Every time there is a Rajya Sabha election round the corner, lobbying gathers momentum. Apart from politicians who have failed to win or have little hope of winning a direct election (to the Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha), there are countless others – industrialists, activists, journalists, actors and so on – who make a beeline for anyone they think can help them get a nomination or the backing of a political party, more so when it is a ruling party.
Many of them are willing to pay their way through to a Rajya Sabha ticket and then spend a fortune in buying support for themselves, particularly when the numbers in the Assembly do not make for a clear winner. There was this infamous case a few years ago in which a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was caught with suitcaseful of cash while trying to buy support for himself after his retirement from the apex court. Then there are those who have severed their life-long ties with one party without any qualms after being promised a Rajya Sabha ticket by another party.
Like the aspirants themselves, MLAs look forward to Rajya Sabha elections with bated breath. After all, it is an opportunity for them to earn a hefty sum in exchange for their support for a particular candidate. Of course, things have become much more discreet after the introduction of the open ballot system, which has made it difficult to hide who voted for whom. But ingenious lot that they are, politicians have found out other avenues of ensuring a favourbale result. Abstentions are one such weapon frequently taken recourse to. One has seen perfectly healthy and fit members of the Assembly get themselves admitted to hospitals, often at places other than the state capital, in the nick of time to explain away their ‘tactical’ abstention from voting. There are others who would vote but make sure that their votes are rejected during scrutiny so as to benefit the candidate of their choice without defying the party whip.
While the antics of the voting MLAs are understandable, what baffles one is the craze for a Rajya Sabha seat among perfectly sensible, respectable people who have achieved a lot in their respective fields. Ask them and they would, in all probability, say that they want to raise the voice of the people of the state in Parliament. [It is another matter that once elected, many of them would just sit through the deliberations for the entire duration of their term without once ‘raising the voice of the people’.] There are others who would say they want to ‘serve the people’. But one wonders if becoming a member of the RS is the only way to ‘serve the people’!
I have often wondered about the possible motivation for such people to chase a place in the Upper House. An opportunity to sit at the high table could be one and the perks that come with being a member of the House of Elders another. The possibility of a ministerial berth could be the motivation for others. There could be still others for whom the tidy sum that comes by way of the MPLAD fund every year itself could be an allurement. [For all the guidelines in place for spending of the amount, most MPs treat the MPLAD funds as their personal kitty to be used to buy support and influence and dispense favours to their cronies.] Then there is the opportunity of networking that membership of the Rajya Sabha provides. For the industrialist types, the chance of being in one of the many parliamentary committees and influencing policy to benefit their business interests is a major attraction. For some, the occasional windfall during a vote of confidence or the passing of a crucial Bill too could be a possible motivation.
All this is, however, not to suggest that all members elected to the Rajya Sabha are crooks out to make a fast buck. There are several honest, well-meaning members who make significant contributions through their enlightened, knowledgeable interventions during parliamentary debates on important policy issues. There are also those who ensure that every pie out of their MPLAD funds is spent on a good cause while strictly adhering to the norms. But they are too few in number to really matter.
Contrary to the lofty ideals that it had been conceived with by the founding fathers of our Constitution, the House of Elders has unfortunately become a refuge of politicians who can’t win a direct election, celebrities who use their membership to become bigger celebrities, businessmen who use their stint to further their business interests and sundry wheelers-dealers out to make a fast buck.