Rajya Sabha or Upper House has a different sanctity attached or assigned to it. Every set of elections to elect Rajya Sabha members witnesses this sanctity being eroded, raising fresh questions of propriety- both procedural and political. And above all heightening the debate if the Rajya Sabha has outlived its utility?
The most recent elections to fill 57 slots in the Upper House proved no different. The political parties and the individual legislators exploited the gaping loopholes in the electoral procedures to their benefit in different manners with the hapless election conducting authorities simply looking either the other way or content with giving a final ruling on the disputes in the absence of watertight electoral process.
The Rajya Sabha was conceptualized for a role different from Lok Sabha which primarily is to act as a safety valve in the country’s federal polity with a view to strengthen the federal system. It was conceived in the role of “review and revaluation” body that would keep a check on the legislations passed in haste by the Lok Sabha which happens mostly under populist pressure.
More importantly, the framers of the concept had visualized Rajya Sabha to prevent a government with brute majority from being authoritarian at least in the case of legislative business. It is ironic that the such governments have from time to time eroded the sanctity of the prestigious House.
The manner of conducting the elections and selection of candidates by the political parties, more so those from outside the parties, has led to all these functions of the Rajya Sabha getting diluted and swept under the exigencies of practical politics. All successive Central and state governments (in the matter of selection of candidates at least) have contributed to defeat the very purpose of having a bicameral system in Parliament.
The biggest malady attached to the Rajya Sabha elections is that mere mention evokes a fear of money if not the muscle power ruling roost right from managing party mandate to ensuring votes. A particular variety of industrialists and media barons, sports administrators and rich politicians have become the favoured lot with the political parties to back them for an Upper House slot. The persons of eminence belonging to different fields who once used to add glitter to the line-up in the House have become a casualty. They hardly find any mention in the 12 Presidential nominations which are mostly being usurped by the opportunist and influential politicians or favourites of the ruling party.
The latest set of Rajya Sabha elections was no different. Most of these maladies were glaringly visible and the icing on the cake was the cross-voting that took with impunity and affected all including the ruling BJP commanding majority at the Centre and in some of the states which were to elect Rajya Sabha MPs.
What was conceived as the crucial mechanism for checks and balances among the executive, legislature and judiciary, finds itself weakened and unable to discharge this function. The reason behind this, apart from other loopholes, is that ruling parties view Rajya Sabha only from the point of view of having absolute majority, to be achieved using all means, for easy sailing of the legislative business.
What was supposed to be a deliberative body in the Constitutional scheme of things has been converted into an attachment of the Lok Sabha. This is reflected in the hurried manner in which the Bills have been passed without debates and one recent glaring example to this effect was the passing of Bill to partially abrogate Article 370 giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
It is high time that the system should seriously think about reforming or tightening the process of electing Rajya Sabha members. The fact that this process is considered as a non-Legislative activity and not a proceeding of the State Legislative Assembly needs a relook. This had come after two judgements of the Supreme Court in 1984, and then in 2006 when a Constitution Bench of the Apex Court had in Kuldip Nayyar vs Union of India case ruled that Rajya Sabha election is an out-of-the-House action, which did not come under the purview of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution that enumerates the law of disqualification.
On the face of it the highest court of the country was justified in its observations and was in line with the spirit with which the Upper House was conceptualized. But neither the noble idea nor the Court’s corresponding observation have stood the test of the time. The loophole that there is no punishment for cross-voting or no provision of political parties declaring whips, has been easily exploited by legislators with vested interests.
First and the foremost the Government including the Election Commission and the political parties particularly ruling party should take immediate measures to plug the loopholes and rather not wait to exploit the same in the next set of Rajya Sabha elections. It is rather intriguing that the cross-voting does not attract any disqualification or punitive measure. The only punitive measure that the legislator cross-voting, attracts is expulsion or suspension from his parent party which means nothing as the cross-voting most of the times is a lucrative deal.
The cross voting in the context of Rajya Sabha voting happens when a legislator belonging to a particular party vote for a candidate belonging to the party other than his own. Normally, those indulging in this exercise attach a high moral cover of voting on the call of their conscience as was the case with Congress MLA from Haryana, Kuldeep Bishnoi.
Such cross-voters could seek refuge under the cover of voting by conscious as they fear no action under law. In Mr Bishnoi’s case, in the name of punishment he was divested of party posts. Even his expulsion from the party would have come as a boon for him as it would not affect is MLA ship and he would have pursued his goals merrily as an independent or unattached MLA. BJP MLA from Rajasthan, MsShobharaniKushwah, who cross-voted in favour of a Congress candidate, to be later suspended from the party, could sit cozily with the Congress government in the state.
So, legislators such as Mr Bishnoi and his ilk sit pretty in either case. Should not there be a provision to at least cancel the vote of such erring legislators? Certainly, more stern punitive measures including cancelling the membership should also be thought of as part of the reformative measures. This is the time to ponder over and save the sanctity of the Rajya Sabha which has a prestigious place in the Constitutional scheme of things.