The last session of Parliament during the tenure of UPA-II has ended. This gives me an opportunity to look back at the past five years on the functioning of Rajya Sabha where I had an opportunity to function as Leader of Opposition and the leader of my own party. It gives me a great satisfaction that the past five years saw some of the most outstanding debates in the Rajya Sabha where a large number of Members from both the Treasury and the Opposition participated. It is my regret that a lot of valuable time was lost on account of disturbances and confrontationist politics. On an overall analysis I have not the least doubt that high quality debates serve a larger public purpose and even enable the Opposition and other Members to achieve much more through debates rather than the disturbances. A well prepared Opposition has an added advantage of embarrassing the Government by confronting some ministers who may be inadequately prepared to deal with the issues.
I was going through my personal records to recollect some of the most outstanding debates which have been held in the Rajya Sabha in the past five years. The full facts of the 2G spectrum allotment were unearthed and highlighted in a three day long debate in the Monsoon session of 2009. The then Telecom Minister Shri A. Raja who was being accused of the scam was put to hard time to defend himself. A large number of facts unknown till then made in the course of the debate are now a part of the CBI charge-sheet against the accused in the said case.
The Prime Minister issued a joint communiqué with the Prime Minister of Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh where India’s concern on terrorism were made sub-servient to the Government policy on negotiation with Pakistan. The Rajya Sabha witnessed an outstanding debate in the form of clarifications from the Prime Minister on the Sharm-el-Sheikh draft. The debate which followed the statement issued on the climate change negotiations at Copenhagen went into detailed intricacies of the climate change draft. The quality of debate could be an object of envy to the experts on the subject.
The Justice Liberhan Commission report on the incidents of 6th December 1992 was debated in both Houses of Parliament. The debate continued into the late hours of the evening where Members highlighted absorbing facts from the contents of the report either highlighting the allegations or pointing out the contradictions. The impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen saw a two-day debate in the Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha had turned into a court room where the Members heard the Judge for several hours. The plea of the Judge was considered and Members analysed the facts on record and finally found the Judge guilty. The issues relating to North East in terms of the communal strife in Dubri and Kokrajhar as also attack on the North East students and youths in other parts of the country was repeatedly debated in the Rajya Sabha. The Members closed ranks in larger national interest to emphasise the sanctity of these issues of North East.
Issues of corruption dominated the Rajya Sabha. From specific issues such as Commonwealth Games scam, the Coal Block allocation scam, the VVIP Helicopter deal to general issues relating to rise of corruption in the country were debated at length. The Lokpal Bill was debated twice over. There was an aborted discussion on 29th December 2011 which stopped at midnight where the majority Members appeared to be against the weak Lokpal Bill. However, the Bill was referred to the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha which rectified the Bill and eventually the Lokpal final draft was approved by the Rajya Sabha. The arrest of the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare witnessed a heated debate of high quality in the Rajya Sabha.
Sixty years of the completion of Rajya Sabha provided an opportunity to the Members to pause and reflect on the position of Indian democracy. The debate was non-partisan and inspirational. The phone tapping of a lobbyist gave rise to the discussion on propriety of phone-tapping as also the role of lobbyists in decision-making came up for a heated discussion.
The Rajya Sabha has repeatedly discussed the functioning of several Ministries which came up for consideration. Various legislations have been passed by the Rajya Sabha; the most landmark of them being the Women’s Reservation Bill (not passed by the Lok Sabha), the Lokpal law, the Andhra Pradesh Bifurcation law, the Civil Liability on Nuclear Damages Bill, the Food Bill and the new Land Bill. On the Civil Nuclear Liability law the discussion went into detailed technicalities and was of high quality. The debate on the Women Reservation Bill and the Bill for creation of Telengana witnessed heated discussion where Members had to make speeches during disturbances. At the end of the day the debate went on despite the disturbances.
Most of these debates have been telecast live by even the Private News channels which show the public interest in the quality debates. One of the debates relating to impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen has now become a subject matter of a detailed book published by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.
When the Rajya Sabha debates, it debates well. Several Members, particularly the Chairman have been exasperated with the disturbances. He went on to comment – if the Rajya Sabha was a ‘federation of anarchists’. Members were seen on their legs for a detailed discussion on whether the comment should remain on record or not. Some agreed and others objected to it and one of the Members wondered if anarchists can have a federation. This was the Rajya Sabha at its best but hopefully there could have been greater opportunities for debate than otherwise.