his MA is described in the certificate issued by Gujarat University as “Entire Political Science”.
It is now clear that Modi did not attend his BA classes as a student because of his preoccupation with political activities. That preoccupation is presumably also why he chose to do his BA through distance learning and sit for his MA examinations as an external candidate. The minister for human resources development, Smriti Irani has three different pieces of information about her educational qualifications on affidavits filed before contesting different elections. Irani failed to complete her BA by correspondence and is therefore formally a mere Class XII “pass,” a fact she is unwilling to admit in her affidavits.
There are other examples of people variously a part of or associated with the present government who have seemingly dubious qualifications.
The department of economics at Allahabad University fails to provide information under the Right to Information Act regarding the research activities of the present vice chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Girish Chandra Tripathi, while he served as a professor there. Tripathi was appointed to that post because of his affiliation to the RSS. Two recent appointments in the department of History at BHU during Tripathi’s chancellorship have been Satyapal Yadav, who has a published article to his name that he allegedly plagiarised from Hari Shankar’s Kashi ke Ghat, and Ashok Kumar Sonkar, whose Ph.D. dissertation was similarly allegedly plagiarised, from a book called Gahrwal ka Itihas by Prashant Kashyap, a lecturer at Dayanand Mahavidyalay (DAV) college, Varanasi.
The real questions
The point is not that only people with the highest academic qualifications should fill top posts (except, one could argue, in academic institutions). The point is that the BJP is demanding educational qualifications from candidates for elections when individuals associated with them have seemingly dubious academic records themselves.
Incidentally, even though Modi has been careful to clarify that reservations will not be discarded, his party opposes the policy of affirmative action in academic institutions and jobs, arguing for ‘merit’ as the basis for selection.
There is nothing new about people acquiring merit through questionable means. In particular, I would say, the ruling elites have always done so. The most famous example is from Hindu mythology, of Drona asking Eklavya to offer his thumb to him as guru dakshina – effectively depriving him of his merit – in order to ensure that his own, higher-caste students stayed ahead of and prevented the unsuspecting, lower-caste masses from capturing positions of privilege.
In our country, money can buy you the privilege to cheat in your exams, have somebody else write them for you or buy your degrees. In Uttar Pradesh, paying a sum of five thousand rupees will allow you to pass your board examinations by participating in mass copying. By paying twice this sum, you can get somebody else to write your examination on your behalf. The sordid story behind the Vyapam scam is well known.
One commonly hears the argument that it is a risk to be treated by a doctor who has made it to his medical institution through the reserved category. But why does one never hear the argument that it is a risk to be treated by a doctor who has acquired his degree through unfair and dishonest means?
There is an apparent conspiracy of silence on the use of illegitimate means to clear examinations – a conspiracy that exists, I would say, because the future of the ruling elites’ children is at stake. The question of merit is never raised when parents pay astronomical sums to get their comparatively not-so-meritorious children admitted to private engineering, medical and management institutions. Significantly, we have not seen protests against capitation fees and academic cheating the way we have seen against the policy of reservation by some sections of society.
These facts comprise a sorry commentary on the state of higher education in India.
Unemployment exists in part because of the un-employability of the unemployed. If an individual has obtained his degree or degrees by dishonest means, how can we expect him to perform honestly in his job? Given the values they demonstrated by cheating on their exams or buying their degrees, such individuals likely continue to engage in manipulation of different kinds all their lives, rather than prioritising honesty and hard work. Such individuals search for short-cuts and cut corners, apart from simply not caring that they have engaged in corruption.
It is India’s misfortune that such ‘educated’ individuals exist everywhere and at virtually every level.
Sandeep Pandey is Vice President, Socialist Party (India), and Visiting Faculty, IIT, BHU, Varanasi. He can be reached on email@example.com.