There is unprecedented political activity in several states ahead of elections to 57 Rajya Sabha seats on June 11. Independents and smaller parties are in great demand as the national parties eye the RS pie. With competition intensifying, parties have organised retreats, camps and dinners to keep the flock together. A sting operation in Karnataka, where five candidates are in the fray for four seats, showed MLAs negotiating cash and other incentives in lieu of votes. The JD(S), which has fielded a real estate baron in the hope that independents would support him, has demanded the cancellation of polls after some of its MLAs were suspected to be willing to trade their votes. The Congress, which runs the government in Karnataka, has shipped independent MLAs who have promised support to the party nominee, to Maharashtra to prevent poaching. The entry of independents threatens to muddy the situation in UP and Rajasthan as well. The Election Commission in 2012 had to cancel the RS polls in Jharkhand after cash was found in a candidate’s vehicle. Political parties, hopefully, will show responsibility and ensure a scandal-free election on June 11. Else, the credibility of the polls will come under a shadow.
Political parties have, in recent years, collaborated to undermine the mandate of the Upper House. The Constitution conceived of the Rajya Sabha as a House of States, where elders representing their state of domicile participate in the law making process while also keeping a check on the Lok Sabha, the elected assembly. In 2003, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, was amended and the requirement of domicile for candidates contesting the Rajya Sabha election was dispensed with, ostensibly to allow political parties greater freedom in their choice of representatives to the House. Parties now see the Rajya Sabha as a House to park unelectable or defeated candidates from states where they have legislative strength. This has also enabled parties to nominate political heavyweights who have lost elections or can no more win them. The political heft of the Rajya Sabha may have risen, but the federal character expected of the House has been lost in the process. The entry of moneybags into the fray has further eroded the character, and credibility, of the House. There may not be any illegality in their election to the Rajya Sabha, but the spirit of the Constitution itself is compromised when parties prefer candidates whose intent and political inclinations are unclear or worse, dubious.
The Rajya Sabha deserves special attention now since it has effectively become the real arena for the government-opposition contest in Parliament. With a fragmented opposition unable to press its case in the Lok Sabha, the role of the Upper House as a bulwark against the lower house forcing its majority on legislative business is enhanced. There is now a pressing need to ensure that its credibility is not in question.