Nomination By Subversion

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The ruling party seems to have a stranglehold on Nominated Members to the Rajya Sabha. All manner of people are being brought in on political considerations. Some Nominated Members have no respect for the institution BY R. C. RAJAMANI

If one institution of Parliament that cries most for a thorough overhaul, it is the institution of Nominated Members of Rajya Sabha. The rationale for which the category of nominated members was envisaged has long been defeated. Only the government of the day enjoys the power to nominate members, which is often leveraged to recommend such candidates who are seen to be favourably disposed towards it.

Instead of giving the Upper House men and women of true eminence from various walks of life, the nomination by the President on the advice of the government of the day, has in recent times been used more for political purposes. Persons of unsure eminence have filled the category. Ideally, they should be non-political eminent men and women from diverse fields. This was the idea of our Constitution makers. Over the years there has been a sad decline in that category too.

Former vice president, the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat once remarked that the membership of Rajya Sabha is truly a badge of honour and privilege and those who are fortunate to enter the august house must live up to it. No doubt, men and women of great substance, stature, probity and character have adorned the benches of Rajya Sabha and lent luster to it. That was in the past.

Under article 80 of the Constitution, the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) is composed of not more than 250 members, of whom 12 are nominated by the President of India from amongst persons who have special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as literature, science, art and social service.

Former film star Rekha and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar hardly attend the house, which is an open secret authenticated by data collected by a research body. The duo are the worst performers in attendance - Tendulkar (5.5%) and Rekha (5.1%)

By adopting the principle of nomination in Rajya Sabha, the Constitution has sought to ensure that the nation must also receive services of the most distinguished persons of the country, who have earned distinction in their field of activity, many of whom may not like to face the rough and tumble of the election. By nominating them to Rajya Sabha, the state not only recognises their merit and confers honour on them, but also enables them to enrich the debates by their expertise and knowledge that they have in different areas. This is all in the Constitution and has remained only on paper after the first decade or so since the 1952 general elections. The inaugural batch of 12 nominated members represented a galaxy of talented persons of proven merit.

They were: Scholar and educationist Dr. Zakir Husain, renowned historians Dr. Kalidas Nag and Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji, national poet Maithilisharan Gupta, Gandhian author Kakasaheb Kalelkar, eminent scientist Prof. Satyendranath Bose, social worker N.R. Malkani, renowned exponent of classical dance forms Rukmini Devi Arundale, Gandhian scholar and teacher Dr. J.M. Kumarappa, legal luminary Dr. Alladi Krishnaswami, famous stage actor and cine star Prithviraj Kapoor and eminent medical scientist Major-General S.S. Sokhey. In succeeding years too, the Rajya Sabha saw eminent people being nominated at intervals.

Speaking about the nominated members, Jawaharlal Nehru said in the Lok Sabha on 13 May 1953:

“…The President has nominated some members of the Council of States who, if I may say so, are among the most distinguished, taking everybody in Parliament altogether – it is true, distinguished in arts, science, etc. – and our Constitution in its wisdom gave that. They do not represent political parties or anything, but they represent really the high watermark of literature or art or culture or whatever it may be.

Among these nominated members we find scholars, jurists, educationists, historians, scientists, poets and litterateurs, engineers, economists, administrators, artistes and social workers of proven ability and outstanding merit.”

Compare this with what is obtaining at present. There is a rat race for being nominated by people from various sections, past and washed out politicians, powerful industrialists, media barons, sports and film personalities. Many of the nominated members in recent years have hardly done anything to elevate the image of Rajya Sabha.

The worst kind of absenteeism comes from nominated members, especially from those who have come from the world of films and sports. A few years ago there was criticism of some nominated members about their poor attendance. Significantly it came from members themselves. Shabana Azmi, an exceptionally active Nominated Member, whose participation had paled that of even elected members, took a dim view of the long absence of Lata Mangeskhar. The issue she raised found others supporting her in the Rajya Sabha during the budget session in 2003.In a solitary instance, Lata had participated in the discussion on the POTA Bill on March 21, 2002 as per the Rajya Sabha website.

Cho Ramaswamy, a prominent nominated member, once confessed to me in a chat that his job as the editor of his highly respected “Thuglak” weekly prevents him from attending the House as much as he would wish. He participated in more than 20 major debates.

That former film star Rekha and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar hardly attend the house is an open secret, also authenticated by data collected by a research body. The duo are the worst performers in attendance - Tendulkar (5.5%) and Rekha (5.1%).

The data on debates is available only till the 233rd session (till Dec. 2014). Bhalchandra Mungekar participated in 60 debates while Mani Shankar Aiyar participated in 65 debates. Both are from the Congress. Three of the nominated members haven’t participated in a single debate (Sachin Tendulkar, Rekha & B Jayashree). The rest of the five member’s participation in debates is limited to single digits.

Out of four members nominated in 2010, two have officially joined Congress Parliamentary Party and two others, namely Javed Akhtar and B Jayshree, decided to remain ‘independent.’ Javed Akhtar’s average attendance is 54% and B Jayshree’s attendance 65%. Mani Shankar Aiyar and Bhalchandra Mungekar have registered higher attendance of 72% and 86% respectively. The national average attendance in the Upper House is 72%.

While Congress-affiliated Aiyar and Mungekar participated in respectively 12 and 18 debates in last two years 2013-14, ‘Independent’ members Akhtar and B Jayshree participated in 0 and 3 debates respectively. Similarly, Aiyar and Mungekar respectively raised 73 and 60 questions in the House, according to PRS data, Akhtar and Jayshree had not put up a single question to the government till 2014.

Nominated Members enjoy all powers, privileges and immunities available to an elected MP. They take part in the proceedings of the House as any other member. They, however, are not entitled to vote in the election of the President of India. But in the election of the Vice-President of India, they have a right to vote. So far, none from them has been inducted into the Council of Ministers, though the Constitution is silent on whether a Nominated Member can be made a minister. A nominated member has also been exempted from filing his assets and liabilities under Section 75A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 which requires the elected member to do so within 90 days of his making or subscribing oath/affirmation.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who was nominated recently joined the BJP soon after being sworn-in. Of course, he was a BJP member even before; but as Nominated Member he would lose party affiliation

A strange and perhaps self-defeating provision, however, is that a Nominated Member is allowed six months, should he or she decide to join a political party after taken their seat in the House in terms of Article 99 of the Constitution. Whoever has preferred to join a political party has always thrown in his or her lot with the ruling party. This, in effect, lets the cat out of the bag, as it were! All the eminence, scholarship and special skills of such people are gone for a toss in the event. Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who was nominated recently joined the BJP soon after being sworn-in. Of course, he was a BJP member even before; but as Nominated Member he would lose party affiliation. But the maverick member used the constitutional provision to again join the BJP. Aiyar, who recently retired as a Nominated Member, had flamboyantly said in 2010 that the Constitution gives him six months to join any political party but “it “took six seconds” for me to do so.” Why should the ruling party enjoy the right to nominate anyone it likes?

It is time that a body of truly eminent men and women with proven probity in public life was established to recommend names to the government. The names can be scrutinized by a team consisting of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, vice chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the chief justice for forwarding to the President for his assent.

The president should be vested with the power to reject any name of doubtful merit. The nominated members should not be allowed to join any political party during their term and at least six years after they retire. This will ensure that the Upper House gets people of genuine merit.

Summary

  • The needs of partisan politics has subverted the appointment process of Nominated Members to the Upper House
  • It is increasingly rare to find persons of eminence among Nominated Members, usually they are party hacks
  • Many eminent persons by their conduct, do no respect to the institution to which they have been nominated.
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