The Rajya Sabha is again in the news. Fresh biennial elections to the House are under way as one-third of its members are due to retire soon. The outcome of the poll is of interest any time. But it has greater significance this year in view of the stakes involved for the ruling National Front and the Congress-I as the Opposition. The National Front has to get two of its Cabinet Ministers — Mr. P. Upendra and Mr. M.S Gurupadaswamy — returned to the House and an-other two Ministers — Prof M.G.K. Menon and Dr. Raja Ramanna — elected to it. The Congress-I also wants some of its leaders back in Parliament via the Rajya Sabha. Prominent among these are Mr. Buta Singh, Mr. M.L. Fotedar, Mrs. Mohisina Kidwai, Mr. Balram Jakhar and Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad. It is also eager to get two of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s close aides — Mr. R.K. Dhawan and Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyer — elected to the House. The BJP and the Left parties, for their part, are not far behind. They, too, are trying to get some of their prominent leaders elected from wherever possible.
In the process, the ruling National Front, the Congress-I and other major parties are poised to trample the Constitution both in its letter and spirit, ignoring the basic scheme of the Rajya Sabha in India’s Union of States. Under the Constitution, any voter in India can contest an election to the Lok Sabha from anywhere in the country. But the same is not permitted for the Rajya Sabha. Each member represents a State and is therefore elected by the members of the Assembly of that State alone. Further, he has to be a registered voter in the State and is required to be ordinarily a resident of that State. This principle has been repeatedly undermined and the Constitution violated since the time of Indira Gandhi. Mrs. Gandhi had, for instance, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, her Finance Minister, elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, following his defeat in the Lok Sabha poll from his home State of West Bengal in 1980. At present, we have Mr. Shiv Shankar elected from Gujarat and Mr. M.L. Fotedar from U.P.
All this has come to be accepted, thanks mainly to ignorance about the Rajya Sabha and its role. The Rajya Sabha is not the Upper House or the Second Chamber, an expression which connotes an inferior position. It has a status of its own and a specific role to play unlike the House of Lords. In fact, Nehru made his position abundantly clear in 1953 when a controversy erupted in regard to the respective powers of the two Houses. He then stated the following in the Rajya Sabha on May 6, 1953: “Under our Constitution, Parliament consists of two Houses, each functioning in the allotted sphere laid down in the Constitution. We derive authority from the Constitution. Sometimes we refer to the practice and conventions prevailing in the United Kingdom… Our guide must, however, be our own Constitution… To call either of these Houses as Upper House or a Lower House is not correct…Neither House by itself constitutes Parliament. It is the two Houses together that are the Parliament of India…”
Some basic facts about the Rajya Sabha require to be restated. The Rajya Sabha cannot pass a vote of no-confidence against the Council of Ministers. Nor is the Council of Ministers under any obligation to resign if defeated on the floor of the House. The Rajya Sabha’s powers in relation to financial matters and the budget are also much less than those of the Lok Sabha. It has the power to discuss the budget. But it is barred from either rejecting or amending a money bill. It can only make recommendations to the Lok Sabha which the latter may or may not accept. A money bill is deemed to have been passed by both Houses of Parliament if the Lok Sabha declines to accept the recommendations of the Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha also appears to suffer a certain disability in a joint session of the two Houses because of its numerical weakness — its membership is limited to 250 as against 544 of the Lok Sabha. Nevertheless, the Rajya Sabha is invested with certain special powers which add to its prestige and dignity.
The Constitution bars the Lok Sabha from legislating in regard to matters specified in the State List. However, the Rajya Sabha as the Council of States and representing the federal principle is specially empowered under Article 249 to make it lawful for Parliament to enact “in the national interest” legislation in regard to any matter enumerated in the State List for the whole or any part of India. Again, under Article 312(1) of the Constitution, the Rajya Sabha alone can empower Parliament to create in the national interest one or more all India services common to the Union and/or States. In exercise of this power, the Rajya Sabha passed in 1961 a resolution for the creation of the Indian Service for Engineers, the Indian Forest Service and the Indian Medical Health Service. A similar resolution for the creation of the Indian Agricultural Service and the Indian Educational Service was passed in 1965 by the Rajya Sabha by not less than two-thirds of its members present and voting, a constitutional requirement.
