A good thing about the nomination of people like Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha to the Rajya Sabha is that it brings into focus role and responsibilities of presidential nominees to the House. Under Article 80 of the Constitution, the Council of States has not more than 250 members, of whom 12 are nominated by the president from among people who have special knowledge or practical experience with respect to matters like literature, science, art and social service. Sachin is perhaps the first sportsperson to be nominated in this category.
The nominations obviously indicate the preferences of the ruling party, as also the political inclination of the nominated persons. It is heartening to know that Sachin, in a way, has distanced himself from parochial outfits like the MNS and Shiv Sena by accepting the offer made by the UPA government. However, it is a common understanding that such personalities should not be active members of any political party, and must rise above political partisanship during debates and voting. However, these are mere moral expectations. It is completely justified, according to Rajya Sabha rules, if a nominated member decides to join a political grouping in the House within six months of their oath-taking. Thus, rules allow what common political sense objects to. During the NDA regime, Hema Malini was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, but she chose to get affiliated with the BJP. This trend continued during the UPA regime too. There is need to evolve a consensus on this matter so that the stark contrast between political morality and parliamentary rules should be erased.
In this context, the Upper House should formulate certain guidelines to select nominated members. For example, nominated members must not have held any office of the recognised political party or for last five years. Once nominated, the members should not be allowed to officially join any parliamentary party/group. It is only a matter of political restraint that no nominated member has ever been inducted into the Union Cabinet. However, silence of the Constitution and parliamentary rules with this regard needs to be rectified by converting the practice into rule. These would ensure that the nominated members would not be lured away by political parties on the promises of gifting them public offices.
It would also be wise if the presidential nominees are treated as a separate group in the House, along with a separate list of rules and privileges for them distinguished from independents and party members. It would be gross injustice to assume that few nominated members, who have joined a parliamentary party, have done so only in the hope of acquiring bigger public office or to receive any other favors. Other considerations, for example, to get proper time to speak during important debates, to get representation in parliamentary committees, etc, might influence their decision to join a political grouping. Data on the website of PRS Legislative Research provides some insights on functioning of nominated members. Out of four members nominated in 2010 and still serving in the House, Javed Akhtar and B Jayshree remain ‘independent’, while Mani Shankar Aiyyar and Bhalchandra Mungekar preferred to join the Congress. Akhtar’s average attendance in the Rajya Sabha is 54% and Jayshree’s 65%. On the other hand, Aiyar and Mungekar registered higher attendance of 72% and 86% respectively. The national average attendance in the Upper House is 72%. While Aiyar and Mungekar participated in respectively 12 and 18 debates in the last two years, Akhtar and Jayshree participated in 0 and 3 debates respectively. Similarly, Aiyar and Mungekar respectively raised 73 and 60 questions in the House, but Akhtar and B Jayshree have not put up a single question to the government.
It is important to ensure nomination of non-partisan members to the Upper House. However, it is equally important to pin down their accountability with respect to their performance in the House. Unfortunately, many of the nominated members have dismally failed to take up issues of their respective fields in the Rajya Sabha. Few, for example, Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshakar, have shown utter disrespect to the proceedings of the Upper House by remaining absent throughout most of their tenure. Hopefully, the God of Cricket will show similar passion and sincerity in the Rajya Sabha as he has demonstrated on the cricketing field, and will at least bat for better sporting opportunities for India’s youth that constitutes more than 50% of country’s population.
The writer is researcher, Legislative Action Wing, New Delhi