Time to abolish Rajya Sabha

UP House Of Cards

By Poonam I Kaushish

Billed as the political IPL’s battle of nerves, the just concluded Rajya Sabha biennial elections was the latest in an ever-growing series of political skullduggery on full public display. A macabre account of double crossing, treachery and cross-voting. Clearly, the ‘vote nautanki’ once again underscores that political maya can be traded for rajnitik nirvana with the devil taking the hindmost!
Of the 58 seats which fell vacant in 16 States, 33 candidates from 10 States were unanimously elected and 25 seats were contested in 6 States. In all the BJP won 27 which is a gain of 11 seats. Till yesterday, the NDA was in the minority, today the BJP has emerged as the single largest Party, ousting Congress which had the upper hand in the Upper House.
Ulta Pulta UP lived up to its name and witnessed a battle of nerves. For the BJP its tally of 9 from 10 seats vindicated its defeat to the SP-BSP alliance for the Lok Sabha bypolls in Gorakkpur and Phulpur recently. More so, as it snatched an extra seat by defeating Mayawati’s candidate backed by Akhilesh and Rahul with deft management and cross-voting. It remains to be seen if the newfound bonhomie between Bua-Bhatija continues for the 2019 general elections.
There was high drama in Karnataka as well where counting was halted after the Janata Dal-Secular accused two Congress legislators of being allowed to cast their vote twice. But the ruling Congress comfortably romped home with three and BJP one. The results in West Bengal were a no brainer as the Trinimool sailed smoothly with four and ensured a victory for a lone Congress candidate.
Pertinently, what is it about being elected to the Rajya Sabha which sees Parties, candidates, money bags, powerful industrialist and power-brokers panting to get a slice of the action? All striking underhand deals, indulging in skullduggery, sleaze, money et al. Succinctly, power.
Confessed an industrialist, “I have the money to buy everything but the trappings of power. As MP I can walk into any Minister’s or babu’s room and he has to attend to me. I can raise any issue, insist on being heard even make outlandish demands, peddle influence etc.”
Two, it is a good investment as once elected an MP has a sum of Rs 5 crores annually (Rs 30 crores for 6 years) under the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), to “spend” read do as he pleases, as there is no particular constituency per se to nature, unlike his Lok Sabha counterpart.
Resulting in the House earning the ignominious moniker of being “bought”, akin to the Lok Sabha elections, polls herein too have become big business. Shockingly, the figures for ‘buying’ the required number of votes range from Rs.20 crores to Rs.30 crores. The going rate per vote is said to be Rs. 5 crores to Rs.10 crores.
Remember BSP supremo Mayawati let the cat out by virtually auctioning the House nomination to the highest bidder a few years ago. Whereby, she reportedly openly extolled her MPs to “donate” their MPLADS funds if they wanted her to nominate them to the Rajya Sabha. Sic.
Consequently, with each passing year the character and quality of the House of Elders is sharply deteriorating. Personal loyalty to the leader, monetary considerations and political connections get precedence over competence and experience, becoming more of a house of money bags and fixers.
Worse, the Council of States has failed to evolve a distinct role for itself as the torch bearer of the State’s concerns and is functioning more and more as a parallel (and competing) political chamber to the Lok Sabha. Often shouting, abuse and pandemonium has replaced serious debate.
If one had hoped that the Supreme Court would set things right it was not to be. It held that a candidate need not be a domicile of a State from where he seeks elections. Thereby, opening the floodgates of powerbrokers and Lok Sabha losers finding ‘safe’ Rajya Sabha seats for a price and more.
Bluntly, the States’ voice over the years has got lost in the din of the power brokers and the money bags, who strut about like peacocks in the changing Rajya Sabha kaleidoscope. The tragedy of it all, in an era where political image has come to be branded like detergents, our netagan have converted the House of Elders into an invoice for self and pelf, instead of dealing with chronic maladies that plague India.
Raising a moot point: Why have a second chamber at all?
Unfortunately, the House is not what it was intended to be. Recall, our Constitution-makers wanted it to consist of persons of experience and eminence than those in the Lok Sabha. It was intended to give an opportunity to seasoned people, who may not be in the thickest of political fray, but who might be willing to participate in the debate with an amount of learning and importance which one does not ordinarily associate with the House of the People.
What next? Time for our powers-that-be to desist from playing further havoc. The rules that govern membership to Parliament must be re-written. One view is that the Rajya Sabha could still be made to play a more useful role. JP strongly favoured a Partyless Council whereby only those who had served one stint in the State Assembly or Lok Sabha and no more than two terms should be made MP.
Today, we have MPs enjoying four-six terms of six years each in the Rajya Sabha without ever fighting an elections to either State Assembly or the Lok Sabha!
Also, should one discontinue the practice of nominating members? Recall, this tradition was started so that stellar achievers with knowledge or practical experience in literature, science, art and social service who might not be able to survive the vagaries of power politics could serve the country. Obversely, nominations only help the nominating Party, why should the tax payer be financially burdened with unelected MPs whose only contribution is a playing ‘yes’ man for the Treasury Benches or ‘trophy’ MPs’ to be paraded at election time ?
I personally feel one should abolish the chamber, as advocated by leading MPs at different times. Significantly, Dr. Ambedkar himself went on record in 1949 to say that the Rajya Sabha was being introduced “purely as an experimental measure” and there was provision for “getting rid” of it.
Morarji Desai, for his part, was one with Harold Laski’s view that “a single chamber best answers the needs of modern states.” Why should the tax payer be financially burdened with unelected MPs whose only contribution is serving their self interest?
Clearly, the Elders must set their House in order, or else the coming months will decide whether the Rajya Sabha will make Indian politics more messy and unworkable. What the Upper House desperately needs is more substance than style. At the end of the day, are we going to mortgage our conscience to corrupt and tainted leaders? —- INFA