Out of My Mind: What is the Rajya Sabha for?

The election process to the Rajya Sabha is highly predictable. In most states, parties know how many of their own nominees can be elected.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: June 5, 2016 12:48 am
Rajya Sabha, Rajya Sabha nominations, Rajya Sabha elections, Rajya Sabha members, Lok Sabha, Ajit Singh, Kapil Sibal, Lalu Prasad, Manmohan Singh, Ram Jethmalani Over the years, the Rajya Sabha has evolved rather like the House of Lords where it is by party nominations that individuals get elevated, except for the cross bench peers who are selected by an independent process.

The scramble is on for nominations to the Rajya Sabha; it presents a strange spectacle. The Rajya Sabha should ideally be the chamber where the federal nature of the Constitution gets its play. Its members should be delegates of the states which they purport to represent. Then the Lok Sabha can be truly a national chamber, its members conveying the messages of the citizens from across the country, leaving the Rajya Sabha to speak for the states.

That at least was the intention of the Government of India Act, 1935, where the Council of States was proposed as the chamber where the princely states would send their delegates, while British India was to send elected members to the Lower House. Since the federal parts of the 1935 Act were never implemented, the original Council of States never came about. Yet the term Rajya Sabha was used in the Constitution of independent India.

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Over the years, the Rajya Sabha has evolved rather like the House of Lords where it is by party nominations that individuals get elevated, except for the cross bench peers who are selected by an independent process. There is no ceiling to the numbers in the House of Lords but that is an anomaly of the unwritten Constitution. By agreement, no party can have a majority in the House of Lords and in case of any disagreement with the House of Commons about amendments to a Bill, the House of Lords must eventually yield.

The election process to the Rajya Sabha is highly predictable. In most states, parties know how many of their own nominees can be elected. There are contests at the margins when a party has a fraction of the required votes left to trade with other parties. The certain seats can be assigned by the party to the persons it most values to be available in the legislature.

Great Britain is not a federation despite the devolved parliaments. Peers do not represent the region of their residency nor any constituency. They are chosen for some or other merit. But for India, the Upper House should ideally be like the US Senate whose members represent the interests of the state.

The predictability of numbers gives great power to party leadership. Ajit Singh has had to search for a powerful party leader with seats to allocate, who would nominate him. He may not be lucky.

Kapil Sibal, we are told, has a fight on his hands as his party can only give him a fraction of a seat. Ministers whose Rajya Sabha seat has expired are shunted to other states where they can be assured of a seat. Lalu Prasad can award a seat to his daughter though she may have no political experience.

There are benefits of course. Dr Manmohan Singh could find a seat in Assam and Ram Jethmalani can return to the Rajya Sabha. But it means that the interests of Assam or Bihar are incidental to the presence of a national personality. Indeed, one would say that the unelectable can be guaranteed a place in Parliament thanks to the Rajya Sabha.

Yet the issue is the relative powers of the two houses. Unlike the House of Lords, the Rajya Sabha need not yield to the Lok Sabha. Is this fair?

