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Misdiagnosis of the Rajya Sabha malfunction

Mohammad Tahir representing Bihar in the Constituent Assembly during the debate on the Constitution on July 28, 1947 said that

“the Upper House is a creation of imperialism” and argued that independent India did not need it.

To which Gopalaswami Ayyangar, replied that “the role of the Upper House is merely to delay legislation which might be the outcome of passions of the moment until the passions have subsided”. It was obvious even to our founding fathers that the “House of People” (Lok Sabha) can fall prey to passionate rhetoric and thus felt a need for a “House of Elders” (Rajya Sabha) to instil calm.

Next is this false narrative of indirectly elected members of the Rajya Sabha having veto powers over the members of the Lok Sabha who are direct representatives of the people.

In our first-past-the-post electoral system where a political party can form a government without the majority of citizens voting for it, legislation passed by the Lok Sabha may not necessarily represent the views of the majority. It then becomes even more pertinent and critical to have an active and vibrant Rajya Sabha.

That the Rajya Sabha would an indirectly elected body and would act as a balance to certain whimsical legislation of the people’s representatives in the Lok Sabha was a conscious design of our founding fathers. If anything, this need has only been exacerbated with creeping majoritarianism in the current Lok Sabha. The inability to build consensus by a ruling party cannot be disguised as opposition obstruction.

The need to build consensus in both Houses of Parliament to pass legislation should be the guiding principle of our parliamentary democracy.

Then, there is the argument that the Anti-Defection Act, which immediately disqualifies any member of Parliament who either changes political parties mid-way or disobeys the whip of her party, aggravates the chances of a dysfunctional Parliament.

The core principle behind the Anti-Defection Act is to prevent horse-trading on the floor of the House and penalise members who succumb to temptations from opposition parties. This principle still remains very relevant for a large, diverse polity such as ours, with a large number of regional parties.

The Lok Sabha recently held a discussion on a private member’s bill to de-criminalise certain Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. There was no whip issued by the major parties and members voted according to their choices, many times contrary to their party colleagues.

The choice of when to issue a whip rests with the party. The Anti-Defection Act in itself cannot be made a villain for an internal matter of political parties over degrees of freedom to be given to their members for voting in Parliament.

Scope for reform

There is clearly a need for new rules to prevent productivity of the entire House being held hostage by a few members rushing to the Well. There has to be an outlet for opposition members to voice their protests without disrupting productivity. One suggestion is to have designated day(s) in a week on which the opposition can raise, discuss and debate issues rather than the government dictating the order of business every day of the session. There can be innovative ways to create a framework within which the right to protest is not taken away but is done constructively.

Read Less check and more balance, another good article

Q.  “The Upper House is a creation of imperialism and independent India did not need it.” Critically comment.

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