Sunday, June 05, 2016

Fake Federalism: How 'National Parties' Turned The Concept Of 'Rajya' In Rajya Sabha Into A Farce?


The upper House of Parliament, literally a Council of States, was meant to be a federal chamber to look out for the interests of the states.

The continued abuse of the idea of the Rajya Sabha – or the Council of States – by the so-called national parties continues with the upcoming round of Rajya Sabha elections.
A large number of Rajya Sabha members, past and present, have been representing states with which they have no connection. This undermines the very principle of representation that’s supposed to be the bedrock of representative democracy. The nominations put forward by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress party show, once again, that they care more about representing their respective high commands and that the state assembly members are a rubber-stamp for their Delhi masters.
The states and their people are simply an excuse for this elaborate charade, as far as “national” parties are concerned. It is nothing short of a betrayal of the people and the concept of federalism, a basic feature of the constitution.
Why does India have an upper House of Parliament, a Council of States? Rajya Sabha’s official website provides the following answer:
mainly because a federal system was considered to be most feasible form of Government for such a vast country with immense diversities... A second chamber known as the ‘Council of States’... was meant to be the federal chamber
Lok Sabha elections often focus on the so-called national issues that are seen to have relevance across states. Rajya Sabha, being elected by members of State Assemblies, ought to represent issues of interest specific to the states.
Additionally, the staggered nature of the Rajya Sabha elections also seeks to ensure a more temporally representative Parliament, beyond the once-in-five-year dip-stick representation of the Lok Sabha.
The Rajya Sabha should, ideally, look out for the interest of states when it comes to legislations.
From Andhra to Karnataka:
But let’s just take the case of Venkaiah Naidu, the present Union Minister of Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Parliamentary Affairs.
Naidu, a Telugu-speaker, born and educated in Andhra Pradesh, who has been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh from a young age in Andhra Pradesh, came to political prominence via Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad – again, in Andhra Pradesh. Naidu was elected as an MLA to the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly twice in 1978 and 1983. Having acted as BJP’s Legislative Party Leader, he went on to successively become the general secretary and president of the party’s Andhra Pradesh unit between 19851993.
Since 1998, he has been elected three times to the Rajya Sabha – but never from Andhra Pradesh. That fortune or misfortune has been of Karnataka alone, whose BJP MLAs dutifully chose a man from Andhra Pradesh to represent Karnataka’s voice in Rajya Sabha. He has represented Karnataka in Rajya Sabha for three successive terms totalling 18 years – enough time to make Karnataka his own, out of gratitude or posturing.
But let’s take a look at his performance. He participated in 86 Rajya Sabha debates between June 9 2009 and February 21 2014. Not one was related to Karnataka. However, the debates he participated in, included - Andhra Pradesh reorganisation Bill, Fire accident in Andhra Pradesh’s Vishakapatnam, formation of Telangana state out of Andhra Pradesh, twin blasts in Andhra Pradesh’s Hyderabad, threat to 18,000 Andhra workers in United Arab Emirates, rail accident at Andhra Pradesh’s Penneconda, killing of an Andhra MBA student in London, untimely heavy rains in Andhra Pradesh and such.
Known to be a fiery speaker in his element, he is now a known votary of the imposition of Hindi on non-Hindi states. Himself a native Telugu speaker, he made the effort to learn Hindi to work his way up his Hindi-dominated party. In spite of 18 years of political support, the few speeches he has ever made in Karnataka have mostly been in Hindi – he has shunned Kannada or at least hasn’t shown much public effort to embrace Kannada.
A large group of self-respecting Karnataka people launched a campaign against his renomination from the state. The #VenkayyaSakayya (enough of Venkaiah) hashtag movement seems to have been partially successful as the BJP has now given Naidu the task of “representing” Rajasthan in Rajya Sabha.
