Legislative limbo is perhaps best symbolised by the public stance taken by Mr. Sitaram Yechury of the CPIM many months back which is that the Left parties will not allow the land bill to be either passed or defeated in the Rajya Sabha which thus ensures no possibility of a joint session of Parliament to take a final call.Now, it is absolutely his right to oppose this or any other bill. The moot point though, is the means used to oppose legislation. As seems evident from the stance of the Left and the Congress, holding the Rajya Sabha in a state of permanent suspended animation is their preferred mode. Again, perfectly tenable within the interpretation of the rights of parliamentarians. Note that such a stance was also taken by the NDA in the last 10 years. So the malaise runs deep and seems to be fairly democratic in its spread from the Right to the Left of the Indian political Spectrum.Another issue is the composition of the Rajya Sabha. Members are nominated by their party with scant regard to their state of origin (like Dr. Manmohan Singh from Assam, Mr. Arun Jaitley from Gujarat etc.) and elections seem (to me) to be the result of some mysterious understanding that parties suddenly seem to reach. Maybe that is why Dr. Vijay Mallya was an MP. Or sometimes people just get “nominated” – like Rekha or Sachin Tendulkar. This sort of selection process that makes the RS MP’s answerable only to their party diktat and leaves them totally un-accountable to the electorate is a blatant violation of democratic norms.If India is to be a thriving democracy, then the key questions are:What is the role that a house that is NOT DIRECTLY ELECTED by the people have to play in passing legislation?
- Should such a house be able to block legislation at all?
- As we seem to pride ourselves on the Westminster style of parliament, should we not also examine how an unelected house like the House of Lords function and what powers it has?
Therefore, the real debate should centre around the following alternatives in my view
- Is it time to either scrap the Rajya Sabha? OR
- Is it time to CHANGE the Rajya Sabha to a directly elected body (like the US Senate)?
- Is it not time to re-examine the constitution to redress this situation?
Interestingly, as of 2014, 7/29 states have a Legislative Council (LC): Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telengana and Uttar Pradesh. It’s fair to say that the other 22 have not become basket cases due to the lack of an LC and neither have these 7 become role models in legislation by having an LC.
So why exactly is it not possible to function without an upper house? Most Indian states seem to be doing pretty well. As is often the irony in our politics, Dr. Singh, Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Yechury all represent states which are neither their home nor have their own LC’s, despite many many years of Congress, BJP and CPIM government in these 3 states….