Rajya Sabha – a parking place?

Anil Anand
Has the Upper House of Parliament which was re-baptised as Rajya Sabha on August 23, 1954 outlived its utility? This question is not new as it found an expression as back as in 1973 when on March 30 Congress Lok Sabha Member Bibhuti Mishra had moved a private member’s Bill for abolition of Rajya Sabha on the premise that the election to the Elders’ House were seethed in corruption.
Nothing seems to have changed ever since on the election front which was recently visible in Rajya Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh. The “Saam Dham Dhand Bedh” formula was at its full play and nothing seems to have changed 45 years after Mishra took the most unpopular step despite the Governments of different colours and creeds coming in-between. It is another matter that the Bill found refuge in the attics of Ethics Committee of Parliament only its recommendations coming to light, but never to be adopted, on December 15, 1999. To be fair to the committee it noticed with serious concern the growing practice of cross-voting.
But that is not the only malady that has afflicted the very concept of Rajya Sabha. Cross-voting for alleged considerations remains to be the major concern. But what has made the matter worst is the new character acquired by the Rajya Sabha which the Constituent Assembly had named as Upper House and many learned personalities likened it as the House of Elders on lines with the British Parliamentary system. The most disturbing characterisation is that of the august House becoming a “parking place” for hot favourites of the top leadership of political parties and rootless political wonders. You lose a Lok Sabha election and find a place in Rajya Sabha courtesy your bosses, has further entrenched the “parking place” phenomena.
All attempts, including eradication of secret ballot, at checking cross-voting have so far failed and all political parties including the present ruling dispensation at the Centre are to be blamed for that. This certainly needs a serious consideration and so does the issue of having turned the Rajya Sabha into a “parking place”.
The question arises: “Who will bell the cat”.
Quoting a few examples of multi-term Rajya Sabha MPs to drive home this phenomena in varied forms and make the issue more gripping to demand a public debate; “Suresh Pachouri (Congress) four terms and desperately trying for another one and a politician without any base, Najma Heptullah six terms (Congress and later BJP now Governor of Manipur, politico with no base), Jaya Bachchan four terms (Samajwadi Party, no political base), Arun Jaitley (BJP four terms. Lost Lok Sabha election in 2014 and was brought to Rajya Sabha.) The list is long and unwinding.
The one solution in sight to erase this “parking place” stigma from Rajya Sabha is to impose restriction of maximum two-terms. It is workable as well as possible through Constitutional amendment that would certainly need political consensus but more than that social pressure from all sides.
Noted Constitutional expert and former Secertary General Lok Sabha Subash Kashyap agrees that all these maladies put together have eroded the character of Rajya Sabha as had been envisaged by the framers of the Constitution. He described as an ideal situation where two-term restriction should be imposed.  “It boils down to convincing the political parties which is a difficult proposition. The more affective way is to build public opinion as public pressure would force political parties to see reason,” he felt.
It is ironic that political parties see no reason in repeating time and again candidates who would do no value addition to the wider cause of Rajya Sabha and in turn the Constitutional scheme of things. Or else why a Pachouri, Najma Heptullah or Jaya Bachchan would become hot favourites without any rhyme or reason. Persons such as Jaitley do deserve to be Members of the Upper House by sheer dint of their intellect and professional ground but certainly not after defeat in Lok Sabha election that too when a Modi-wave swept BJP to power.
Kashyap strongly feels that subsequent developments have eroded the basic definition of Rajya Sabha being the House of Elders or having the representative character of the states. The latter characterisation is more important since Rajya Sabha is known as Council of States and its MPs are elected by the state legislators.
This change took place after an amendment in the Representation of the People Act which removed the domicile requirements for getting elected to the Rajya Sabha. This amendment was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court after dismissing a bunch of petitions filed by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar and others questioning its legality. Before this amendment in August 2003, a candidate had to be a voter in the state to which he or she was to be elected.
While laying down the qualifications for a Rajya Sabha Member, the framers of the Constitution had laid down that the person should “ordinarily” be a resident of the state from where she or he seeks election. Since, this provision did not suit political parties, the amendment happened.
Again, Kashyap felt that since Rajya Sabha is a federal House, the states elect their representatives to take up state specific issues. But what if the elected representative, being from outside the particular state, is not versed with the issues of the state that has elected her or him, he asked.
One way is that the Apex Court is again approached through a Public Interest Litigation and a review is sought of its own earlier verdict. This has become imperative as there is little hope that the Governments would take a remedial step in this direction.
The tag House of Elders also implied that Rajya Sabha should have experienced experts as its Members, among other qualifications. “It was because of this reason that age limit to become a Member of Rajya Sabha has been kept more than that of Lok Sabha. But this factor has also been eroded” Kashyap added.
Where do we go from where? Definitely there is a strong case for review of Rajya Sabha’s current configuration in terms of number of terms, domicile issue and above all the quality and qualification of candidates that political parties field. Above all this malady has also afflicted, and again all political parties of ruling variety are to be blamed, domain of Presidentially nominated candidates to the Upper House which also needs a relook.