However, Naidu’s replacement in Karnataka is another politician from Andhra Pradesh, Nirmala Sitharaman, who happens to have been born in Tamil Nadu. The BJP high command’s orderlies in Karnataka assembly will dutifully ensure her victory, without an iota of shame. After all, they are known to obediently carry out orders from Delhi, except when they didn’t. A few years ago, they cross-voted for an independent candidate from Karnataka to the Rajya Sabha – Vijay Mallya.
The rule, not an exception:
Venkaiah Naidu and Karnataka are not exceptions. About 20% of the present Rajya Sabha members of the BJP aren’t from the states they supposedly “represent”. They include luminaries like Delhi-Mumbai-Delhi’s Smriti Irani representing Gujarat, Delhi’s Arun Jaitley representing Gujarat, Maharashtra’s Suresh Prabhu representing Haryana, Kolkata-Delhi’s MJ Akbar representing Jharkhand, Maharashtra’s Prakash Javdekar representing Madhya Pradesh, Kolkata-Delhi’s Chandan Mitra representing Madhya Pradesh, Delhi’s Vijay Goel representing Rajasthan, Mumbai-Delhi’s Ram Jethmalani representing Rajasthan and such.
The Congress has Uttar Pradesh’s Mohsina Kidwai representing Chhattisgarh, Kashmir’s Karan Singh representing Delhi (in a literal and political sense), Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai’s Raj Babbar representing Uttarakhand, while the Andhra-JNU-Delhi revolutionary Sitaram Yechury has represented West Bengal since 2005.
Other parties have only rarely engaged in such “representation”, with Punjab’s Alchemist KD Singh representing West Bengal, after Jharkhand. Abuse of the system has been deep and bi-patisan - a reflection of how national parties treat state legislators as servile chips for parliamentary poker, without minimal regard for the rights of the states.
Since June 2004 till date, the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha hasn’t been someone belonging to the Rajya or the state they represent in that Council of States. Before “Gujarat’s Arun Jaitley”, that vaunted post was occupied by “Assam’s Manmohan Singh”, the two-time Prime Minister of India. To satisfy the domicile clause of Rajya Sabha representation, Manmohan Singh produced papers that showed his place of residence to be Assam. The present President Pranab Mukherjee during the days he “represented” Gujarat in Rajya Sabha, produced LPG connection documents to establish his Gujarat domicile. This domicile irritant was then altogether removed by the ganging up of Congress and BJP in 2003, leading to the explosion of Andhraites representing Karntaka, relieved from the task of producing LPG connection documents.
The joke is on us, the people of states.
A fake federal system:
Perhaps this is to be expected in a fake-federal system like the Indian Union which considers the nation as some eternally pre-formed entity, with the states being treated as arbitrary administrative units.
The United States Congress is analogous to the Lok Sabha. Federalism in USA is more than a semantic charade. In the US Congress and Lok Sabha, the numbers of seats are roughly proportional to population [The situation has changed a bit in India since the number of seats per state are frozen till 2026]. This gives precedence to the whole, which is an ahistorical, legal entity, though much time and money is spent to create a fictional past for this legal form.
The US senate represents that strand where past compacts and differing trajectories and identities are represented in the form of states. States form the “United” States of America. Hence in the US Senate, the unit is the state, not the individual citizen and each state, irrespective of population, has two members. This respects equality of states and acts as a protection against the domination by more populous states. But in the Rajya Sabha, the seats are allotted to states roughly proportional to their population. The Rajya Sabha doesn’t acknowledge the equality of states. Thus, the Odiya linguistic state is deemed a lesser stake-holder than the Bengali linguistic state in the Rajya Sabha, just because there are more Bengalis than Odiyas. To correct this flaw, all constituent states of the Indian Union ought to have equal representation in the Rajya Sabha, akin to the United States Senate
For Rajya Sabha to be truly representative of the states, it has to be constituted on a fundamentally different paradigm than the Lok Sabha. Concerns, aspirations and visions of the future differ based on a region’s perceived attitude towards a monolithic “whole”. A federal democratic union is one that does not discriminate between aspirations and is flexible enough to accommodate differing aspirations.
Rather than chanting “unity in diversity” as an anxious mantra of a paranoid monolith, we have to creatively forge a unity through an honest assessment of diversity by admitting that the Indian Union is a multi-national super-state.

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