At year-end, two state governments set an example — one showed how governments ought to act, the other could serve as an illustration of how not to. The newly-formed Rajasthan government’s decision to scrap the minimum educational qualification for contesting local body elections in the state mirrors a respect for the people’s choice in a representative democracy. On the other hand, the Gujarat government’s order making it compulsory for students to say “Jai Hind” and “Jai Bharat” to mark their attendance in schools smacks of state paternalism and, more worryingly, its distrust of the patriotism of the people.
In Rajasthan, the previous BJP government had made it mandatory for people contesting zila parishad, panchayat samiti and municipal elections to have passed Class 10, those contesting sarpanch elections to have passed Class 8 and those standing for sarpanch elections in panchayats in scheduled areas to have cleared Class 5. An educational qualification in a country of great inequalities is biased against women, the poor and marginalised communities, all of whom have a lower literacy rate than the average. According to the 2011 census, female literacy in Rajasthan was a mere 52 per cent, while rural literacy was 61 per cent. In such a scenario, the earlier rule effectively restricted universal franchise by severely limiting the pool from which voters could choose their representatives, as well as denting the gains made by the 33 per cent reservation for women in local bodies. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has done well to ensure that the right to represent and choose one’s representatives is no longer circumscribed in Rajasthan.
The Gujarat government seems to believe that love and respect for India and its symbols must be force-fed to the young through rote and repetition, as though such feelings are multiplication tables. The sentiment of patriotism, to have any meaning at, all must be voluntary and heartfelt. The Gujarat government’s resolution making an invocation to the motherland compulsory in all schools gives rise to important questions: How exactly did it determine the need for such performative patriotism among school children? What mechanism was used to measure the patriotism deficit that the order clearly seeks to address? By most accounts, the people of India, and Gujarat, do not need to be forced by a government order to love their country. The job of a government is to facilitate the full development of the people it represents and to allow their will to be heard. Forcing children to parrot nationalist slogans is alienating and unnecessary.