One other aspect of the Rajya Sabha needs to be emphasized. The Constitution makers wanted the House to consist of persons of greater experience and eminence. They, therefore, deliberately opted for three things. First, indirect elections from the State legislatures. Second, fixation of minimum age for membership at 30 years as against 25 for the Lok Sabha. Third, nomination by the President of 12 persons “having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of literature, science, art and social service.” But the hopes roused by the Constitution have been belied during the past two decades. The provision has been diluted and distorted unconscionably. Several eminent men adorned the Rajya Sabha during Nehru’s time and for some years thereafter. They included educationists like Dr. Zakir Hussain and Dr. P.V. Kane, an authority in Dharmashastras, historians like Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji and Dr. Tara Chand, scientists like Satyendranath Bose, poets like Maithilisharan Gupta and Harivansh Rai Bachchan and artists like Rukmini Devi Arundale and Prithiviraj Kapoor.
Indira Gandhi misused the provision to provide a convenient berth in the Rajya Sabha for ex-Ministers such as Mr. Mohanlal Saksena and Mr. Jairamds Daulatram, a Congress-I General Secretary, Mrs. M. Chandrashkhar and some others undeserving of nomination. Last year, the Rajiv Gandhi Government nominated four partymen: Mr. B.N. Pande, Mr. S.P.Mittal, Syeda Anwara Taimur (Assam’s former Chief Minister) and Mr. M.L. Bhatia. Astonishingly thereafter, it chose Mr. Justice M.H. Beg, formerly Chief Justice of India, for a vacancy. Mr. Justice Beg, however, passed away a few days before the formalities could be completed. Mohd. Yunus was then nominated in his place, causing all round surprise. Not only that. Independent persons have been encouraged over the years to become members of the ruling party, making a mockery of the Constitution whereunder these members are barred from voting in the Presidential poll to emphasise their non-alignment and independence. At least eight of the 12 nominated members today are members of the Congress-I in violation of the Constitution and its spirit.
Surprisingly, there is serious talk at the time of writing that Dr. Raja Ramanna, Minister of State for Defence, and Prof M.G.K. Menon, Minister of State for Science and Technology are likely to be nominated to enable them to continue as Ministers. Undoubtedly, Dr. Ramanna and Prof Menon are eminent scientists. Both qualify for nominations to the Rajya Sabha. But it would be wholly wrong to nominate them to enable them to continue as Ministers. A Union Minister told me in Parliament on Friday: “There is no bar to the appointment of nominated members as Ministers.” Yes, technically. But, as I explained to him, nomination of ministers would go against the spirit of the Constitution and the unwritten convention. Prof Nurul Hasan, presently Governor of West Bengal, honourably resigned his nominated membership of the Rajya Sabha when Mrs. Gandhi invited him to join her Council of Ministers. Nehru in his time inducted a good few eminent non-partymen into his Cabinet, such as John Mathai and C.D. Deshmukh. All were, however, elected to Parliament. Not one was nominated.
Where do we go from here? Both Mr. V.P. Singh and Mr. Rajiv Gandhi need to find honourable ways of bringing their party or non-party colleagues into Parliament — and to desist from violating the constitution and healthy conventions. In the present case, only voters who are genuine residents in one State or another should represent that State in the Rajya Sabha. For instance, Mr. Buta Singh, could be found a safe seat for the Lok Sabha in Karnataka and a sitting member of the House from that State provided a berth in the Rajya Sabha. Dr. Ramanna should be found a place in the Rajya Sabha from his home State or a safe seat in the Lok Sabha. Two points need to be borne in mind in the final analysis. The Rajya Sabha is not the Second Chamber or the Upper House but the Council of States, representing India’s federal character. Nominated members represent the country’s conscience. They are expected to speak up loud and clear in the best interest of the nation, not of any party.