Vidhan Parishad boost for Gehlot

Chief minister Ashok Gehlot is going all out to have a second consecutive term in office, which is a rarity in Rajasthan. While he has launched a number of populist welfare schemes to keep various sections of voters in good humour, he has also not lost sight of the desire of the political class.

With an ever obliging Congress led UPA government at the Centre, the chief minister is having his way in getting the approval for the proposed Vidhan Parishad -- an upper house to the state Assembly. The Union cabinet cleared the state’s proposal for the legislative council recently. It would now be presented before Parliament in the form of a Bill, which has to be passed by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha by a two-thirds majority for the council to come into existence. Once cleared by Parliament, Rajasthan would become the seventh state in the country to have a bicameral legislature.

The resolution to create a Vidhan Parishad was passed by the state Assembly more than a year ago. The Congress leaders are taking credit for the move while many people are sceptical about the proposal which they say is not going to make much of a difference in the legislative business. “It is a historic decision which will increase the people’s representation in the law making process,” said the ruling party’s chief whip Raghu Sharma.

Gehlot claimed that the step will help facilitate meaningful debate on issues as very often the elected representatives in the Assembly were carried away by political considerations. The trend of important Bills being passed even without a debate in the house was a matter of concern and a second chamber would help to have informed and balanced debate on issues as upper house would mainly comprise of experts and professionals representing various fields, he adds.

The proposed 66-member upper house would have proportional representation from different professional and social groups like graduates, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, representatives of panchayati Raj institutions, representatives of local bodies and a few nominated members.   

But the question is whether the members in the upper house would be able to rise above political considerations when they are elected on political lines. CPM leader Amra Ram who opposed the move says, “the parishad will put an additional burden of Rs 400 crore on the poor Rajasthani people, who are not going to benefit in anyway.” He alleged, “the Congress and the BJP want the parishad simply to provide backdoor entry into the state legislature to their members who cannot win direct elections.”

The opposition BJP maintained that chief minister’s move to create the parishad was to gain political mileage for the ruling Congress. The pervious Vasundhara Raje government announced to make the state legislature a bicameral body and her party later included this even in its election manifesto, but it failed to follow it up after coming to power. As per the Constitution, the size of a Vidhan Parishad has to be one-third of the membership of the Vidhan Sabha in the particular state. At the same time, its size cannot be less than 40 members.

Rakesh Kumar Sharma of the political science department of Rajasthan University says “the concept is good on paper but its success or failure depends on the intent. If the political parties want to curry favour with some people by accommodating them to the upper house, then the purpose will be defeated. If the right people are accommodated in the house, then it could prove to be a boon for democracy. But given the conditions prevailing now and the fast deteriorating standard of our political class, you can’t no blame he sceptics.”

Senior lawyer and president of PUCL, Rajasthan, Prem Kishan Sharma also expressed similar views. “I don’t think any qualitative improvement is going to take place to the political discourse due to formation of the Vidhan Parishad. There are six states already with a bicameral legislature but there is no proof to substantiate the point that the debates in these states have been in any way different from other states which have only Assemblies.”

However Sunny Sebastian, vice chancellor of the Hari Dev Joshi University of Journalism and Mass Communication differs. “Democracy is all about representation. Rajasthan is the largest state in terms of geographical size but in terms of popular representation at the highest level are just 35 MPs (25 Lok Sabha 10 Rajya Sabha) and 200 MLAs which is grossly inadequate. An upper house comprising expert groups would definitely increase representation and value to the legislative business, “ he says. Thus the opinion is sharply divided and it is up to the legislators to prove their worth and the sceptics wrong.

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