- The Fading Role of Universities in Society
- Understanding the Tenth Schedule
The directive from the University Grants Commission (UGC) instructing universities and colleges across the country to display the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao logo on their premises is viewed as another effort to limit academic freedom, already under threat. Previously, institutions were directed to engage in activities such as raising awareness about G-20 meetings and participating in Swachhatha campaigns. In a letter dated December 1, the UGC mandated colleges to create selfie points featuring the Prime Minister.
Despite assertions by the government about India’s commitment to upholding democratic values, there seems to be a lack of concern for the freedom to engage in civic discourses essential for participatory democracy. Comment. (15 Marks, 250 Words).
Universities and Free Thought:
- As the government’s insistence on educational institutions serving as platforms for its political agenda becomes more pronounced, the idea of universities as advocates for free thought is gradually being undermined.
- In the past year, there were numerous instances that sought to constrain academic freedom. The Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the nation’s top-ranking institute, had to cancel a discussion on the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
- In March, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration initially imposed fines amounting to ₹20,000 for campus protests, a decision later rescinded.
- Recently, two prominent scholars resigned from Ashoka University following the publication of a paper analyzing the disproportionate share of seats won by the ruling party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Academic Institutions and Democracy:
- Academic institutions serve as crucial platforms for such discussions, which are vital for a functioning democracy, irrespective of ideological differences.
- Imposing restrictions on expressing opinions or ideas can have detrimental effects on academic work and harm the overall research environment.
- The decline in academic freedom is evident in India’s position on the indices by the V-Dem Institute of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. India’s academic freedom index is in the bottom 30% among 179 countries, with a score of 0.38 on a scale of 0 (low) to 1 (high).
Academic Freedom Index, 2023
- The collaboration involved 2,917 experts globally, with the Swedish V-Dem Institute and Germany’s Friedrich Alexander University Institute of Political Science overseeing the report. It highlighted 22 countries, including India, China, the United States, and Mexico, where universities and scholars are experiencing significantly reduced academic freedom compared to a decade ago. The index evaluates five indicators:
- Freedom to research and teach
- Freedom of academic exchange and dissemination
- Institutional autonomy of universities
- Freedom of academic and cultural expression and campus integrity
- Absence of security infringements and surveillance on campus
- Notably, this score is even lower than that of India’s perceived adversary, Pakistan, which scored 0.43. Independent India has witnessed such low rankings only during the Emergency years.
- Unlike in New Zealand, where academic freedom is explicitly stated, the Indian constitution incorporates it within the broader concept of the right to free speech as part of fundamental rights.
- Although constitutionally guaranteed, academic freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions. The constitutional assurance of freedom of speech often faces challenges due to the application of sedition law (Section 124A) or more frequently misused clauses under Section 295A, pertaining to hurting religious sentiments.
- Defamation lawsuits are increasingly being utilized as tools of harassment against artists and academic scholars.
Diminishing Academic Freedom:
- The diminishing academic freedom is also evident in the gradual erosion of institutional autonomy, including the selection of Vice-Chancellors and heads of academic institutes.
- The UGC Act of 1956 explicitly states that its core function is to monitor standards in universities “in consultation with universities.”
- However, it has been noted that the UGC has accumulated power and tends to function as an instrument of the ministry.
- University appointments are now often made based on political considerations rather than merit at both the central and state government levels.
- It is suggested that global institutions can contribute by incorporating “Academic Freedom” as an indicator in university rankings. It is essential for universities to establish system-wide protections against impinging on academic autonomy and freedom of expression.
- Taking inspiration from the Education Act of New Zealand, where academic freedom is defined as the freedom of academic staff and students to question received wisdom, propose new ideas, and express controversial or unpopular opinions within the bounds of the law.
To enhance academic freedom and autonomy in the country, political parties should engage in consultations with faculty bodies and student associations. As India celebrates its 75th year as a Republic, it is crucial to remember that Tagore’s vision of a nation where the “mind is without fear” is yet to be fully realized.
The Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly has declined to disqualify 40 MLAs from the Eknath Shinde faction, acknowledging it as the authentic Shiv Sena. The appointment of whip by this group has been deemed valid. Additionally, 14 MLAs from the Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray (UBT) group were not disqualified, citing technical reasons under the Tenth Schedule.
