The chosen few

The chosen few

There has always been a debate on the need to have a second chamber of parliament. It was said in France long back, “If the second chamber disagrees with the first chamber, it is mischievous, and if it concurs, it is redundant.” However, the Senate, ie, the second chamber, plays a crucial role in the contemporary French constitutional system.

The Indian Constituent Assembly also debated the issue at length whether there should be Rajya Sabha or not, but ultimately decided in favour of bicameralism. However, barely two years after it came into existence, three constitutional amendment bills were sought to be introduced in Lok Sabha for the abolition of Rajya Sabha.

The invention of the doctrine of ‘basic structure’ by the supreme court in Kesavananda Bharati’s case in 1973 permanently dispelled any doubts about its relevance as bicameralism was declared part of the basic structure. Subsequently, the committee on private members’ bills and resolutions in Lok Sabha ruled that it cannot be abolished as it is a basic feature of the Constitution.

So, what is the role of Rajya Sabha? It was lucidly defined by its first Chairman S Radhakrishnan in its first sitting on May 13, 1952: “There is a general impression that this House cannot make or unmake governments and, therefore, it is a superfluous body. But, there are functions, which a revising chamber can fulfil fruitfully.

Parliament is not only a legislative but also a deliberative body... we are for the first time starting under the parliamentary system, with a second chamber at the Centre, and we should try to do everything in our power to justify to the public that a second chamber is essential to prevent hasty legislation.”

Thus, apart from preventing hasty legislation, this House is meant to cogitate on serious issues. It was never meant to be a chamber for rehabilitating political leaders who lose in direct elections. According to Article 80 of the Constitution, the Council of States is to consist of 12 members to be nominated by the President and not more than 238 representatives of the states.

It is clarified that the members to be nominated shall consist of persons having special knowledge or practical experience in the fields of literature, science, art and social service. The fact that presidential nominees figure first in the composition of Rajya Sabha is a clear pointer to the fact they are expected to be persons of eminence in their respective fields who would raise the level of debate by their thoughtful comments and intervention.

Social service abused

However, in due course the term ‘social service’ has been  construed liberally to include political service and some politicians have made their way to the Upper House through this route. The recent nominations of Mani Shankar Aiyar and Ram Dayal Munda have drawn fire from political observers and the opposition, particularly the BJP, which has referred to the speech of Jawaharlal Nehru and the debate of the Constituent Assembly, that bringing active politicians through this channel is an abuse of the constitutional provision.

The choice of Aiyar and that of Munda cannot be faulted on the ground of calibre as both are men of letters but they are active members of the Congress party who unsuccessfully contested the last Lok Sabha poll on the party symbol. The first list of MPs nominated by the president on April 3, 1952, included such eminent personalities like educationist Zakir Hussain, danseuse Rukmini Devi Arundale, jurist Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, Gandhian social worker Kaka Saheb Kalelkar, theatre artist Prithvi Raj Kapoor, scientist Satyendra Nath Bose, etc.

Later, several leaders with different political affiliations were nominated. The NDA government also nominated Dara Singh and Hema Malini who belonged to the BJP. This process reached its nadir when the Narasimha Rao government nominated a moneybag like Mahendra Prasad who did not meet any of the qualifications.

However, the Union government has so far observed the decorum of not inducting any nominated member into the council of ministers. In 1971, when Indira Gandhi wanted to draft Nurul Hasan, then a nominated MP, as a minister, P N Haksar dissuaded her from doing this. He convinced her that it would set a bad precedent and the history would condemn her. Hasan was asked to resign and was brought back as an elected member and then inducted into the cabinet.

In states, mostly it is politicians who are being accommodated in the legislative council as government nominees. Earlier, in Bihar, then Governor M A S Ayyangar returned the recommendation of Chief Minister K B Sahay to nominate Mathura Prasad Singh, a Congress leader, to the council. But then Sahay issued a notification to this effect on his own, and Singh became a nominated MLC.

There is a strong need to build up a consensus that truly deserving people are nominated to the Upper House, who add refulgence to the debate by their expertise and skills. It must be ensured that it is not a House of rehabilitation. Further, it is not sufficient to be eminent in one’s own field. They also must take keen interest in parliamentary proceedings. Lata Mangeshkar is a great artiste but she hardly attended the House or spoke during her tenure as a nominated MP.