Case for correcting RS poll anomaly

The proposal for creation of Rajya Sabha was first put forth in the Montague- Chelmsford reforms of 1918.

Published: 19th June 2022 07:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th June 2022 10:24 AM   |  A+A-

A view of the Rajya Sabha.

A view of the Rajya Sabha. (File Photo | PTI)

Elections to 57 seats of Rajya Sabha covering 15 states concluded recently. Usually, Rajya Sabha elections get lesser prime-time attention as compared to that of Lok Sabha or state assemblies. However, this time, instances of resort politics and deft political management leading to unexpected results made most of us note the interesting dynamics of these elections. As the name suggests, Rajya Sabha represents the voice of states and Union Territories in the Union polity. Given this, isn’t it a bit odd that elections to 4 seats of Rajasthan (about 40% of the total Rajya Sabha seats of the state) and 4 seats of Andhra Pradesh (again around 40% of the total seats) are conducted in 2022, when elections to the assemblies of these states concluded 4 years back? Shouldn’t this have ideally been done around the time these assemblies got constituted? Such misalignment makes one question whether Rajya Sabha truly reflects the voice of the state assemblies that its members are supposed to represent. 

The proposal for creation of Rajya Sabha was first put forth in the Montague- Chelmsford reforms of 1918. The Government of India Act, 1919 formally paved the path for creating a ‘Council of States’. It came into existence in 1921. Post-independence, the Constituent Assembly extensively debated the utility of the Council of States. Ultimately, the it felt that a single directly-elected House (Lok Sabha or the House of the People) would be inadequate to meet the challenges. The Constituent Assembly felt that for a true federal polity, states and UTs have to be represented duly in the Union.  Dr BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee of our Constitution, while clarifying about the role of the Council of States said “...ex hypothesi”, it “represented the states”.

Clearly, the Constitution envisages Rajya Sabha as the institutional platform to represent states in Parliament. However, if incumbent members of Rajya Sabha are not elected by representatives of the prevailing state assemblies, it’s difficult to establish that they truly represent the voice of their state. They may be more representative of the voice of past state assemblies that had sent them in the first place. Let’s take an example. Consider Rajasthan. The state elections got concluded in December 2018. UPA (Congress+) got more than 50% seats while NDA (BJP+) almost 35%. Rajasthan has a quota of 10 members in the Rajya Sabha. One can therefore expect that 7 members from the state should ideally be from UPA. However, before 10 June 2022, 7 members from the state were from NDA while only 3 from UPA. The change of government in the state in 2018 couldn’t be translated into a corresponding change in the Rajya Sabha.

Let’s take another example, that of UP. The state sends 31 members to Rajya Sabha. Out of this, term of 10 members is expected to end in 2024, another 10 in 2026 and balance 11 in 2028. The assembly polls to UP concluded earlier this year and NDA bagged around 68% of the total seats. One could therefore expect that NDA will send at least 7 members in 2024 and another 7 in 2026, give or take a few seats. Hypothetically assume that the government in UP changes in 2027. In such a case, NDA’s representation in Rajya Sabha will have no impact till 2032, despite the change of government. 

So, what’s the problem with this scheme of things? The core challenge is that, because of the misalignment between electoral cycle of Rajya Sabha members vis-a-vis state assemblies, often Rajya Sabha members are not elected by the current assemblies. Hence, the constitutional intent of creating the Rajya Sabha gets compromised. No wonder, Rajya Sabha is often used as tool to settle political scores. Clearly, this situation is not tenable and hence there is a strong case for finding out possible solutions to correct this.

We propose a potential solution to address the above challenge. Peg the term of Rajya Sabha members with the term of the state assembly they represent. How will this work? Assume that a particular state assembly is constituted in December 2022. Say this state has 10 seats in Rajya Sabha. Implementing this proposal would mean that once the assembly is constituted, elections to all 10 Rajya Sabha seats from this state would need to be held; preferably within 6 months (i.e. by June 2023). This means that all 10 Rajya Sabha members from that state will need to be re-elected by June 2023 in one go. Effectively, if the state assembly follows the term cycle of Dec 2022, Dec 2027 and so on, the term of all Rajya Sabha members of that state would consequently follow the cycle of June 2023, June 2028 and so on. Term of Rajya Sabha members will thus be reduced from 6 years to 5 years (lesser in case of premature dissolution of assembly). Scheme of one third members retiring every 2nd year will also go away. If a state assembly is dissolved prematurely, then the members would need to be re-elected once the new assembly is constituted. 

Further, note that the domicile requirement has also been done away with. So, assemblies will continue to retain the current flexibility in nominating their representatives. The permanent nature of this house will also be maintained as Rajya Sabha polls will take place only post the constitution of the assembly. Permanence will hold true even in the case of simultaneous elections, where Lok Sabha and assembly elections are held together, as Rajya Sabha will continue to remain alive for six months post constitution of assemblies. Thus, parliamentary business can continue as usual even during the period Lok Sabha is getting constituted. 

There have been demands for urgent corrective reforms in Rajya Sabha. A few have gone to the extent of scrapping Rajya Sabha altogether. While such drastic measures are not warranted, there is no denying that status quo needs a change. Aligning term of Rajya Sabha with that of state assemblies could be one bold step in ensuring that the vision of the Constituent Assembly behind setting up Rajya Sabha is truly preserved in letter and spirit.

Bibek Debroy (L) and Kishore Desai (R)

Bibek Debroy
Chairman, Economic Advisory Council 
to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM)
Kishore Desai
Public policy professional and  former OSD at the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM)


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