As the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian parliament) marks the 250th session of the House, its significant role in the advancement of India’s political democracy needs to be recalled in glorious terms. It has undeniably risen to the occasion in the interest of nation, since its inception in 1952. From passing the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Bill in 1952 to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill in 2019 to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in 2019, it has left an indelible mark in the long, graceful and elegant political history of India.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu who is also the Chairman of Rajya Sabha rightly observed that the Upper House has come a long way in addressing the challenges and meeting the requirements of the nation from time to time. “But we still have miles to go in letting our country realize its full potential by making up for the missed time and opportunities and in respect of the functioning of the House itself”, the Vice President said.
From its first sitting on May 13, 1952 to the 249th session on August 7, 2019, the Upper House held a total of 5,466 sittings. During this period, it passed a total of 3,817 Bills, including 108 Constituent Amendment Bills. In the last 67 years of its illustrious existence, as many as 2,282 persons have had the opportunity of being members of the House, including 208 women and 137 nominated members. This presents substantially a meaningful journey the House has undertaken since the 1950s.
However, adding weight to its existence is its continuance in perpetuity. In the country’s bicameral parliamentary system, while Lok Sabha is dissolved usually every five years or earlier by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, Rajya Sabha continues to enjoy eternal life.
In his address to Parliamentarians in the ongoing 250th session of the House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi correctly said that Rajya Sabha is representative of India’s diversity and is a reflection of the country’s federal structure. As envisioned by the country’s Constitution, the House has also been an integral part of the socio-economic transformation in the country. It has contributed to the nation building efforts in the past more than six decades. Whether it were the case of poverty alleviation or fighting illiteracy, disease, unemployment, terrorism, social, political, economic problems or finding solution to climate change and rising environment pollution, Rajya Sabha’s sterling role cannot be underestimated.
In the recent past, crucial bills like Goods and Services Tax, Triple Talaq, Reservation to 10 per cent Economically Weaker Section from Upper Castes and abrogation of Article 370 were passed in Rajya Sabha. In the context of Article 370, the Prime Minister’s statement in the Upper House merits attention. He said Article 370, which gave special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, was introduced in Rajya Sabha by the first leader of the House N Gopalaswami Ayyangar. Decades later the contentious Article was revoked in the same House.
However, there is yet another glory attached with Rajya Sabha. Over the years, it has attracted quality citizens from different walks of life. Father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar was twice a member of the Rajya Sabha. This sentiment was also echoed by Prime Minister Modi when he said Rajya Sabha has benefitted veterans from different fields including arts, science and sports. Their presence not only brought quality and value to debates on crucial issues of high public interests, but also infused enthusiasm and life in the overall functioning of the Upper House.
The Prime Minister quoted former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as saying on the occasion of 200th session of Rajya Sabha in 2003, that ”no one should make the mistake of treating our second House as the secondary House. Indeed, presence of highly educated persons including scientists, doctors, artists, university professors and others in the Upper House, has not only enriched democratic spirit of the country, but also enhanced the agenda of national importance”.
This landmark saga of Rajya Sabha, which is the Upper House of Indian parliament is happening at a time when world over the continuance of bicameral system and the Houses of Elders are being constantly questioned. The legacy of Rajya Sabha thus makes us proud as Indians.
Script: Shankar Kumar, Senior Journalist