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Take a cue from western partners

The founding fathers of Indian Constitution opted for a bicameral Parliament so that the States would have a forum to voice their concerns in a federal polity heavily weighed towards the Centre.  Also, it facilitates persons of experience, maturity and wisdom to enter Parliament. These experts can exercise a sobering and moderating influence on the other chamber that consists mainly of members whose ideological fervour, emotional exuberance and inexperience could often get the better of their judgment.

 

Nehru’s Sabha:

Till the end of 1980s, the Rajya Sabha fulfilled its objectives, though experienced leaders of all political parties still preferred the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha enabled Jawaharlal Nehru to bring into his cabinet men who did not even belong to his party. Despite the virtual dominance of a single party that constrained the voice of Opposition both in legislation and policy, Nehru gave attention to views and suggestions from any quarter.

Nevertheless, slowly the Rajya Sabha came to be filled with members who are not compatible with its original objectives. Its membership became an instrument of patronage and recompense to fund-raisers and managers of internal party equations and dissidence. It also became a political training ground for dynastic succession.

The situation changed in the 1990s when India's polity became fragmented and plural with the BJP emerging an alternative to the Congress and strong regional parties started coming to power in a few states. One of the consequences of this change is the emergence of coalitions, both formal and informal, for governance at the Centre. It underlined the need for consensus building across the aisle.

The pattern of parliamentary discourse radically altered from 2004 when Congress beat expectations to return to power. The hard stance of BJP over the prospect of Sonia Gandhi becoming prime minister and the ideological untouchability displayed by Congress towards BJP created an atmosphere of confrontation in which constructive discussion and mutual accommodation became casualties. BJP started opposing policy initiatives taken by itself when in office earlier. For its part, Congress tended to be supercilious, but the involvement of UPA ministers in corruption scandals gave NDA the upper hand.


Debacle in structure

2014 changed only the roles of the two coalitions but not the paradigm of parliamentary business. As only a third of the members are elected to Rajya Sabha every two years, there is a long time gap between the nature of popular mandate in a state assembly and its reflection in the party-wise composition of the Rajya Sabha. Congress saw revenge for BJP’s conduct in Parliament during its ten years in office by paying back to NDA in the same coin, overlooking the fact that such obstructionist tactics were partly responsible for UPA’s second term in 2009.

In 1909-11, faced with the threat of a Lord's veto on his land tax proposal for financing a slew of social welfare schemes, Asquith, the then British Prime Minister, approached the King for flooding the House of Lords with a few hundred more of peers of his political persuasion. The King wouldn’t agree. On the King's advice, he won a general election on the budget issue.  As no change was found in the attitude of Lords, he called another snap poll, with the proposal to clip the powers of Lords on money matters!

A constitutional remedy is hard to contemplate due to the plurality of the country.  As snap poll is not an option, the Indian genius for 'Jugad' found a partial solution. Using the provision of ‘concurrent’ list, some Indian states are willing to carry out reforms blocked in Rajya Sabha within their jurisdiction. This could leave states ruled by parties opposed to NDA’s reform agenda behind in the development stakes and impinge on their future electoral fortunes. But this will take time to play out which the nation can ill afford.

 

Constraint of introspection

 

Congress, supported by CPM, playing a cynical and shortsighted game to undermine the credibility of BJP, is all too evident. There are reliable reports to indicate that chief ministers belonging to Congress, who are for GST Act and changes in Land Acquisition Act, are being forced to recant. Introspection is imperative and patriotic foresight and political statesmanship should prevail over myopic oneupmanship. These tactics could only work to the advantage of the adversary needs to be digested.

It’s time for the prime minister to reach out.

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