We all know that when it comes to politics, formal education takes a back seat. Mumbai is no exception despite being the seat of some finest educational institutions.
Of course the political class leaves no stone unturned to prove that all that glitters is not gold in India’s financial capital which is no stranger to profiteering, and being the seat of Bollywood, is no stranger to Narcissism.
Mumbai has been a witness to many rags to riches stories. Here quite a few big business empires were set up by those who only had a matriculation certificate or not even that. Bollywood too had many school and college dropouts as superstars.
This leads to the next question. Does educational qualification at all matter in electoral politics? Politicians may say one thing and do another.
As Ketan Shah, Vice President, Mumbai North East District Congress Committee, said: “A candidate should be at least 12th pass to stand in a Corporation election, and a graduate to get the ticket in Assembly and Parliament elections…” But who is listening?
That even school dropouts could win elections and be a successful politician in our country is an accepted fact. So why should one hold any grudge when in at least three of the city’s six parliamentary constituencies (that is 50%), the mainstream political parties have ignored educational qualification while selecting candidates? In these three constituencies, some candidates are indeed very popular faces with successful careers and personal charisma. At the same time many among them are political nominees who are either school dropouts or simple matriculate or college drop outs.
As these candidates aspire to become law-makers of the country, this gives more ammo to the prevailing logic that political parties go by the dictum that formal education is no match for electoral manipulations., that may euphemistically be termed as “worldly exposure”! True, at times practical knowledge is much superior to bookish knowledge and who else than our politicians take it most seriously.
So let us have a look at the educational qualification of the candidates fielded by the two mainstream political parties in these three above mentioned Mumbai constituencies where their fate will be sealed in the ballot box on April 29.
Mumbai North constituency: Gopal Shetty, 65-year-old sitting BJP MP, is non-matriculate and passed out 7th standard in the year 1969. He rose from the ranks of being a corporator in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to Member of Parliament. He also represented the Maharashtra state Legislature during his earlier stint.
His rival Congress nominee Bollywood actress Urmila Matondkar, is a college dropout. She had passed her Second Year B.A. in the year 1990, from the prestigious D.G. Ruparel College, Matunga, Mumbai.
As the Rangeela girl got a good opportunity in Bollywood, she could not pursue her further studies. No regret as she became a celebrity in filmland. Obviously for her a lack of college degree was no impediment on way to success. Now she is trying her luck to dislodge BJP incumbent MP and hoping to give her party a new lease of life from Mumbai North constituency.
Mumbai North East constituency: This constituency, which was represented earlier by stalwarts like India’s first Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon, who was highly educated and till date he holds the record of longest speech made by any world leader in the UN general assembly. Then the Emergency hero Dr. Subramanian Swamy is the only Parliamentarian who won twice consecutively from this constituency.
This time though, the BJP has replaced its sitting MP Dr. Kirit Somaiya. a chartered accountant, by three-time municipal corporator Manoj Kotak, who has nothing much to show about his educational qualifications. He had passed his matric (SSC) examination from Mulund, Mumbai in the year 1988.
His rival Nationalist Congress Party nominee Sanjay Patil, who was elected in 2009 but was defeated by Somaiya in 2014, however, is a Commerce graduate from Mumbai University.
Mumbai North Central constituency: Here the veteran Congress leader Eknath Gaikwad, a matriculate and a former Member of Parliament is trying to dislodge the present Shiv Sena incumbent, Rahul Shewale, a Civil Engineer by profession. To Gaikwad’s credit, who came a long way in the political arena, he is the only candidate who passed Matric examination from a night school way back in 1962 from the famous B.D.D. Chawl, Worli, Mumbai, of which he is proud.
Reacting to sidelining importance of education by politicos, Usha Mishra who workds in Khadi and Village Industries Commission, says, “An elected Member of Parliament has to be well qualified as they carry big responsibility of representing an important constituency from Mumbai… It limits their thought process due to lack of education and less study of progress around the world…”
When asked about role of education in politics, and whether a college degree is at all important for politicians, Dr. Pratima Singh, Principal, Chandrabhan Sharma College, Powai, Mumbai, said: “Political parties, to a great extent, play a decisive role in making the destiny of our nation. They must associate themselves with well educated candidates. This will ensure enactment of required legislations and understanding of various social, cultural, scientific, national and international issues.” She emhasised: “We cannot expect radical positive changes by such insensitive and unpolished representatives. It’s time that education must be an important criterion for candidature in elections.”
Giving a new dimension to lack of preference to educational qualification of political candidates, yet another educationist, Sreenivas Poojari of Narayana Educational institutions, Mumbai, attributed this phenomenon to “dynastic” politics. “Only prominent political families and rich people are contesting and ruling the nation,” he said. He too opined that the need of the hour was to ensure that talented and educated people from rural and weak economic background were encouraged, “as it will prosper in all round disciplines like the quality of life of the population, Creation of local regional income and employment opportunities, without damaging resources of environment, Agriculture, Education amongst others”.
Another educationist, Manali Deepak Naik of Chandrabhan Sharma College,Powai, said: “Politicians are essentially our representatives, who take decisions on our part. Education is a tool that hones the minds of people and it will surely benefit the politicians. Education is necessary for a leader, for the country’s bright future and prosperity.”
There is no doubt that education is an important factor to guide, serve and discharge the responsibilty of an elected member towards the society. As C H Abdul Rehman, President, Mumbai-based Kerala Muslim Jamaath, said, an educated and experienced member could discharge his duties more constructively and effectively and in a positive manner.
While politicians can afford to shun education, beauty cannot be always skin deep contrary to the saying. Rashmi Sahay, Mrs. India IMP Asia Pacific Tourism, title holder from Oman, originally hailing from Patna, felt that although education grooms the individual but that does not give them the exclusive eligibility to be part of the political system. “Mainstream political parties stick to vote bank politics, very few parties or candidates from parties concentrate on development,” she said and blamed the demographics of India. “We have to understand the demographics of India. We as a country are not cent percent literate society…In India the political system is a mean to develop the country over a period of time. (But) achieving these goals is still far far away…” she said. She though felt that education could not be the “only tool” to understand the wants and needs of a vast country where “most of our population is still below poverty line in rural India.”
Manpreet Singh Nagi, President, Indian Chamber of International Business, summed it all aptly: “Education is one of the strongest weapons of society. Sadly this is the last thing that is seen in the political system of India. This being said education grooms the individual but does not give them the exclusive eligibility to be part of the political system.”
As we conclude this debate, we are reminded of an 18th Century American educational reformer, Horace Mann, who had once famously said, “Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge.”
This deluge persists even in the 21st Century. And Mumbai is not untouched by it.
This ostensibly explains why main stream political parties don’t care much about educational background of politicians. This explains well why while selecting candidates for Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai, in fifty per cent of the seats these major parties overlooked degrees.
*The writer is a senior journalist