Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rajya Sabha elections and the question of an identity

The recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections all over the country were disappointing due to a variety of reasons. The original concept of a Rajya Sabha or a Council of States was a chamber that represents the interests of the stats in the federal structure on the Indian polity. The House was also given more powers on the state list precisely due to this. However, anybody who saw the elections unfold this time could see the dubious nature of these elections. Tha Rajya Sabha has begun to serve a variety of purposes- it accommodates members who are defeated in Lok Sabha elections. This has been seen time and again and a notable case in point being Shivraj Patil, who lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from Latur but was made Home Minister and given a Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra.
The Rajya Sabha has also become a playground for the rich industrialists and others who are not confident of winning Lok Sabha elections themselves. In the last round, Vijay Mallya easily won his election as an independent backed by the BJP and JD[S] from Karnataka and Rahul Bajaj won similarly in 2006 with BJP, Shiv Sena and NCP supporting him from Maharashtra. In the past, Lalit Surie and Sudhanshu Mittal also made Rajya Sabha bids from Uttar Pradesh. This is a problem because industrialists seldom enter the Rajya Sabha to serve the states they are elected from. The need that forum to further business interests and at the same time political parties back them in the wake of their money power.
But a very important drawback is that the entire concept of state representation has been washed away in this race for political representation. Out of the 6 Rajya Sabha berths from Jharkhand, only 2 are Jharkhand based MPs. Rest are not connected to Jharkhand at all. This is an extremely sad situation and parties need to ensure state voices are given preference over money and other vested interests. This also creates a 'chose a state' phenomena especially when ministers need to be accommodated when their term ends and their home state cannot give them that benefit. Most recently, Anand Sharma needed to get an extension to the Rajya Sabha but he could not be elected from his home state Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP was in power. He had to go 'seat hunting' and after the Maharashtra unit of the Congress objected, he was finally elected from Rajasthan. Such problems are serious and need to be solved as early as possible.
The most curious election was however that of Ram Jethmalani from Rajasthan. Ram Jethmalani has been in parliament since 1987 and has had close links with every party and many governments. He served as Law Minister in the United Front and NDA-I governments and later contested against Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lucknow in 2004. Why the BJP gave him a ticket is something only Nitin Gadkari can answer best. It is sad because he has not agreed with the party views on many things and also contested against Vajpayee. It is impossible to imagine anybody entering the Congress who bitterly fought the Manmohan Singh and the Gandhi family. The party high command should have considered these facts before nominating him.
In general too, there needs to be serious debate on the role and composition of the Rajya Sabha. It is not the states chamber it was envisioned to be earlier and nor are state aspirations addressed here. It was called the elders chamber the behaviour of the members proves otherwise. The BJP has developed a limiting term policy which is welcome but how will take shape in reality is a different issue. Until this issue is solved, we will continue having a second chamber that is completely off the mark as far as its aims and composition is concerned.

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