The recent jokes surrounding introduction of the film actress Rekha to Rajya Sabha thereby creating Silsila, an old Indian movie about a triangle love story right inside the Indian Parliament (because Jaya Bhacchan was already there), and then other debates on whether Sachin Tendulkar, the prominent cricket sportsman, should spend his time in Rajya Sabha instead of a cricket field throw open some hard questions on the relevance of Rajya Sabha.
The debate is no longer about who should be allowed or what qualifications one needs to have to enter into Rajya Sabha. The debate is far more fundamental. Do we even need Rajya Sabha?
To understand why we might have needed an Upper House at some point in the past we need to take a look at the origin of Rajya Sabha and see if it has any relevance in the current context.
Rajya Sabha was introduced as ‘Council of States’, as a second chamber of Indian Parliament. It was constituted in 1952, but the idea was introduced in 1919 in the Montague-Chelmsford Report. The idea was borrowed from similar second chambers of other countries to promote federalism. And one of the most popular examples is that of US Senate which represents the states, while the US House of Representatives represents the people, thereby creating a democracy which not only upholds the opinion of majority but also gives each group its due representation, the group being the state here.
During the British Rule of India, this second chamber was conveniently used to override the decisions made in the Central Assembly which was mostly elected by people of India. The Simon Commission of 1927 changed the composition of Second Chamber by emphasizing representation to property holders and wealthy merchants, once again as an attempt to dilute the powers of Central Assembly which composed of directly elected leaders of India.
Even during the drafting of Indian Constitution, there were debates in the Constituent Assembly on whether a second chamber was required and if so what was its utility. After many arguments, it was decided to have a bicameral legislature to safeguard the federal system of India.
Now, the question we have in front of us is if indeed the current Rajya Sabha ensures that our federal system is safeguarded. In a federal system the states are represented and that’s why Rajya Sabha is called ‘Council of States’. But it is clear from the way our Rajya Sabha works that it is not a Council of States but a Council of actresses, businessmen, sports players, prominent personalities and most importantly those politicians who have lost elections for Lok Sabha. It has become a menagerie, a motley bunch of celebrities and political losers. For example, Kalmadi could get into Indian Parliament through Rajya Sabha nomination. Anil Ambani and Vijay Mallya could hobnob with Indian parliamentarians to promote their private enterprises.
Where and how is the federal structure preserved through the current Rajya Sabha? And how is Rajya Sabha ensuring that each state is adequately represented? Does Mizoram get enough power in the Rajya Sabha compared to Uttar Pradesh? Not so.
In the US, the Senate has two members from each state, whether it is California or Delaware, though the state of California has 40 times the population of state of Delaware. This ensures that US Senate is a true council of states where each state is equally represented. No such thing happens in our Rajya Sabha. It has become a back door entry for loser politicians, businessmen and famous personalities to sit in Indian Parliament.
In India we have too many institutions and chambers which are indirectly elected by the people. Indian people directly elects its MLAs & MPs. These MLAs & MPs in turn elect the MLCs, the Chief Ministers, the Prime Minister, and even the Rajya Sabha members. The MLAs, MPs, MLCs, the Rajya Sabha members in turn elect the President. So, in fact, a huge portion of Indian Government is indirectly elected - the MLCs, the Chief Minister, the Prime Minister, entire Rajya Sabha, and the President. While one can rationalize election of the individual positions like CM, PM and President being elected by a body of elected leaders, the election of an entire house indirectly, like our Rajya Sabha, does not make sense.
Compare this with United States. The people directly elect Congressmen, the Senators, the Governor of each state, and the President.
There have been some artificial merits cited for existence of Rajya Sabha. That the eminent personalities from different fields like arts, music, sports, business would somehow add value to the business of legislation. How is that so? How is legislation related to different eminent personalities? Does that not negate the true principles of democracy saying that somehow certain people could be appointed to represent you? How does Kalmadi or Anil Ambani, indirectly appointed, represent the interests of the people?
Another artificial merit attributed to Rajya Sabha is to actually delay a legislation passed by Lok Sabha. That does not make any sense. How can an appointed body stop or delay a legislation passed by directly elected leaders. Is it not another way of subverting democracy?
The time has come to dispose of Rajya Sabha once and for all. If we really want a second chamber, it should preserve the federal structure, and to do that, we need to send equal number of representatives from each state, and they should be directly elected, not appointed.