Is India moving towards becoming a dictatorship?

KIRAN RAO BATNI writes: It’s the talk of the town these days: “right to education”.

From television channels to newspapers, websites to blogs, everyone is busy contemplating the consequences of the Right to Education bill.

The contemplation—be it about the intent of the bill or its implementation or its implications—is primarily centered around the poor versus rich question and the effective-implementation question which manifest themselves in questions such as: “Will the poor be really benefited by this?”, “Will the rich object to the poor flooding their children’s schools?”, “Can private schools which provide premium education at premium prices just remain out of this whole thing?”, “Can this bill actually improve the quality of education in India?”, etc.

However, much to the disappointment of anybody who upholds democracy and federalism, all the discussions about the bill have missed the single most important facet of this whole thing: the complete usurping of power by the central government and the complete neglect of state governments in the matter of education.

I haven’t seen a single voice raised against this decadence of India, and must do my part.

While the people of India are busy discussing trivial details of the bill, they’ve forgotten that it is none of the central government’s business to assume the exclusive ‘right to education’ (as in the right to the portfolio of education) in the first place.

Even in the centre-heavy Constitution of India, education is a concurrent-list subject, but this bill makes it clear that the central government would rather have it all for itself —be it however anti-federal, be it however anti-democracy.

While India discusses the bill in letter, it misses the spirit of the bill which is simply designed to help the central government at New Delhi move one stealthy step closer to becoming a total dictatorship, with state-governments being moved one stealthy step towards becoming dispatch clerks.

The bill delivers a deadly blow to the future of India as a truly federal polity.

State governments, which actually run most of the schools in India, are now being told to act as dry implementers of dubious (nay, outright fatal) diktat flowing in from New Delhi.

The power to decide the constitution of the education system, all research, and indeed everything related to the quality of education is now unilaterally assumed by the central government.

The states now have no say in what constitutes a good education of their people. They’re just being asked to be clerks who shell out money for programmes decided by Kapil Sibals sitting in New Delhi.

Who is Kapil Sibal, and what  does he know about what constitutes a good education for Kannadigas, for Tamils, for Marathis, for Oriyas, for Malayalis, for Telugus? Can he even enumerate all these languages?

Any move which takes power away from the people is a move away from democracy. By moving the site of power from the states to the centre, India has demonstrated its preference of dictatorship over democracy, of government over people, of centralism over federalism.

The people of India have lost the power to have any say in the education of children around them. The real educationists and social reformers of India have suddenly become objects of neglect, and now have an infinite disincentive to advise the governmental machinery on matters of education – simply because they now have to travel to New Delhi to even look at that machinery. Earlier, it was at least to the state-capital.

I urge India to look at this bill from this perspective—the perspective that India is slowly moving towards a dictatorial form of government. And that is not good. Period.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

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