A House For Mr Naidu

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new vice president will be to assume a non-partisan role while managing the functioning of the House. The new VP will need to have the confidence of MPs on both sides of the aisle. He will have to play the arbiter between political parties and set the benchmark for non-partisan conduct.

Written by Chakshu Roy | Updated: August 5, 2017 1:08 pm
Vice President, Venkaiah Naidu, Raisina Hill, Vice President house, Vice President role, Vice-presidential elections Illuminated Raisina hills on the occasion of Republic Day in New Delhi on January 29, 2017. (Source: AP Photo/File)

Raisinia Hill is witnessing a change of guard. We have a newly elected president, and voting to determine the next vice president will take place today. The occupants of these two constitutional offices will set the tone for the functioning of Parliament for the next five years. The president is a part of Parliament but is a passive observer of its proceedings. The vice president, on the other hand, is also the chairman of Rajya Sabha. His role becomes significant because of the Rajya Sabha increasingly asserting its authority in law-making in the last three years.

James Madison, the father of the American Constitution, captured the essence of the Upper House of legislature in the Federalist Papers. Describing the United States Senate, he wrote that it was “the great anchor of the government,” whose slower processes and higher thresholds for action would guard against the “fickleness and passion” of public opinion. Dr Radhakrishnan, our first vice president, echoed a similar sentiment. He said, “We should try to do everything in our power to justify to the public of this country that a Second Chamber is essential to prevent hasty legislation.” The new vice president will face three broad challenges in upholding this role of Rajya Sabha.

The first challenge will be securing the effective scrutiny of legislation before Rajya Sabha. For the last three years, the balance of numbers in the Upper House was in favour of the Opposition. It enabled the RS to resist the pressure to speed up the government’s legislative business. With the ruling party securing electoral victories and forging new alliances in states, the scale will likely tilt in its favour from next year. A majority of the treasury benches in the House might result in increased attempts to bypass procedures designed to scrutinise legislation. In these circumstances, the RS chairman will have to ensure that the House fulfills its constitutional mandate of thoroughly debating all laws.

The second challenge before the presiding officer of the Upper House will be to initiate much-needed reforms to overhaul its working. The thrust of these reforms will be to ensure greater accountability of government, strengthen debate and minimise the disruption of proceedings. During his eight-year tenure, the current vice president tooksteps in this direction. He tweaked the starting time of Question Hour. He also increased the working time of the Upper House by an hour to make up for time lost due to disruptions. Under his watch, bills could not be passed without debate.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for the new vice president will be to assume a non-partisan role while managing the functioning of the House. Jaswant Singh was the leader of the Opposition when the current vice president assumed office in 2007. In his remarks felicitating the newly elected chair of the House, Singh observed that in the working of the House the government must “have its way.” In the same breath, he added that the government could only have its way if the Opposition “has its say.” The new VP will need to have the confidence of MPs on both sides of the aisle. He will have to play the arbiter between political parties and set the benchmark for non-partisan conduct.

The new VP will have his task cut out for him. The nature of Rajya Sabha will change in his tenure, and he will be leading the House into the next decade. As its custodian, he will be judged on the effectiveness of the Upper House as a legislative and deliberative body.

The writer is head if outreach, PRS Legislative Research

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  1. K
    K. P.
    Aug 6, 2017 at 7:52 am
    The quality of the democratic functioning of the upper house makes sure proper legislative scrutiny. Going beyond the partisan stand is what the Vice President must focus on. Let there be thorough discussion on every aspect of legislative business that is introduced in Rajya Sabha, making the dictum of James Madison about upper house working as an anchor of legislative process and Dr Radhakrishnan's observation of close scrutiny of legislation become a reality rather than party politicking predominating in the legislative process. New Vice President will be proving his credentials by doing so.
    Reply
    1. R
      Ramesh Nittoor
      Aug 6, 2017 at 5:55 am
      The latent power of Presidency and Rajya Sabha have become of greater import as Indian policy making and political thought must cope with and fit into the big picture of global context. It was gracious of PM Modi to acknowledge the role of President Mukherjee as a father figure to him. Role of house of elders in guiding Indian destiny through troubled waters is crucial now and from hereafter, particularly since Lok Sabha has so many inexperienced representatives who have no inkling of international politics. There is a beautiful patriotic Hindi song sung by Ravi ---- "Ham Laaye Hain Toofan Se Kashti Nikaal Ke" --- Rajya Sabha is expected to play this role for all times to come.
      Reply
      1. R
        Ramesh Nittoor
        Aug 6, 2017 at 5:57 am
        There is a beautiful patriotic Hindi song sung by Rafi.
        Reply
      2. L
        Lisa Williams
        Aug 5, 2017 at 3:46 pm
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        1. M
          M.s. Venkatraghavan
          Aug 5, 2017 at 3:03 pm
          Government must be strict against those who bent upon disrupting the proceedings. BJP did it against corrupt ,crony capitalist government while Courts came on them heavily by cancelling the allotments corroborated its action should not be forgotten. Hence VP must discourage those mischievous elements to run the house in an orderly manner.
          Reply
          1. P
            Prat C
            Aug 5, 2017 at 8:06 pm
            Oh!!Really? so govt.is against the crony capitalists and the elites that run the country? want me to pull top 100 corporate favouring policies framed in the last 6months...or better please read the comptroller auditor generals report on how under bjp rule it self the the Npa to the rich ,bank defaults by only 11 crony capitalists has surpassed that of the nation and how money laundering had increased to such extent that it surpasses any predating values.The Comptroller Auditor General clearly stated in his report that wealth of 60 of Indians resides with top 1 .But even he was at a loss for words when actually only very very few people did enjoy a mjor share share of the total engrossing loot! Since independence Mr.modi is the first prime minister whose name was found in the personal diaries of The CAs and secretaries of the corporates as impending dues sahara case shibendu amitabhs personal records had clearly mentioned as the illegal transfers being made to mr.modi!ResearchWel
            Reply
            1. P
              Prat C
              Aug 5, 2017 at 8:08 pm
              Top 1 ...
          2. P
            Parth Garg
            Aug 5, 2017 at 2:18 pm
            One thing is sure. Now we will be spared of silly comments, double entendres and needless wordplay.
            Reply
            1. H
              Hemant Khanna
              Aug 5, 2017 at 11:26 am
              Now suddenly the researchers are beginning to talk about "non-partisan" attributes of the VP. Until now... the VP has been very assidiously favoring the Opposition. Every good move the NDA government makes... is undone in the Rajya Sabha... by opposition "WITHOUT" debate. They just keep disrupting the house. What did the current VP do about it? "NOTHING" Please don't try to build a narrative to force the new VP to toe the line you want. Your article may seem genuine and logical... idealistic even... but we all know it has been written because the Opposition is about to receive a drubbing.
              Reply
              1. K
                ksp
                Aug 5, 2017 at 11:10 am
                We need to learn from the way the debates happen in China's National People's Congress.
                Reply
                1. V
                  Vilas
                  Aug 5, 2017 at 9:39 am
                  It is very disappointing that under bJP govt, all old Congress policies are continued/ Recent raid where 38 Congress MLA s are stayign is bankrupt Govt policy. The raid cound have kept on hold for 4 more days till election was doen with. Further Stupdi TAI finds amicable solution to protect criminal Member of Parliament who nto onley attacked AI employee but overtook AI plane, thus creatign a new class of GAIKWADs. One day PM gives sloagan that there are no VIPs in India and very same day hsi Civial aviation Minstru formulates policy for VIPs. whats the differnece between Cnggress and BJP. Thes Presidnetial and VP election are no significance for common man
                  Reply
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