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Column: Why A Council At All?

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The issue of formation of a legislative council in Odisha, which will make the state legislature bicameral, is back in focus with ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) likely to push for it during the winter session of the Parliament that commenced on Monday.

Odisha Assembly had passed a resolution for the establishment of a legislative council (Vidhan Parishad) last year but for the process cannot be completed without the consent of the Parliament. The BJD, therefore, is understood to have taken up the issue with the NDA top brass.

But the debate about the need for an Upper House in the state continues with opposition leaders alleging that the ruling party’s move is driven by purely political considerations. The council, argues a section of opposition leaders, would turn into a ‘rehabilitation centre’ for defeated and disgruntled BJD leaders who need to be kept in good humour. In short, it would act a safety valve for the ruling party as far as dissidence is concerned.

Personally, I find this argument rather unconvincing considering that chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has an iron-like grip over his party at the moment and the situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Given the fact that he happens to be BJD’s sole and apparently infallible mascot in the elections no party leader, who cares for his future, would dare dissent.

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If the past can serve an example, adventurous leaders, trying to cross his path have always paid a heavy price and, in many cases, have returned to the party in sackcloth and ashes. So the argument that the chief minister needs to rehabilitate disgruntled BJD leaders actually does not hold water.

At the same time it is true that the chief minister, given the brute majority that his party enjoys in the state assembly, can also pack the council with his favourites from BJD. It would undoubtedly give him more flexibility in using his party leaders the way he wants.

Theoretically, the ruling party can also influence the selection of nominated members. From that point of view, it is always a matter of intent and one can argue either way about it. The utility of a second House in a state has always been a contentious issue with most pundits arguing that it serves a no better purpose than acting as a check on the Lower House in certain matters like when it passes a Bill in a haste.

Even that is an important function, especially in a state where the ruling party enjoys a massive majority in the assembly and can easily steamroll the opposition. But the more significant role of a legislative council would be to widen the debate on issues of public importance and make them more enlightened.

In my days as a young reporter covering the proceedings of undivided Bihar’s bi-cameral legislature, I was always fascinated by the quality of debates in the council which had veteran Dr. Umeshwar Prasad Varma as its chairman. I remember Lalu Prasad Yadav choosing the council to make some very important announcements in his first term as the chief minister of the state.

Ultimately, any House, be it Upper or Lower, is as good as its members. It is up to them to make it what it becomes. A legislative council will be worth having in Odisha if it can actually generate light and guide the state forward.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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