By Pankaj Vohra
The latest sting operation by a media group exposing the involvement of big amounts for elections to the Rajya Sabha provides further evidence of electoral malpractices by politicians and influential money bags to purchase berths to the Upper House.
In fact, the revelations solely go on to exhibit the role of money muscle in the polls and how the rich and affluent are able to strike financial deals to get into Parliament. Money indeed is an important component in politics. However, it is not a mere coincidence that an increasing number of people including many who represent the corporate world or have used means other than their political skills, have procured entry into the prestigious portals of Parliament.
It is nobody’s case that corporate luminaries should not be in Parliament, but if unfair means are used to get elected, it is certainly a cause of immense concern. Big business houses have always played a major part in Indian politics. Till the late 1970s, a certain industrial house had wide spawning clout in political circles. Subsequently, as the years rolled by, new players entered the arena, thereby gradually replacing the original ones.
At one time, the corporate world was content playing its games behind the scene. However, there are many ambitious business leaders who now aspire to be part of Parliament. Indira Gandhi enjoyed an exceptional rapport with many industrialists. She was, nevertheless, careful and cautious in not encouraging them to either join politics or for that matter was averse to be publicly seen in their company. In the early 1980s, a doyen amongst industrialists was desirous of being a member of the Rajya Sabha.
He expressed his aspiration to her through her political aide, who was curtly told by the then Prime Minister that he could be given an additional license or permit, but she would not give him a passage to the Upper House. The industrialist, however, persisted with his request and his case was subsequently pleaded by Rajiv Gandhi, who was doing his political apprenticeship under his mother. Indira Gandhi stood her ground and refused to give in an inch to her son’s insistence.
At this point another aide of the Prime Minister intervened to convince her that in order to prop up Rajiv and send a message that he was the upcoming leader, it was essential to accept his advice in regard to the industrialist. Reluctantly, she agreed, but put forward a condition that the gentleman would not be the Congress candidate, but would have to file his nomination as an Independent. The party could thereafter give him the surplus votes to get elected.
Over the years, the scenario has changed and many industrialists and corporate honchos openly lobby for seats for themselves or their nominees. Vijay Mallya’s controversial election to the Rajya Sabha and his saga is now a widely discussed topic not only in political circles but also elsewhere.
Many years ago, consequent to the ruling of the Apex Court, the rules governing the eligibility to the Rajya Sabha were modified. Initially when the Constituent Assembly had envisaged the bicameral system for India, the Rajya Sabha was visualized as the Council of States to strengthen the federal structure of the country. In order to be a member, a candidate had to be a voter in that particular state.
The idea was that a domicile would be more protective about his state than someone who was brought from outside. The norm was different from that of the Lok Sabha, where a voter from any part of the country could contest the election from anywhere.
This practice continued till it was challenged in the court, which made the eligibility conditions except the age criteria similar to that of the Lower House, meaning that a resident of India and a registered voter could contest for Rajya Sabha from any state of his liking.
This clause, in all probability, was made so as to eliminate declarations by nominees regarding their domicile status from a state other than their actual place of residence. For instance, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proclaimed to be a resident of Assam to enable his election from there and even furnished the proof of his address.
Previously, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was once elected to the Upper House from Madhya Pradesh. In the latest instance, P. Chidambaram will now enter the august house from Maharashtra while M. Venkaiah Naidu, who was a member from Karnataka during his third term, would now represent Rajasthan.
The political foxtrot, in a way, has defeated the original concept of the Upper House as visualized by the fathers of the Constitution. In the Congress, till P.V. Narasimha Rao’s time, a person defeated in the Lok Sabha would by no means be sent to the Rajya Sabha. Rao refused to accommodate Devendra Dwivedi, his key adviser to the Council of States post his defeat from Varanasi.
This was a norm set by Rajiv Gandhi. However, the Congress broke this established convention when it sent Oscar Fernandes, Shivraj Patil and P.M. Sayeed to the Upper House even after they had been vanquished in the electoral arena. Unfortunately, the Rajya Sabha polls provide an opportunity to many fixers and wheeler dealers to exploit the situation when political parties are unable to send their nominee due to the shortage of votes. Money plays a massive role and it is therefore the duty of the Election Commission to ensure that malpractices are checked.
By Pankaj Vohra