The sleepy tourist islands of Lakshadweep suddenly shot into the news in May 2021, with a flurry of statements from Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders opposing the steps taken by the administrator of Lakshadweep in February 2021, including the draft Panchayat Regulations which amongst other things, proposes to disqualify persons with more than two children from holding a Panchayat post.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote to the PM “The provision of the draft Panchayat Regulation that disqualifies members with more than two children is blatantly anti-democratic”
TMC leader and MP Mahua Moitra tweeted “Current Union Ministers of Defence, External Affairs & Road Transport among many w/3 children each. So how does @BJP administrator introduce draft regulation for Lakshadweep disqualifying panchayat members w/ more than 2 children?”
The leaders have provoked reactions by several netizens, uninformed members of the general public and even journalists, complaining of breach of fundamental rights of religion, privacy etc., even accusing the “Modi Sarkar” of targeting Muslims.
The timing of this sudden manufactured outrage in May over legislation which was notified in February is a matter of speculation which needs a closer look, but I seek to focus today on the sheer hypocrisy of the statements and the attempt to excite religious passions over a matter of policy which was pushed by the Congress Party itself for decades and the legal soundness of which has been settled by the Supreme Court long back.
So what is this two child norm proposed in the Panchhayat Regulation in Lakshadweep? Is it something new, unreasonable or “anti-democratic”? Let us examine…
The proposed Regulation 14(1) (n) states “No person shall be a member of a Gram Panchayat or continue as such who has more than two children”.
To allay concerns arising out of certain circumstances, the Regulation also provides as follows;
“Provided that a person having more than two children on the date of commencement of this regulation shall not be disqualified under this clause so long as the number of children he had on the date of such commencement does not increase:
Provided further that a child or more than one child born in a single delivery within the period of one year from the date of such commencement shall not be taken into consideration for the purpose of disqualification under this clause.
Explanation 1 – For the purposes of clause (n) –
(i). where a couple has only one child on or after the date of such commencement, any number of children born out of single subsequent delivery shall be deemed to be one entity;
(ii). ‘child’ does not include an adopted child or children”
The legality of such provisions have been repeatedly upheld by the courts, including a three judge bench of the Supreme Court in 2003 in the case of Javed and Ors vs State of Haryana, where a wide range of objections were dealt with including grounds of equality, arbitrariness, discrimination, personal liberty and religious freedom. The Supreme Court referred to various judgments of Indian Courts including the Supreme Court itself. Some of the significant observations are as follows;
“……… when the entire world is faced with the problem of population explosion it will not only be desirable but absolutely essential for every country to see that the family planning programme is not only whipped up but maintained at sufficient levels so as to meet the danger of over-population which, if not controlled, may lead to serious social and economic problems throughout the world.”
“A sharp distinction must be drawn between religious faith and belief and religious practices. What the State protects is religious faith and belief. If religious practices run counter to public order, morality or health or a policy of social welfare upon which the State has embarked, then the religious practices must give way before the good of the people of the State as a whole.”
“The right to contest an election for any office in Panchayat is neither fundamental nor a common law right. It is the creature of a statute and is obviously subject to qualifications and disqualifications enacted by legislation.”
“If anyone chooses to have more living children than two, he is free to do so under the law as it stands now but then he should pay a little price and that is of depriving himself from holding an office in Panchayat ………… There is nothing illegal about it and certainly no unconstitutionality attaches to it.”
Various states including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Telangana, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Assam already have some form of two child norm for those running for elected office of Municipalities, Panchayats or government posts. Ironically, most of these laws, which Rahul Gandhi now terms as “anti-democratic”, have been made by the Congress regimes in power at the relevant time. Several MPs from the BJP, Shiv Sena and even Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress have backed the application of the two child norm more widely, including to MPs and MLAs. Can Rahul Gandhi then explain how the two child norm is seen by his party as socially beneficial for the rest of India and “anti-democratic” for Lakshadweep?
The answer seems to lie in politics. The sinister effort of Rahul Gandhi and his gang is to push the narrative that the BJP government seeks to “discriminate” against the Muslims. But as per the 2011 census, Lakshadweep has a 96.58 % Muslim population. One wonders how the two child norm can amount to discrimination when practically all the contesting candidates for the Panchayats in Lakshadweep will be Muslims? This manufactured outrage seems to be more for the consumption of their Muslim voters on the mainland, more specifically, their ‘vote bank’ politics. Are the people of Lakshadweep mere pawns in Rahul Gandhi’s game of vote bank politics? Does Rahul’s gang care at all about the effect their dabbling has, given the sensitive geopolitical location of Lakshadweep?
One only hopes the timing of the manufactured outrage does not have a nexus with the recent seizure of Rs.3000 crores worth of heroin, AK47 rifles, ammunition and other contraband off the coast of Lakshadweep and the resultant crackdown on the smuggling mafia by the administrator.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Anirudh Ganu is a Mumbai based lawyer practicing in the Bombay High Court