Out of My Mind: What is the Rajya Sabha for?


The scramble is on for nominations to the Rajya Sabha; it presents a strange spectacle. The Rajya Sabha should ideally be the chamber where the federal nature of the Constitution gets its play. Its members should be delegates of the states which they purport to represent. Then the Lok Sabha can be truly a national chamber, its members conveying the messages of the citizens from across the country, leaving the Rajya Sabha to speak for the states.

That at least was the intention of the Government of India Act, 1935, where the Council of States was proposed as the chamber where the princely states would send their delegates, while British India was to send elected members to the Lower House. Since the federal parts of the 1935 Act were never implemented, the original Council of States never came about. Yet the term Rajya Sabha was used in the Constitution of independent India

Over the years, the Rajya Sabha has evolved rather like the House of Lords where it is by party nominations that individuals get elevated, except for the cross bench peers who are selected by an independent process. There is no ceiling to the numbers in the House of Lords but that is an anomaly of the unwritten Constitution. By agreement, no party can have a majority in the House of Lords and in case of any disagreement with the House of Commons about amendments to a Bill, the House of Lords must eventually yield.

The election process to the Rajya Sabha is highly predictable. In most states, parties know how many of their own nominees can be elected. There are contests at the margins when a party has a fraction of the required votes left to trade with other parties. The certain seats can be assigned by the party to the persons it most values to be available in the legislature.

Great Britain is not a federation despite the devolved parliaments. Peers do not represent the region of their residency nor any constituency. They are chosen for some or other merit. But for India, the Upper House should ideally be like the US Senate whose members represent the interests of the state.

The predictability of numbers gives great power to party leadership. Ajit Singh has had to search for a powerful party leader with seats to allocate, who would nominate him. He may not be lucky.

Kapil Sibal, we are told, has a fight on his hands as his party can only give him a fraction of a seat. Ministers whose Rajya Sabha seat has expired are shunted to other states where they can be assured of a seat. Lalu Prasad can award a seat to his daughter though she may have no political experience.

There are benefits of course. Dr Manmohan Singh could find a seat in Assam and Ram Jethmalani can return to the Rajya Sabha. But it means that the interests of Assam or Bihar are incidental to the presence of a national personality. Indeed, one would say that the unelectable can be guaranteed a place in Parliament thanks to the Rajya Sabha.

Yet the issue is the relative powers of the two houses. Unlike the House of Lords, the Rajya Sabha need not yield to the Lok Sabha. Is this fair?

Source: xaam.in

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