When the Congress leadership issued a whip to its members in the Rajya Sabha last week to defeat Opposition-sponsored amendments to the presidential address,the party diktat covered two nominated members too,Mani Shankar Aiyar and Bhalchandra Mungekar.
For,these two MPs had accepted the membership of a party (Congress),an option which just 17 of the 119 eminent people who have been nominated by the President to the Rajya Sabha since it was set up have exercised. And 14 of them have gone with the Congress.
While they may owe their seats to the government of the day,nominated members have,by and large,displayed independence by refusing to acquire membership of parties.
Nominated members are allowed six months to decide if they wish to join a political party after taking their seat in the House. They are also exempted from filing assets and liabilities under Section 75A of the Representation of the Peoples Act,1951,which requires an elected member to do so within 90 days of taking oath.
Unlike Aiyar and Mungekar,the five other nominated members in the Rajya Sabha,lyricist Javed Akhtar,journalist H K Dua,corporate head Ashok Ganguly,theatre personality B Jayashree and agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan,have not joined any party. The Rajya Sabha has a total of 12 slots earmarked for nominated members. The current House has five vacancies.
The founding fathers were clear about what they wanted from nominated members. Said N Gopalswami Ayyangar in the Constituent Assembly on July 28,1947: …We also give an opportunity,perhaps,to seasoned people who may not be in the thickest of the political fray,but who might be willing to participate in the debate with an amount of learning and importance which we do not ordinarily associate with the House of the People.
Jawaharlal Nehru was even clearer. Speaking in the Lok Sabha on May 13,1953,he said: The President has nominated some members of the Council of States who,if I may say so,are among the most distinguished… 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.
Besides the 14 nominated members who have chosen to accept memberships in the Congress,the remaining three have gone with the BJP (see box).
The nominated members enjoy all the powers,privileges and immunities available to an elected member of Parliament. They can vote on legislation and have the right to vote in the election of the vice-president. However,they are not entitled to vote in the election of the president.
Asked why he chose to join the Congress,Mungekar told The Indian Express: The Congress is a broad,liberal,national,secular and democratic platform and I thought it suited my thinking… I thought it was an organisation which could enable me to participate in a serious policy-formulation process. Also,an unattached member,being counted in the others category,gets very little opportunity to participate in Rajya Sabha discussions,while I get a chance to open important debates at times on behalf of my party.
Javed Akhtar says he has no problem with any other nominated member accepting a party whip. After all,the rules provide for it. While Hemaji and Dara Singhji did join a party,many others like Shyam Benegal,Shabana Azmi and Shobhana Bhartia did not. As for myself,I want to stay free to express my opinion on any issue, he added.