When even popular netas like Akhilesh Yadav and Nitish Kumar choose to remain unelected legislators, they undermine the democratic integrity of the political system
“Of the people, by the people, for the people,” embodies the spirit of democracy and the need for elected leaders who are accountable to voters for the decisions they take. In India, as the largest democracy in the world, it’s ironic that the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh (Dr. Singh is a Member of the Rajya Sabha), and three Chief Ministers are unelected leaders from the second chambers. This represents both a threat to democracy and calls into question the legitimacy of their position.
Only six States have the bicameral legislatures: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Jammu & Kashmir. Among these States, three Chief Ministers (CMs), Akhilesh Yadav (U.P.), Nitish Kumar (Bihar) and Prithviraj Chavan (Maharashtra), are from their second chamber (Legislative Councils). The other three CMs, where the second chambers exist, are from the Legislative Assemblies and directly elected by the people.
The second chamber in all these States is known for its almost redundant status and abject performance. It has never been able to capture the attention of the public as an indispensable body or establish itself as a house of elders with social and political wisdom. However, interestingly, all the Members of Legislative Council (MLCs) enjoy almost the same privileges, perks, pensions and facilities as the Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
One wonders why, except in the case of Prithviraj Chavan, the two “popular” CMs, Akhilesh Yadav and Nitish Kumar, preferred to have the membership in the Legislative Council. Throughout his political career, Nitish Kumar, a follower of the great socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, contested the Assembly and the Lok Sabha (Lower House) elections. However, to the “paradox of Nitish’s identity” in politics, he chose to be a member of the legislative council during his current chief ministership for two tenures, highlighting a lack of democratic sensibility.
In March 2012, the U.P. Assembly elections illustrated the rise of Akhilesh Yadav as a popular leader. The story of Yadav, though groomed into politics through a dynasty politics, personifies the rise of virtually all young leaders in recent Indian political history; he has unmistakably become a young political leader worth watching. However, this populist leader avoided facing a direct election to the Assembly which would have given him democratic credibility. The question is why do young leaders have such a non-committal attitude towards democracy, and its institutions and practices?
The pertinent question that arises is why a chief minister or prime minister cannot be from the second chamber. The answer is that it involves less democracy: the democratic deficit between the people and their representatives is too vast with serious issues of accountability. And it undermines the democratic integrity of the political apparatus. Moreover, the position of the second chambers in the States is constitutionally inferior unlike the second chamber of Parliament in some respects.
In Tamil Nadu, A.P.
There are high political disagreements about the establishment or abolition or re-establishment of the legislative councils in the States.
In Tamil Nadu, the former CM, M. Karunanidhi wanted to revive the Legislative Council in the State, abolished in 1986 by the then CM, M.G. Ramachandran of the AIADMK government. But all his attempts, in 1989, 1996 and 2010 failed. The current CM, Jayalalithaa, has taken a vehement stand against its revival.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Legislative Council was restored in 2007 by the Congress government. In 1985, the council was abolished by the then CM, N.T. Rama Rao of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), who found the council redundant and caused a massive drain to the State exchequer. The TDP has opposed the re-establishment of the Council and categorically stated that it would abolish it again if it returns to power. Two more States, Punjab and Assam, have also asked for establishing the legislative council, and the request is pending before Parliament for its approval.
For and against
In the Constituent Assembly, there was a large body of opinion against a second chamber in the federal parliament and the provinces. Although the general consensus was in favour of a single House in the States, the Constitution-makers had to make a compromise in favour of the provision for a second chamber in the States. Jayaprakash Narayan was against second chambers, pointing out Prof. Laski’s opinion that “no safeguard necessary to the units of a federation requires the protective armor of a second chamber.” The system of indirect election is pernicious, and no second chamber has so far satisfactorily discharged the function of revising chamber.
In contrast to the above view, N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar argued, though less assertively, that the “need for second chamber has been felt practically all over the world wherever there are federations of any importance,” yet he did not attempt to justify the existence of the second chamber on any of the commonly accepted federal grounds — such as giving equal representation to the federal states. It is also important to note that the amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 which deleted the requirement of being domicile in the State concerned for getting elected to the Council of States is clearly violating the principles of federalism.
Ambedkar was not supportive of the whole concept of bicameralism, but he opined that this could be a trial or experiment in the States. With the support of prominent members in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar made amendments that drastically curtailed the powers of the second chamber in the States.
In the U.K.
In the United Kingdom, since 1722, most prime ministers had been members of the House of Commons. Since 1902, all prime ministers have been from the Commons except once in 1963. That year, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who was Lord by hereditary peerage, became the Prime Minister. Soon after becoming Prime Minister, he renounced his Lordship, successfully stood in a by-election and became a member of the House of Commons. Furthermore, most senior members of the U.K. government are members of the Commons, though there are rare exceptions.
The House of Lords, which is a live paradox of British democracy, has been heavily in the news of last year. In the Queen’s Speech 2012, the current coalition government in the U.K. has pledged to reform the House of Lords. The proposed reforms included a fundamental change to the composition of the House of Lords with most members, approximately 80 per cent of them, being elected instead of nominated. Moreover, the size or the number of Lords would be significantly cut down from about 830 to 450 (the House of Lords is the largest second chamber in the world). This would have been a historically revolutionary change. However, sensing the possible rebellion of Conservative MPs, Prime Minister David Cameron renegaded on his earlier position and withdrew his support. On August 6, 2012, and with no realistic chance of the reforms getting through the House of Commons, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced the decision to drop the House of Lords Reform legislation for the time being. While announcing it he said: “I support an elected House of Lords because I believe that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those who have to obey the laws of the land. That is democracy — and it is what people rightly expect from their politics in the 21st Century.” Further, he added: “An unelected House of Lords flies in the face of democratic principles and public opinion, and it makes a mockery of our claim to be the mother of all democracies.”
From a vantage point of democracy, both Nitish Kumar and Akhilesh Yadav conspicuously failed to bring democratic legitimacy to their position, as they are not directly elected by the people. Dr. Singh’s case is the nearest analogy, lacking a chance for a democratic recourse.
(Vinod Bhanu is Executive Director, Centre for Legislative Research and Advocacy, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.)