Rajya Sabha Poll: How Different was It This Time

Notwithstanding strong reservation by many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bigwigs and some other individuals over the existence of Rajya Sabha, there is an equally powerful counter-argument in its favour. While several senior leaders of the saffron party, including now late former Finance-cum-Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, had asked as to how an indirectly elected House (Rajya…

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Soroor Ahmed

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Notwithstanding strong reservation by many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bigwigs and some other individuals over the existence of Rajya Sabha, there is an equally powerful counter-argument in its favour. While several senior leaders of the saffron party, including now late former Finance-cum-Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, had asked as to how an indirectly elected House (Rajya Sabha) can question the wisdom of a directly elected House (Lok Sabha). The other view is that bicameralism is essential for keeping check and balance.

As the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) does not enjoy majority in the Upper House, the sail is not so smooth for the ruling combination. Since the debates are much more heated here and the opposition able to give a befitting reply – very much unlike in Lok Sabha – BJP leaders interpret it as a deliberate design to stall and disrupt the proceedings.

Even after the June 10, 2022 election for 57 seats the NDA has not got comfortable majority in Rajya Sabha, which is also called the Council of States. The BJP alone has now 98 MPs in the House of 245 – 12 seats reserved for nominations.

Though it is not as powerful as Senate of the United States, the Upper House of that country, yet it plays a significant role in enacting new laws, making Constitutional Amendment, etc.

However, Money Bills, for example the Annual Budget, can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha. Rajya Sabha has only the power to make recommendations.

As the United States is Coming Together Federation, against Holding Together Federation (as India and many other democracies) the Upper House of that country enjoys much more power than its counterparts in the world. The US Senate approves treaties, confirms important appointments made by President such as that of cabinet secretaries (ministers), federal judges, federal executives, ambassadors, etc.

The US is a unique case where in many aspects the Upper House plays a more pivotal role than the Lower House, the 435-member House of Representatives.

Unlike Senate the members of House of Representatives are elected for only two years. The members of US Senate are, like in India, elected for six years.

In India the 543-member Lok Sabha definitely has an upper hand over 245-member Rajya Sabha. The term of the Upper House, as elsewhere in the world, does not expire as it is not subject to dissolution.

Save in the United Kingdom, the numerical strength of the Upper House all over the world is always less than Lower House. In Britain the House of Lords has 768 members against the House of Commons, the Lower House, 650.

Another unique aspect of the US Senate is that all the 50 States send two members each who are directly elected by the voters. In India their representation depends on the size and population of the States. For example, Uttar Pradesh with 31 members sends highest number of MPs to Rajya Sabha.

Even in the US the members of Senate were till 1913 elected by the legislators of the States.

In the Rajya Sabha election held for 57 seats on June 10, 41 candidates got elected unopposed – elections were held for the rest 16. The BJP bagged eight seats, besides one of its supported Independent candidates won.

This time the biennial poll generated a lot of interest. This is because the three important parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and Janata Dal (United) – have dropped some very senior members.

The ruling BJP did not give tickets to some sitting members even though they were quite senior leaders and staunch loyalists – for example former minister Prakash Javadekar.

Contrary to this the other parties such as Congress and Janata Dal (United) dumped those leaders who were considered dissidents.

Three of those who were denied ticket by the BJP are Muslims: they are Union Minister for Minorities Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who incidentally is also the deputy leader of the party in Upper House; former Minister of State for External Affairs, M J Akbar, who happens to be a journalist and Syed Zafar Islam, a former top executive of an international bank. They are all three most prominent Muslim faces of the BJP in India.

So there is no Muslim representation of the BJP in either of the two Houses of Parliament, nor is there any state or Union Territory with saffron party Muslim MLA. There is just one MLC each in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They are Syed Shahnawaz Husain and Danish Azad Ansari, both made minister in their respective states. There is only one Muslim governor, that is Arif Mohammad Khan in Kerala.

In contrast the alliance partner, Janata Dal (United) showed the door to Union minister of Steel, Ram Chandra Prasad Singh. RCP, a former UP-cadre IAS officer, was till sometimes back considered a very close associate of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. He had served as the Special Secretary to Nitish when the latter was Railway Minister during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee rule. When Nitish became the chief minister of Bihar in November 2005, he made RCP his Principal Secretary. In 2010 he resigned from IAS and was sent to Rajya Sabha on the Janata Dal (United ) ticket. In December of 2020 Nitish elevated him to the post of the national president of the party.

However, the relationship turned sour when RCP was inducted into the Narendra Modi cabinet on July 7 last year. It is said that Nitish felt offended as he was perhaps not consulted by RCP before the latter decided to join the Union cabinet. He was first removed from the party’s post on the plea of one-man one post.

Then on May 29 the Janata Dal (United) surprisingly announced the name of a relatively little known Khiru Mahto, the party’s Jharkhand unit chief, as its candidate.

Incidentally, the party announced the name of Khiru just minutes after the BJP finalised its list for Rajya Sabha. Thus there was no possibility left for RCP in the saffron party either.

The Congress, on its part, denied tickets to two of the prominent members of the Group of 23 – Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma. While the former comes from Jammu and Kashmir the latter is from the poll-bound Himachal Pradesh. As both these two bordering state and Union Territory are very crucial, it remains to be seen as to how wise this decision of the Congress is.

Ironically, many apologists for the abolition of the Rajya Sabha never miss an opportunity to praise the good aspects of the US democracy, though the fact is that Senate is the most powerful Upper House in the world.

What is surprising is that, among others who question the role of Rajya Sabha include Arun Jaitley, though he himself was the leader of BJP there. He was elected to the Upper House after he lost the Lok Sabha election of 2014 from Amritsar.

Had there been no Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh could not have first become the Finance Minister (1991-96) and then Prime Minister (2004-14).

It needs to be mentioned here that the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru ensured the victory of Ambedkar from the Rajya Sabha and made him the minister in his cabinet, though the latter was his bitter critic.

Curiously, Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, had lost the 1952 Lok Sabha poll on his party, Schedule Castes Federation, ticket. He was relegated to the fourth position. He once again lost the 1954 by-election. The big question is: Shouldn’t a man of Ambedkar’s stature be given a chance to enter Lok Sabha without contest?

If the quality of members elected for the Lok Sabha has deteriorated in the last seven decades, it is alleged that money power has come to play a very crucial role in the Rajya Sabha election. The presence of media-barons this time has confirmed this fact.