Back Door Entries: Why Would a Billionaire Businessman Want to Get into the Rajya Sabha?
CHANDIGARH: The latest poll results of the Rajya Sabha have been announced, with some expected and some surprise winners. This is however not a political piece, except to highlight that BJP would continue to fall short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, although it has improved its earlier position.
Although our constitution and the system of governance were derived from the British Parliamentary System, there are some fundamental differences. Both UK and India have a Bicameral Parliament, but in the case of the Upper House, there are distinct differences. In UK, the House of Lords has a variety of Peers who are its members.
Under the House of Lords Act 1999, only life Peerages (that is Peerages that cannot be inherited) automatically entitle their holders to seats in the House of Lords. Of the hereditary peers, only 92—the Earl Marshal, the Lord Great Chamberlain and the 90 elected by other peers—retain their seats in the House.
As part of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the position of Speaker of the House of Lords was separated from the office of Lord Chancellor (the office which has control over the judiciary as a whole), though the Lords remain largely self-governing. Decisions on points of order and on the disciplining of unruly members are made by the whole body in the Upper House.
In the case of India, the political parties hold sway over the Rajya Sabha too, as vacancies are filled by proportional representation by legislative members of Vidhan Sabhas of States. This results in individuals being elected according to the numbers each party has in the Vidhan Sabhas. Parties with lesser numbers gang up and sponsor either individuals acceptable to the parties that have joined, or independent candidates are overtly or covertly supported by one or more parties. That considerable ‘horse trading’ goes on is well known and is an acceptable, albeit deplorable part of the Indian political scene. This ‘tamasha’ takes place every two years as one third Rajya Sabha members retire every two years, having completed a total of six years as members.
The Members of Rajya Sabha are responsible to maintain the public trust reposed in them and should work diligently to discharge their mandate for common good of the people. They must hold in high esteem the Constitution, the Law, Parliamentary Institutions and above all the general public. They should constantly strive to translate the ideals laid down in the Preamble to the Constitution into a reality.
The maximum strength of Rajya Sabha is 250, of which 238 are elected and 12 are nominated by the President of India, but the actual strength is 245, of which 233 are elected and 12 are nominated. The nominated members are from amongst persons having special knowledge or practical experience in literature, science, art and social service. It is incongruous that the military is not considered, even though the profession of Arms is acknowledged the world over as both an art and a science!
It is no longer essential for a member to be a domicile of the state from which he is elected. This is a jarring aspect, which needs to be scrapped as it is only a ploy by political parties to feather their own nests. This has already resulted in the spectacle of a person who kept getting elected from a state far removed from his own state a number of times till he was elected as the head of the government twice successively and never faced an election! Jai Ho!!
This has had its absurd reflection in the present result too, with at least three, if not more examples of this in today’s results.
Let us start with Venkaiah Naidu of the BJP, as he is already a Minister in the current cabinet. Venkaiah Naidu was elected as an MLA to the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly twice from Udayagiri constituency in Nellore district in 1978 and 1983. He rose to become one of the most popular leaders of the BJP in Andhra Pradesh.
He however switched allegiance from Andhra Pradesh to Karnataka and was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1998. He was then re-elected twice in 2004 and 2010 from Karnataka. After the NDA victory in the 1999 general elections, he became the Union Cabinet Minister for Rural development in the government headed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
He became the National President of the BJP in 2002. With the BJP coming back to power in the 2014 general elections, he became the Minister for Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs on 26 May 2014. Now, having completed his third term as a Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, he has been re-elected for another term in the Rajya Sabha, but this time from Rajasthan! Call it ‘state hopping’ or by any other name, but to me it smacks of opportunism of the worst kind.
It was he who had proclaimed only a few months back that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a ‘God send’. Although it was duly reported by the media but was allowed to die down, perhaps because the media did not think it important enough to be analysed and torn to pieces, as is their wont in most such cases.
However, if my memory serves me right, a similar phrase was articulated in praise of another Prime Minister decades back It was Dev Kant Barooah from Assam, who served as the President of the Indian National Congress during the Emergency (1975–77) who did so. He is now chiefly remembered for his sycophancy to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, encapsulated by his c. 1974 proclamation that "India is Indira; Indira is India."!!
The next is Kapil Sibal of the Indian National Congress, who was first nominated in July 1998, as a Member of the Rajya Sabha, but not from his own state of Delhi, but from the state of Bihar. He served as Additional Solicitor General of India and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association on three occasions. In 2004 general elections, he won the Chandni Chowk constituency of New Delhi with 71% vote share and was inducted in the cabinet of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He again won the constituency of Chandni Chowk for the second time in the Lok Sabha elections of 2009, but in 2014 general elections, he received only 18% of the votes. He has now been elected to the Rajya Sabha, but this time from Uttar Pradesh.
Undoubtedly, the political leaders of India believe in the quote from Shakespeare's ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ - "The world is your oyster”!
Let me end with what I call “The miracles of Money Power”! Another person elected for the Rajya Sabha is Subhash Chandra, the Indian media baron with interests in other businesses too. He is chairman of India's TV channel network Zee Media, Essel Group and so on. He is a resident of Mumbai, but won his Rajya Sabha seat from Haryana, as an independent candidate with the support of BJP. He is what may be referred to as a ‘rank outsider’ or a ‘fluke’ in horse racing! He was competing against another independent R K Anand, a well-known Supreme Court lawyer from Delhi who had the support of INLD, as well as the Haryana Congress.
But miracles do happen. Apparently 14 votes of Haryana Congress were declared invalid! The reason appears to be quite bizarre, as their votes were declared invalid as they had used their own pens instead of those provided by the Election Commission!
Is this bureaucratic red tape or the miracle of money?
What begs the question is why a billionaire businessman should want to get into the Rajya Sabha. May be one can take a cue from another billionaire, Vijay Mallya, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2002 as an independent member from his home state of Karnataka with the support of the Congress party and Janata Dal (Secular). In 2010, he was re-elected for a second term, this time with the backing of the BJP. By then he was in a big financial mess and possibly the thinking was that being a Parliamentarian, he had immunity from prosecution.
In similar vein, on June 2015, a police case was registered against Subhash Chandra and his son for embezzling over Rs 1 billion. The news channels owned by him were accused of various controversies and one was tried for allegedly extorting 100 crores from the Jindal Group.
In December 2013, Arvind Kejriwal accused Zee News of showing the wrong information about his and Anna Hazare's relationship. Zee media banned Sonu Nigam after he shared a video that proved Dr. Kumar Vishwas’s voice about a farmer's suicide had been deliberately wrongly edited By Zee News.
Subhash Chandra in the capacity of owning Himgiri Zee University has also been accused of issuing fake academic degrees and indulging in tax evasion.
Our political leaders and their parties may be happy with the present dispensation, with all its negatives, but I have no doubt that we need to re-look at the present infirmities in the selection for becoming a member of the Rajya Sabha and create a better system where people’s representatives hold office with sincerity and for the good of the nation.
(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)