Queer Nominations

Article 80 (A) of the Constitution of India provides for the nomination of twelve members to the upper house of the parliament, the Rajya Sabha, by the President. The criteria for nomination is spelled out in clause 3 of the article which states  “the members to be nominated by the President under sub clause (a) of clause (1) shall consist of persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as the following, namely: literature, science, art and social service”.

As per the Gazette of India a total of 201 members have been nominated (as of 27th April, 2012) to the Rajya Sabha since the first panel of twelve luminaries that was chosen in 1952. A report entitled ‘Nominated Members of the Rajya Sabha’ lists out the names and respective tenures of all the nominees and gives the reader a brief synopsis of the contributions made by them.

Even a cursory reading of the aforesaid report will bring to light the self-congratulatory tenor of its authorship. In one of the opening paragraphs of the report one comes across these lines which, admittedly, express admirable sentiments:

“Since the political process in a democratic country like India has to be inclusive, it must not be restricted to only those who make it their profession but must encompass in its scope those who are away from it and essential for its larger goals and purposes vis-a-vis the nation. In this sense, through the mechanism of nomination, representatives with high indices of performance in diverse areas of our collective life have been chosen to contribute to the proceedings of the Council.”

No reasonable observer can decry that both the intentions of the constitutional provision and to a large extent the kind of members it has managed to get into the House are commendable. However, what really needs to be questioned is the contribution of the members thus chosen especially in light of the recent nominations, that of the actress Rekha and Sachin Tendulkar.

There is no denying the fact that scientists, journalists, social workers, artists and academicians have, occasionally, made some useful contributions to the polity. However, the questions we need to pose of these members are the follows:

  1. How often do they participate in parliamentary debates?
  2. What suggestions of any substance have they brought to the table that may affect the people at large? (Has Prof. M.S. Swaminathan’s presence in the house since 2007 made an iota of difference in the lousy agricultural policies?)
  3. What is their attendance in parliamentary proceedings when compared to the average presence of elected representatives?
  4. Is tax payer’s money well spent in the financial expenditure that accrues as a result of the nominations?

There have been serious aspersions cast on the attendance of ‘celebrities’ nominated to the house. In an article for the TOI Vishwa Mohan writes : “Poor attendance records of the celebrities including filmmakers, actors and singers during Parliamentary sessions present a grim picture of the practice of nominating those who are ‘active’ in their respective professional fields.” He goes on to note that Lata Mangeshkar, who was a member of the House from November ’99 to November ’05 attended only “six out of over 170 sittings. Illustrious though they may have been in their respective fields but it isn’t uncharitable at all to point out that the wrestler Dara Singh’s (he goes by  ‘Artiste and Agriculturist’ in the report) and artist M.F. Hussain’s contribution to the proceedings of the House are little more than inconsequential, or perhaps not even that.

If performance and participation in the House is the optic though which we view the nominees, the presence of a lot of the members makes very little sense. Lata Mangeshkar is a case in point. Why did the President, under the advice of the Council of Ministers, deem it fit to nominate her? As recognition of her prodigious vocal talents? Hasn’t conferring every known civilian honour in the land, including the Bharat Ratna, taken care of that already? The same argument could be extended to Sachin Tendulkar. Interestingly enough, his nomination has been challenged in the courts. One Mr. Ram Gopal Singh, a ex-MLA from Delhi, has moved the court to quash Tendulkar’s nomination on the grounds that he does not qualify under the provisions of article 80(a). The article clearly states that the nominees have to be from the fields of “literature, science, art and social service”. It’d be interesting to see what the court has to say on this. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Delhi High Court upheld his nomination citing his philanthropic activities as being tantamount to ‘social service’. A particularly deft, aesthetically inclined judge who’s an ardent cricket fan to boot may observe that Tendulkar has elevated batting to an extent that it now qualifies as ‘art’, at least in his case. Who knows?

Nominating the Queers

Of the twelve members that the President can nominate to the House, wouldn’t it make sense if he nominated a couple of members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community? Shouldn’t the President nominate at least a few queers – if I may be allowed that expression – (activist Harish Iyer for instance) instead of making queer nominations? They are too dispersed as a group (and their numbers indeterminate) for any political outfit to view them as a voting bloc and therefore pander to their needs. And not one of them can manage to get themselves into either house of parliament through the electoral route. Cricketers and movie stars on the other hand routinely win the favour of the electorate. Think of Kirti Azad, Md. Azharuddin, Navjot Siddhu, Shatrughan Sinha, Jayaprada et al. If the purpose of the provision of nominations is inclusiveness then it is about time that the LGBT group got its due. There is scarcely another group that has less representation in the legislative bodies. Legislative representation plays a critical role in empowering any community and ensuring that its civil liberties are protected. It is only when the highest law making body in the land sets an example that the rest of the society will follow. For as the report ‘Nominated Members of the Rajya Sabha’ itself notes on its very first page:

“That path that the great men tread,

becomes the path for others to follow.

(Mahabharat; Van Parv)”

But it may be a tad too optimistic to expect greatness from the current crop of parliamentarians.

 Rahul P Kashyap