Parimal Maya Sudhakar is a political activist and commentator. Currently, he is a Researcher with Legislative Action Wing, New Delhi. He can be contacted at parimalmayasudhakar [at]gmail.com.
A good thing about nomination of high profile persons like Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha to the Rajya Sabha is that it will bring into focus the role and responsibilities of Presidential nominees to the Upper House of Parliament. 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. By adopting the principle of nomination in Rajya Sabha, the Constitution has ensured 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. In last 60 years, nearly 115 members have been nominated to the Council of States, who have been reputed scholars, jurists, educationists, historians, scientists, poets and litterateurs, engineers, economists, administrators, artistes and social workers of proven ability and outstanding merit.
Sachin is perhaps the first sports-person to be nominated in this category. Purpose of these nominations is not the felicitation of distinguished persons from various fields, as several other government awards like Padmas and Khel Ratna etc have already been constituted for the same. These awards are eagerly aspired by many, who also fiercely lobby for it. The main and the only objective of these nominations has been to provide space to distinguished persons from different fields in the country’s law-making process. The nominated members, who possess outstanding merit and distinction, in fact, add to the importance and dignity of Rajya Sabha. It is expected from them to make it truly a House bestowing calm consideration on measures of national importance.
The nominations obviously indicate the political preferences of the ruling party/coalition so as the political inclination of the nominated persons. It is heartening to know that Sachin, in a way, has distanced himself from parochial outfits like MNS and Shiv Sena by accepting the offer made by UPA government at the Centre. However, it is a common understanding that such personalities should not be active members of any political parties, and must rise above the political partisans in the House of the elders. However, these are mere moral expectations. It is completely justified, according to Rajya Sabha rules, if any nominated member(s) decides to join a political grouping in the House within 6 months of their oath-taking. A nominated member is allowed six months, should (s)he decide to join a political party after (s)he has taken his/her seat in the House in terms of article 99 of the Constitution. The rules do not differentiate between independent members and nominated members. Hence, the rule of the famous anti-defection law applies to them. Thus, rules allow what a common political sense objects to. There is need to evolve a consensus on this matter so that the stark contrast between political morality and parliamentary rules should be erased.
The Upper House should formulate certain guidelines to select the nominated members. For example, nominated members must not have held any office of the recognized political party or should not have contested elections on the symbol of any recognized party for last 5 years. Once nominated, the members should not be allowed to officially join any parliamentary party/group. No nominated member should be eligible for immediate second term and disqualify to contest election or hold public office for next 3 years after expiry of his term. It is only a matter of political restraint that no nominated member has ever been inducted into the Union Cabinet. However, silence of the Constitution and Parliamentary rules with this regard needs to be rectified by converting the practice into rule. These would ensure that the nominated members would not be lured away by political parties on the promises of gifting them public offices. This would also result in only those eminent persons accepting the nominations, who are genuinely interested in contributing to law-making process and raising the issues of their respective fields.
It would also be wise decision if the Presidential nominees are treated as a separate group in the Rajya Sabha; instead of clubbing them with the independents. This would pave the way for formulating separate list of rules and privileges for them distinguished from independents and party members and they would get fair chance to raise issues in the House. It would be gross injustice to assume that few of the nominated members, who have joined a parliamentary party, have done so only in the hope of acquiring bigger public office in the future or to receive any other favors from the party leadership. Other considerations, for example to get proper time to speak during important debates, to get representation in parliamentary committees etc might factor in their decision to join a political grouping. This would also require certain privileges to be granted to nominated members, e.g. more timing to participate in House debates and de-facto membership in parliamentary committees related to their fields.
Data on the website of PRS Legislative Research provides some insights on functioning of nominated members. Out of 4 members nominated in the year 2010 and still serving in the House, 2 have officially joined Congress Parliamentary Party and 2 others, namely Javed akhtar and B Jayshree, decided to remain ‘independent.’ Javed Akhtar’s average attendance in the Rajya Sabha is 54% and B Jayshree’s attendance is 65%. On the other hand, those affiliated with Congress, namely 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 Mr. Aiyar and Mr. Mungekar participated in respectively 12 and 18 debates in last two years, ‘independent’ members Mr. 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 have not put up a single question to the government.
An additional privilege currently enjoyed by nominated members in terms of being exempted from filing his/her assets and liabilities should be eliminated. They should be bring at par with the elected members, who have to fill their assets and liabilities under Section 75A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 within 90 days of his/her making or subscribing oath/affirmation. Sachin Tendulkar should declare his assets on his own to set a precedent, which would inspire others to follow the suit.
It is important to ensure nomination of non-partisan members to the Upper House, however, it is equally important to pin down their accountability with respect to their performance in the House. Unfortunately, many of the nominated members have dismally failed to take up issues of their respective fields in the Rajya Sabha. Few of them, for example Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshakar, have shown utter disrespect to the proceedings of the Upper House by remaining absent throughout most of their tenure. Hopefully, the God of Cricket will show similar passion and sincerity in the Rajya Sabha as he has demonstrated on the cricketing fields all over the world since 1989, and will at least bat for better sporting opportunities for India’s youth that constitutes more than 50% of country’s population.