- Indian Constitution
- Constitutional Amendments
Discussing the rationale behind the introduction of the Tenth Schedule, analyse the ambiguities surrounding it. What needs to be done to make it more effective in the Indian democratic and political scenario? (15 Marks, 250 Words).
Rationale Behind the Origin of the Tenth Schedule:
- The Tenth Schedule, implemented in 1985 through the 52nd constitutional amendment, was a response to the political instability caused by legislators’ defections from their original parties in the 1960s and 70s.
- This phenomenon led to the downfall of elected governments in various states. The primary objective of the Tenth Schedule was to ensure the stability of elected governments by introducing an ‘anti-defection’ law.
About the Tenth Schedule:
- According to the Tenth Schedule, a member of a Parliament or State legislature who willingly relinquishes their party membership or votes against their party’s directives in the House is subject to disqualification.
- The party’s ‘whip’ issues these voting instructions, with a ‘whip’ being a member of the ‘legislature party’ appointed by the respective political party.
- In this context, a ‘political party’ encompasses the entire organization, including legislators, while a ‘legislature party’ refers specifically to party members in a Parliament or State legislature.
- Originally, the Tenth Schedule allowed for two exceptions to avoid disqualification. First, one-third of the ‘legislature party’ could split to form a separate group (paragraph 3). Second, a merger of the ‘political party’ with another party, approved by two-thirds of its ‘legislature party,’ was permitted (paragraph 4). However, in 2003, recognizing the need to strengthen the ‘anti-defection’ law, paragraph 3, which allowed for the split, was omitted.
- The removal of paragraph 3 has led to situations where members of a legislature party, constituting two-thirds, practically defect while asserting to be the original political party, aiming to avoid disqualification.
- Additionally, there have been occurrences where over two-thirds of a state’s ‘legislature party’ belonging to a national political party merged with another political party to evade disqualification.
- Notable instances include the merger of all six Bahujan Samajwadi Party MLAs with the Congress Party in Rajasthan in September 2019 and the merging of eight out of 11 Congress MLAs with the BJP in Goa in September 2022.
- The responsibility to decide on member disqualification rests with the Speaker of the House. Although expected to execute this constitutional role impartially, past instances have raised doubts, with Speakers seemingly favoring the ruling dispensation.
- In the case of K. M. Singh versus Speaker of Manipur (2020), the Supreme Court recommended a constitutional amendment to entrust these powers to an independent tribunal led by judges, expressing a lack of confidence in the Speaker’s neutrality.
Recent Occurrence in Maharashtra:
- In June 2022, a faction of the Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde, comprising 37 out of 55 MLAs, asserted itself as the genuine Shiv Sena. Bharat Gogawale was appointed as its whip.
- Conversely, the UBT faction contended that they were the original political party, with Sunil Prabhu continuing as their whip.
- The Speaker has now officially recognized the Eknath Shinde faction as the authentic Shiv Sena and deemed the appointment of Bharat Gogawale as whip valid. This decision was based on the numerical strength of the Shinde faction and the party’s 1999 constitution.
- Consequently, the Speaker declined to disqualify 40 MLAs from the Shinde faction and 14 MLAs from the UBT group, citing the inability to physically serve whip instructions from Bharat Gogawale to the latter.
Necessity of Reforms:
- In the case of Sadiq Ali versus Election Commission of India (1971), the Supreme Court established a three-test formula for the Election Commission to determine the original political party.
- These tests include evaluating the aims and objects of the party, its affairs in accordance with the party’s constitution reflecting inner party democracy, and assessing majority in the legislative and organizational wings.
- However, the lack of inner party democracy often contributes to defections. In February 2023, the Election Commission recognized the Eknath Shinde faction as the genuine Shiv Sena based solely on the votes polled by legislators supporting Shinde in the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly elections.
To address ambiguities surrounding the Tenth Schedule, a decisive Supreme Court judgment in such matters and the establishment of an independent tribunal to handle member disqualifications are essential reforms. The core reform required involves institutionalizing internal democracy through regular inner-party elections in political parties, closely monitored by the Election Commission.