In March, the government had to suffer embarrassment in Rajya Sabha when the Opposition managed to pass an amendment to the President’s address, expressing regret that the speech did not commit support to rights of all citizens to contest panchayat elections. The move had come after Rajasthan and Haryana passed laws fixing matriculation as an essential criteria for contesting polls.
On Friday, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had moved the amendment, introduced a private member’s bill in the Upper House to amend the Constitution.
The bill seeks to insert an Article in the Constitution to override the Haryana and Rajasthan legislations by making the right to contest for electoral office a fundamental right.
Although private member’s bills have rarely sailed through in Parliament, the opposition has a majority in the Upper House and could manage to push through the bill, potentially embarrassing the government. The amendment to President’s address had received the support of many opposition parties.
Azad’s bill is politically significant since the Congress had been campaigning against restrictions imposed in Rajasthan and Haryana. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has also attacked the BJP over the issue.
“A huge number of members from the Scheduled Castes, especially women — since there is 50 per cent reservation for them —could not contest because of the restriction. Many Muslim women could not contest either. The most affected are SC and Muslim women. In Rajasthan, there were huge vacancies and they had to conduct elections again… There is no educational qualification for becoming president or prime minister of India or to become a cabinet minister or an MLA,” Azad said.
A private member’s bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha last year after a gap of 45 years. Only 14 private member’s bills have been passed by Parliament till date.
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