Tuesday, October 04, 2022

India

Why must people from city foisted on state that is primarily agrarian?

March 24, 2022 07:41 PM
Five nominated to Rajya Sabha from Punjab

 In November 2021, at a meeting with Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu, floor leaders of various parties expressed concern about the comments made on Parliament by Chief Justice NV Ramana. The CJI had described the lack of debate in the two Houses as a ‘sorry state of affairs’. The comment is bang on. There have been some notable speeches delivered in the House of Elders, but to largely empty benches. Our ‘learned’ parliamentarians not only do not know, they do not even care to know.

Neera Chandhoke

Political scientist

The Aam Aadmi Party has nominated five candidates for the Rajya Sabha elections to be held on March 31 — Delhi AAP MLA Raghav Chadha, IIT associate professor Sandeep Pathak, former cricketer Harbhajan Singh, educationist Ashok Mittal and industrialist Sanjeev Arora. These nominations from Punjab have been received with a barrage of criticism. The nominees are said to have been rewarded by the party for their contribution, whatever it might be. This is precisely the problem that plagues Rajya Sabha nominations from across the country.

The Upper House of the Indian Parliament has become a parking lot for discredited politicians, millionaires who have funded ‘this’ or ‘that’ party, sportspersons and filmstars who hardly attend sessions, let alone make earth-shattering speeches to better the fortunes of their own industry, random academics faithful to the ruling party and all kinds of ambition-driven men and women who yearn to be a part of the ‘New Lutyens’ Delhi Gang’.

. That points clearly to a political career.” This damning comment sums up the state of affairs in Parliament. The House has been further rendered irrelevant by the ruling party, intent on furthering its debatable agenda of ‘One India’. This has marginalised the specificity of problems, issues, and identities faced by the states.

It is in this context that the criticism of the Rajya Sabha nominations by the AAP in Punjab makes sense. Raghav Chadha is one of the few politicians that the Delhi-wallahs are fond of: hardworking, modest, charming. Let him represent Delhi in the Rajya Sabha, as can Pathak. Why must people from a city be foisted on to a state that is primarily agrarian?

They have reason to do so. The rewards extended to a Rajya Sabha member are scandalously disproportionate to the contribution he or she makes to the deliberative domain.

Some members are, of course, excellent parliamentarians, even if they never win an election in their life. That is not the issue; the Upper House of Parliament is not expected to be a representative body. Its functions in a parliamentary democracy are different. On June 30, 1949, Shibban Lal Saxena pointed out in the Constituent Assembly that the only proper function of the second chamber is to revise what the Lower Chamber has done, and to give the latter expert advice on problems and powers. The Upper Chamber, he continued, “must be composed of the intelligentsia… professions containing learned men who can think how a particular measure will affect the interests of the state.”

The first function of an Upper House, it is generally agreed by experts, is to bring calm reflection, reasoned debate and moderation to bear upon core issues that trouble the body politic. If this means a delay in the passing of a Bill, so be it. Any legislation that affects the lives of millions of citizens, often adversely, must be thought through. Members of the Upper House should carve out a slice of time between the passage of a Bill and its transformation into law in order to permit second thoughts.

The other function of the Rajya Sabha is to represent the interests of the states of the Union, and to bring to fore the needs and interests of the state and its unique problems.

Both these functions of the Rajya Sabha have been compromised whenever a dominant party rules India. Sociologist Rajni Kothari had spoken of the one-party dominant system to describe the monopoly of Congress. Today, the same terminology can be used for the monopoly of the BJP over the Lok Sabha, and increasingly, over the Rajya Sabha.

In recent years, we have seen Bills rushed through both Houses with unseemly haste, we have listened to, with some despair, uncivil speeches that are unworthy of politicians who hold public office, we have seen cynical bargains struck between political parties and between political parties and aspirants to a Rajya Sabha seat, and we are deafened by ‘the politics of din’.

 In November 2021, at a meeting with Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu, floor leaders of various parties in the Upper House expressed concern about the comments made on the Parliament by Chief Justice NV Ramana. The CJI had described the lack of debate in the two Houses as a ‘sorry state of affairs’. The comment is bang on. There have been some notable speeches delivered in the House of Elders, but to largely empty benches. Our ‘learned’ parliamentarians not only do not know, they do not even care to know.

George Bernard Shaw had once remarked that “he knows nothing, and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” This damning comment sums up the state of affairs in Parliament. The House has been further rendered irrelevant by the ruling party, intent on furthering its debatable agenda of ‘One India’. This has marginalised the specificity of problems, issues, and identities faced by the states.

It is in this context that the criticism of the Rajya Sabha nominations by the AAP in Punjab makes sense. Raghav Chadha is one of the few politicians that the Delhi-wallahs are fond of: hardworking, modest, charming. Let him represent Delhi in the Rajya Sabha, as can Pathak. Why must people from a city be foisted on to a state that is primarily agrarian?

And that brings us to the main point. Punjab — and the point can hardly be understated — is in serious trouble: a cash-strapped economy, government debt, unemployment, environmental degradation, use of harmful substances and wholesale migration out of the country. Above all, it is wracked by an agrarian crisis.

Neera Chandhoke, Distinguish commentator

Punjab should be nominating knowledgeable candidates who can fight out these issues in the Rajya Sabha and instruct ministers from the Central Government. Punjab’s universities and research centres have a number of distinguished economists; let them go and speak forcefully in the Rajya Sabha on the problems of the state, on the need to generate employment, on environmental issues, on climate change and on MSP. Let them represent Punjab.

It is time that a Rajya Sabha seat is delinked from privilege and linked to political commitment, hard work, and moderation.

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