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First Published on: June 5, 2016 12:47 am
  1. M
    MyTake
    Jun 5, 2016 at 10:07 pm
    RS can not be eliminated but all elections should be held together so new LS at least can have a real fresh start with full speed!
    Reply
    1. P
      Pmp
      Jun 5, 2016 at 3:05 pm
      Atleast you also feel like me that the consuent embly members were utopian,Who drafted it without considering the far reaching consequences or the short comings.agreed that nothing can be perfect in the first attempt.but the number of amendments to it,,justifies above thinking.more so with the proverbial cunningness of the elected and nominated representative they ensure that the spirit of the consution is negated.
      Reply
      1. K
        K SHESHU
        Jun 5, 2016 at 11:37 am
        All the failed aspirants of lok sabha will compete for rajya sabha.
        Reply
        1. S
          SK
          Jun 5, 2016 at 3:28 am
          Is Rajya saba a true representative of the people or an embly of losers .
          Reply
          1. M
            Mathews
            Jun 5, 2016 at 1:57 am
            RS members should be elected members as like US Senate members. Here RS has become the place for party stooges/proxies , maybe those defeated in por elections or some relatives of party bosses.
            Reply
            1. B
              Bijan Mohanty
              Jun 5, 2016 at 6:21 pm
              Whether Arun Jaitley is a member of Rajya Sabha? From which state he got elected and what he has done for that state ? And what about Smriti Irani ?
              Reply
              1. R
                Rohit Desai
                Jun 5, 2016 at 10:45 pm
                Rajya Sabha doesn't have to yield to the LS, and unlike its members, the members of the House of Lords can't become the PM of Britain!
                Reply
                1. H
                  hemkant
                  Jun 5, 2016 at 6:45 am
                  Government of India Act, 1935, where the Council of States was proposed as the chamber where the princely states would send their delegates, while British India was to send elected members to the Lower House. India got freedom in 1947 and princely states abolished in 1948. Consution was adopted after couple of years. Then nobody thought that as there are no princely states, and a chamber created for them(RS) is not necessary, and so delete the provision?
                  Reply
                  1. B
                    BharatK
                    Jun 5, 2016 at 10:00 am
                    "Its members should be delegates of the states which they purport to represent. " Out of 7 RS seats in am, three seats are occupied by people who has nothing to do with am (neither born nor live in am). A man called Manmohan Singh permanently occupy a seat in am for more than 15 years. RS members must born or live in the state for over 20 years to qualify to represent that state.
                    Reply
                    1. K
                      Kabir
                      Jun 5, 2016 at 5:52 pm
                      Next chaddies will start asking, why do we need loksabha? Why do we need Supreme Court? Why do we need Police? Why do we need media? All chaddies want is anarchy in the country. India may or may not need rajyasabha, but certainly do not need chaddies.
                      Reply
                      1. K
                        Kabir
                        Jun 5, 2016 at 1:13 am
                        Why a foreigner interfering in Indian politics?
                        Reply
                        1. K
                          Kirit
                          Jun 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm
                          Indian cosutionn must have been drafted in dark room. So many amendments so far. Rajya Sabha is nothing more than handout to people who are unelectible. India needs new consuition where people have all power to elect who ever it sees qualified.
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                          1. K
                            kulaputra kulaputra
                            Jun 6, 2016 at 12:59 am
                            What is the use of this body as this is a political non elected body that can only disrupt peoples' wishes and expensive to boot (may be that is what should be done with it - boot)
                            Reply
                            1. A
                              anandap
                              Jun 5, 2016 at 4:17 am
                              One may wonder Rajyasabha seats are Political "privy purse " for those "chamchas"/sycophants/relatives of both ruling and opposition parties for making nuisance and blocking progress and development of nation!
                              Reply
                              1. R
                                Rajendran
                                Jun 5, 2016 at 2:45 am
                                One way is to counter this anomaly is to reduce the term of Rajya Sabha MPs to just 2.5 years
                                Reply
                                1. N
                                  Niladrinath Mohanty
                                  Jun 6, 2016 at 2:55 am
                                  If an aspiring candidate for the Rajya Sabha membership can offer crores of rupees just imagine how much more money he hopes to make during six years of his membership. Certainly this earning could not be legitimate. Our politicians (including a prime minister whose credentials about his honesty is impeccable) have laid a strong foundation for corruption. I got a mail about 'Ullu'-the proverbial fool. It is also a term in Hindi for owl. Once on a tree ullus(owls) used to sit and the tree was very unhappy. One day the tree was cut and the tree thought any way even though I die I am free free from these "ullus". But after a few days the timber from this tree was used to make the seats in the Parliament for the honourable members to sit in the house and the soul of the tree lamented the "ullus' are going sit on his body again. Actually the people of the country have been made a bunch of ullus. As for the term 'election' to the Rajya Sabha is concerned it is actually not an election. The members of the emblies where a 'surplus' situation prevails have great potential to become rich. The political parties have lowered the dignity of the Rajya Sabha.
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                                  1. P
                                    Parshulakshya
                                    Jun 5, 2016 at 8:14 am
                                    Present Rajya Sabha is a curse on Indian State .It is no more a house of elders and wise men. it has become a Royal Chamber of privileges and prodigality for obstreperous elements, phonies and corrupts who manage their entry through back door.It is a huge burden on the state exchequer .It is time to abolish it. Let there be referendum to ascertain public opinion.
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                                    1. G
                                      g
                                      Jun 6, 2016 at 1:36 am
                                      Sonia hi’s Congress used the Rajya Sabha as a tool to stall the Parliament and hence derail governance agendas throughout 2015…….lt;br/gt;Sonia Congress was holding country to ransom with members of Rajya Sabha -- essentially a political blackmail against India…….lt;br/gt;Sonia hi stalled GST bill in Rajya sabha……….lt;br/gt;Sonia hi stalled renaming of Hyderabad airport in Rajya sabha….…….lt;br/gt;Sonia hi stalled Rajya sabha by asking Congress members taking to the ‘Well of the house’, raising slogans and later staging a walkout….……. lt;br/gt;Sonia hi ran out of the parliament in pink sari and white blouse (there are pictures of her) and protested pointing and using ugly hand gestures at the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. ……….lt;br/gt;Sonia hi set the tone throughout 2015 Congress members to stall the Rajya Sabha over ‘National Herald’ issue….…….lt;br/gt;Sonia hi and Rahul blocked Parliament using Rajya Sabha for their self-interest over their corruption over National Herald case….…….lt;br/gt;Sonia hi and Rahul blocked Parliament and hurt the poor throughout using Rajya Sabha….…….lt;br/gt;Sonia hi does not respect the Government of India and its insutions as long as she and her son are in power.
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                                      1. P
                                        PL
                                        Jun 5, 2016 at 9:42 pm
                                        consution should be changed to ensure that RS member is resident of state for last year and has been a member of any elected body for one term. It is congress who changed that law for Man Mohan Singh.
                                        Reply
                                        1. R
                                          raj
                                          Jun 5, 2016 at 3:21 pm
                                          money flows democracy grows !!!!!!!!! system is in shambles and everyone will laughs at us !!! it may be called "house of business" or temple of business " ??? "for the people" all all just time p !!!!
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                                          1. R
                                            Ramesh Grover
                                            Jun 5, 2016 at 3:37 am
                                            The article provides a right exposition of the status. A good write but it is of no avail as no political party is interested in correcting the malady. Even the regional parties have no desire to bring Rajya Sabha to its envisaged visage.
                                            Reply
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