Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Arun Jaitley's SELF-GOALS on Rajya Sabbha? Or The Second Chamber remains a belligerent House?


Arun Jaitley is easily described in the media as a suave. The synonymous check suggests equivalent words could be – sophisticated and charming. But somehow, he is no longer the ‘charming’ guy despite his media-management charms vis-à-vis senior journalists and a select team of writers in Lutyen’s city. In fact, many are puzzled over his actual role – in the Narendra Modi cabinet – as in recent weeks more than the 'Finance Minister' trying to guide country’s economy at a tough time, he is more busy as chief spokesman of the government. But his sound bytes and lengthy blogs and Facebook postings have also sparked a minor debate whether Jaitley is no longer the “balanced” member of his government.

His “self-goals”, as goes an editorial in The Statesman, were more about his statements on the relevance of Rajya Sabha on the backdrop of the powers of an “elected Lok Sabha”. 
Jaitley nevertheless is Leader of the Rajya Sabha. 
Namo and his 'best' spokesman!

Some of his admirers say Jaitley has perhaps also barked the wrong tree by blasting at the literary figures and lately also joining a debate with the Supreme Court when the latter turned out government’s new National Judicial Appointment Commission.
But when Jaitley makes a statement or write something, he does his homework pretty well.
Taking the debate further on the relevance of Rajya Sabha, one ought to say that Jaitley’s remarks are less of adventurism and more of frustration. The continuous legislative deadlock in the Rajya Sabha has angered and left the Modi government frustrated. But with the limitations of numbers, Jaitley as Leader of the Rajya Sabha and a key floor manager is helpless. 
So he is turning to the Salisbury Convention of the United Kingdom, which says, the House of Lords (on which Indian Rajya Sabha is modeled) do not reject any legislation that has been supported by the electorate that is the lower House of Parliament. 
 Apni Marzi se kahan apni safar ke hum hain
Rukh hawaaon ka jidhar ka hai udhar ke hum hain

When Jaitley's expertise cost Modi-Shah duo dearly
(This journey is not of our making,
We go in whichever direction the wind blows)
 The above passage from a popular Ghazal would sum up the manner politicians have tried to use arguments on bicameralism in their favour. Arun Jaitley has been no exception himself as it’s he who as LoP Rajya Sabha had justified ‘pandemonium’ as a key parliamentary tool. Now let us see how political class has handled legislative councils (state-level version of Rajya Sabha or Second Chamber).
In Odisha, Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal wants creation of a Vidhan Parishad (legislative council) while opposition Congress, which is determined to safeguard the honour of Rajya Sabha, hardly finds justification in creating another forum when the state Assembly “is not allowed” to meet for the mandated 60 days every year.

These are nothing new as states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu under powerful chieftains have had their respective rounds of tales. In Tamil Nadu, the Council was abolished by the M. G. Ramachandran on 1 Nov. 1986. In 2010 the DMK regime headed by M. Karunanidhi tried to revive the Council. Andhra Pradesh has a second chamber now but the CM Chandrababu Naidu wants to do away with it. The Vidhan Parishad has been in existence in two spells - from 1958 and was abolished in 1985 and again brought in from 2007.

Seven states -
Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir have bicameral legislature, but in no state perhaps there’s a case of ‘good performance’ by legislative council members in terms of law making and debate.
Powers of Rajya Sabha

Besides Odisha, Assam and West Bengal have lately favoured second chambers.

# More recently, Rajya Sabha’s amendments were crucial to the formation of three states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand in 2000.

# It is not that the Congress has only used the powers of Rajya Sabha to embarrass the Modi government. In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi government too faced the music. The Constitution 64th Amendment Bill and 65th Amendment Bill – relating to Panchayati Raj institutions and municipal bodies – though passed by Lok Sabha “could not be passed by Rajya Sabha” as the motion could not be carried in accordance with the provisions of Art. 368.
# Rajya Sabha had defeated the Constitution 24th Amendment Bill, 1970 which intended to abolish privy purses. In Constitution 45th Amendment Bill, 1978, the Rajya Sabha had deleted five important clauses as passed by Lok Sabha. This Act provided safeguards against the misuse of Emergency provisions and guaranteed the right to media to report freely the proceedings of Parliament and State Legislatures.

Today, everyone seems to agree that the chambers in Indian parliament – the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha – are in conflict with each other, at least this is what Arun Jaitley, a suave Finance Minister and Leader of the upper House has tried to imply. “The wisdom of a directly elected House (that is Lok Sabha) is questioned repeatedly by the indirectly elected House (Rajya Sabha),” he had said almost tongue-in-cheek sparking off a national debate on the relevance of bicameral system itself. 
Search for Wheels within Wheels

The Congress member Madhusudhan Mistry has moved a privilege motion against Jaitley saying the Minister’s statement “creates an impression in the minds of the people in public, also in media that Rajya Sabha has no authority….It reflects as if Rajya Sabha must abide by whatever transpires in the Lok Sabha and has to just put a seal on it”
Jaitley for his part as a lawyer argued eloquently taking the shelter of freedom of speech and said, “…the legislation approval is becoming extremely challenging …this (obstructionism) has slowed down the process of legislation approval”.

But Jaitley’s exuberance is neither for the first time in the history of Parliament democracy nor in isolation. Jaitley’s party chief Amit Shah endorsed him recently.
In a media interview Shah has said, “In a democratic republic, the House of the People should have supremacy. Every law for development of the country — and its people endorsed the House of People — gets stuck in the Upper House".

Memory Lane:
Taking the clock back down the memory lane, even the British Parliament had faced these debates decades back. “In modern times the power to delay (by the upper House) has been used more as a threat to ensure that the lower chamber takes the upper chamber’s revising role seriously,” commented J M Davies, Clerk of the Parliaments, House of Lords.
(ends)

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