Why Indians mustn't be surprised by Rajya Sabha bazaar

Our founding fathers played good cop, bad cop and ensured both a white parliament and a black parliament.

 |  6-minute read |   04-06-2016
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Did you know that the House of Lords in the United Kingdom was a sort of paid parliament where you could actually buy your way into having a seat there? The concept was called "cash for peerages". The Prime Minister David Lloyd government was involved in long-term sale of such honours.

The Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 was brought in after that to stop such a concept, but white money donations merely got converted into black. Moreover, only one person has been convicted under that Act in 90 years.

Pay a donation to the party in power. Enter the House of Lords at a later date. It's as simple as that. Former prime minister, Tony Blair, was involved in such a controversy in 2006. Four wealthy individuals gave £14 million in loans to Labour. The four found themselves in the House of Lords after that.

rajyasabhabazaar-emb_060316110243.jpg 

Now here's the thing. This was a major scandal in the 1920s itself, so why did our founding fathers model the Rajya Sabha on the House of Lords after Independence? We didn't have the concept of British Lords (Maharajahs and Rajahs only), so why did our founding fathers want to create Indian Lords?

Didn't this, in fact, endorse the concept of buying influence through Parliament? Lok Sabha for the people and Rajya Sabha for influence! While our founding fathers are generally beyond question, why did they go in for such an Upper House in the first place?

The US system is clear. In the House of Representatives, the larger states have larger representation but there are two Senators per state, so every state is equal there. The UK had the legacy of real lords, and hence they created the House of Lords.

But what purpose does the Rajya Sabha serve in India? Actually maybe it does serve a great purpose and is truly representative of the maddeningly contradictory nation that we call India.

There is a black money economy and a white money economy. Want to get some work done in a government? Pay white money and get a receipt. Also grease the palms of a government official and get no receipt for the same.

Want to start a business? Maintain extensive white money records and black money ones too. It's India's biggest open secret, the black and white divide. So why shouldn't that happen in Parliament? Get into the Lok Sabha through votes and get into the Rajya Sabha through money!

rajyasabhabazaar-2_060316110254.jpg An MLA caught demanding money for votes in the India Today sting operation 'Rajya Sabha Bazaar'.

(That there are allegations of Lok Sabha tickets being bought and voters being bribed is a different story and that would be complicating matters here, so let us leave it out!)

Then aren't we a truly federal nation? Don't our poor old MLAs have the right to have a say in Parliament? They can't influence the Lok Sabha and so the Rajya Sabha is ideal for them. People vote for the MLAs (and sometimes get money and freebies for the same) and MLAs vote for Rajya Sabha MPs (and sometimes they get a black money fee for the same!). It all makes sense at one level!

Everyone makes money in both black and the white, so why leave the poor MLAs out of it? Then what if a poor ole industrialist has to meet ministers at a regular level and travel the world for his business, what does he do? No matter how much he earns, he may face roadblocks all the way.

Well now all he has to do is make a party donation of a few modest hundred crores (wink wink nudge nudge! He has thousands of crores to spare anyway) and he gets membership to the most exclusive club in India where he can get to meet the prime minister and all the ministers on a regular basis.

He can have chai pe charcha with them and break bread in a subsidised canteen. And what's more he gets a diplomatic passport so he can travel the world at will for his business. (Or even to get away from pesky probes and stay in a foreign land for some time.)

Plus there's real job security as a Rajya Sabha MP. You never know when a coalition government in a Lok Sabha will fall leading to general elections and you losing your MP ticket. That's not the case with the Rajya Sabha. It's a fixed term for 6 years and you don't care for any aaya ram gaya ram government.

Then what if the founding prime minister just died and you want to bring his daughter into the government without doing the messy job of elections? Just give her a Rajya Sabha ticket and make her a minister. Simple.

Then what if the founding prime minister's daughter's daughter-in-law wants to make someone the prime minister but that someone is totally, totally incapable of winning a Lok Sabha election even against a BJP leader whose name everyone has forgotten today?

Give him a Rajya Sabha ticket, of course! It doesn't matter if the state he is representing happens to be a few thousand kilometres away from his home state. What if a dynamic prime minister wants to make his good friend both the finance minister and defence minister?

rajyasabhabazaar-emb_060316110622.jpg India Today's sting-op #RajyaSabhaBazaar has caused an uproar in the upper house.

But this friend has just lost the Lok Sabha elections: The good ol' Rajya Sabha to the rescue, of course?

Actually, come to think of it, this is indeed a magical House! Any industrialist can enter through the back door. You can put in a member of your precious family easily without the hassle to getting people to elect them directly.

Then all party leaders cannot choose members of the Lok Sabha. They might watch helplessly as their friends and family lose it for the Lok Sabha. Not so for the Rajya Sabha! They can feel like company chairmen hiring who they choose in order to keep a tab on Parliament.

They can plan grand strategies in case of Rajya Sabha seats with unclear positions of MLAs. The Lok Sabha is an arranged marriage which you have to accept. The Rajya Sabha is a love marriage where you can choose your spouse. Party leaders must actually love the Upper House!

White money. Black money. White economy. Black economy. Number one. Number two. White Parliament. Black Parliament?

Come to think of it, our founding fathers were absolute geniuses.

They knew what they were doing after all!

Writer

Sunil Rajguru Sunil Rajguru @sunilrajguru

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

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