Sachin Tendulkar’s intervention with the defence minister for a businessman friend has attracted attention and rightly so. But what should have been a focus long before this is the record of people like Mr Tendulkar and others in the Rajya Sabha. In many cases, those who come with giant reputations in their respective fields, be it the arts, sports or literature, amount to very little once they have been nominated to the upper house. The idea of bringing in people from all walks of life into the House is commendable. They are expected to bring with them their expertise to enrich public discourse and elevate law-making. Their contributions to public life are meant to create a holistic political environment, a move away from the often humdrum functioning of the lower House. But time and again, we see the government nominating people like Lata Mangeshkar, Rekha and sundry sportsmen and artistes who simply do not even turn up for a minimum number of days to the House. Undoubtedly, they have work and other commitments. But having accepted the position, it is incumbent on them to make an effort to bring their experience and wisdom to bear on the proceedings.
The perks of a Rajya Sabha MP are considerable though the luminaries mentioned above perhaps do not need these. They are expected to raise issues related to their core competence, not to mention issues of national importance when the occasion arises. There has to be a system of accountability when one enters the Rajya Sabha in the form of at least a minimum level of attendance. In an earlier instance, actor Mithun Chakraborty’s frequent absences had come to light upon which the Trinamool Congress, which had nominated him, publicly stated that he had been rewarded for his services to the party and that he was not expected to do much more than make an occasional guest appearance. This is to undermine the efforts of those who take their position seriously and attend Parliament after having diligently done their homework.
The Rajya Sabha has the luxury of being able to encourage the sort of debate and discussion that the Lok Sabha is not able to, preoccupied as the latter is with the nitty-gritty of governance mechanisms. The upper house can take up issues of larger national interest and indeed in the past it has witnessed scintillating debates. In future, political parties and the government must ensure that they do not nominate people who are not likely to take the job seriously. A Rajya Sabha seat cannot be considered one of grace and favour for services rendered or a sinecure for VIPs.