In his frustration to explain the government's failure to deliver 'reforms', Jaitley is barking up the wrong tree.

Voices Friday, May 15, 2015 - 05:30
Having had a tough time pushing through important legislation in spite of holding absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, it is expected of members of the ruling dispensation to vent out their frustration after the session is over. “I can understand in a bicameral house, once in a while an indirectly elected house questioning the wisdom of a directly elected house. This can happen once in a while, but it can’t happen bill after bill, session after session. It’s a serious question in a parliamentary democracy wherein bill after bill, the wisdom of a directly elected house is questioned by the indirectly elected house. And, therefore, if (Article) 110 provides an answer to it, that’s a constitutional remedy for such as situation,” Jaitley said. But Jaitley going after the very idea of the Rajya Sabha, that’s rich. Here are two obvious reasons why. One, he is the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, and was the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha through UPA 2. If it wasn’t for the Rajya Sabha, he would have had been considerably less relevant. Two, and more importantly, he holds important Ministerial portfolios like Finance and Information & Broadcasting, or even Defence in the past, as a member of the Rajya Sabha, not having won an electoral contest. After his embarrassing defeat in Amritsar in 2014, had it not been for the Rajya Sabha, he would have found himself jobless. The bigger problem with his argument, however, is that it attacks the very idea of the Rajya Sabha, or the Council of States as it was first called. Speaking in support of the Rajya Sabha, Ananthaswamy Ayyangar, the first Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, summed up the need for a bicameral legislature with an Upper House which was indirectly elected. He said, “... whatever hasty legislation is passed by the Lower House (Lok Sabha) may be checkmated by the go-slow movement of the Upper House.” The first Vice-President of India Dr. S Radhakrishnan said in 1952, “...we should try to do everything in our power to justify to the public of this country that a second Chamber is essential to prevent hasty legislation.” Some would argue that this is exactly what the Rajya Sabha is doing now. Further, as stated here, the Rajya Sabha as a unit of the legislative structure was meant to unify the country, and it did so by representing the States and Union territories in the central legislature. The Rajya Sabha was an important instrument of federalism, allowing states to voice their interests when babus and politicians sitting in Delhi passed legislations not in line with the interests of the states. Ironically, Jaitley’s boss, and our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been an enthusiastic supporter of "cooperative" and "fiscal" federalism. Right from his days as Gujarat Chief Minster, through his Prime Ministerial campaign and in the past year in government, Modi has repeatedly supported the idea that the states should have more say in allocation of resources and legislation. The Rajya Sabha has given us, and intervened positively, in some of the most important pieces of legislation in Indian democratic history, including Hindu Marriage and Divorce Bill, Marriage Laws Bill, Prevention of Food Adulteration Bill, abolition of child labour and the Wildlife Protection Bill. As recently as the previous session, DMK MP Trichy Siva moved a private members’ bill in the Rajya Sabha for the protection of the rights of transgender people, which was passed by a voice vote was a historic achievement. Given all of this, Jaitley raising the ‘serious question in a parliamentary democracy’ over Rajya Sabha’s questioning of the house ‘bill after bill’ stands on weak grounds. What’s talking here, perhaps, is Jaitley’s frustration over not being able to push even the most basic of ‘reforms’ through parliament after a year in power.

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