Rajya Sabha is known as the House of elders because the minimum age for its membership is 30, unlike 25 for the Lower House. It does not have as much power as the Lok Sabha. For instance, the Rajya Sabha cannot veto any money Bill passed by the Lok Sabha. If it does so, all that the Lok Sabha has to do is to pass the money Bill again and it will become the law of the land.
Manmohan Singh was once finance minister and then served two terms as Prime Minister but he did not become a member of the Lok Sabha. The fact is that he could have contested an election and easily won but the Congress did not want him to do so. Those days only a person who is ordinarily a resident of a state could be elected to the Rajya Sabha, also known as the House of States, from that state.
Poor Manmohan Singh had to take on rent a small house in Guwahati to create a Guwahati address and get elected successively to the Rajya Sabha from that Northeastern state. In India, laws are changed to suit the convenience of those in power.
For instance, the government gave free air and rail tickets to Members of Parliament (MPs) and their spouses to attend Parliament sessions and return to their constituencies.
But when some MPs wanted to take with them their girlfriends, mistresses, instead of their wives, the rule was amended. Instead of “spouse”, MPs can take any “companion” on such official journeys. Gender also does not matter. The Opposition, especially the BJP, used to make fun of Manmohan Singh’s inability to win a Lok Sabha election.
It is a different matter that the most powerful Minister in the Modi Cabinet — Arun Jaitley — who holds the portfolios of defence and finance and who has no compunction in using an Indian Air Force aircraft to go to Kerala to console the family of an RSS worker is a Rajya Sabha member.
The lady who contested unsuccessfully against Rahul Gandhi in the 2014 election — Smriti Irani — was inducted in the Union Cabinet on Day 1. The induction was against political and electoral morality.
To get elected to the Rajya Sabha was never considered a great achievement. When O Rajagopal of the BJP could not get elected from Kerala, the party brought him to the Rajya Sabha via Madhya Pradesh though he never lived in that state. Any party which has the requisite number of seats in a state Assembly can get any Tom, Dick and Harry elected from there to the Rajya Sabha.
In the recent biennial election to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, there were three vacancies. The BJP had the requisite strength to send two of its members to the Upper House, and the Congress one. The BJP’s nominees were party chief Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani. The Congress candidate was Ahmed Patel, a veteran parliamentarian and Sonia Gandhi’s private secretary.
The election would have been a smooth affair if Amit Shah had not decided not to let Patel become a member of the same House to which he was elected. The vainglorious leader wanted to humiliate him and through him Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Thus began one of the worst episodes in parliamentary history.
There is not a single Muslim representing Gujarat in the two Houses of Parliament. In fact, there are only one or two Muslim ministers in the BJP-ruled states. This does not show the country in a good light. From this point of view also the BJP should not have opposed Patel’s candidature.
Instead, Shah and Co. unleashed all their deadly weapons against Patel. The first attempt was to influence the fellow RSS man Shankersinh Vaghela, who had found a sanctuary in the Congress, to leave the Congress and thereby split the Congress legislature party.
Vaghela claimed that he had the support of a majority of the Congress MLAs. He is a good bluffer as the Congress would have learnt since his arrival in the party when he found that his career in the BJP had reached a dead end. But he could not influence more than five MLAs. That is when the Congress decided to take the party MLAs to Karnataka for safekeeping.
It is not the first time that a political party has taken its MLAs to safe places to save them from poaching. Instead of ridiculing the Congress for its act of desperation, the party used the levers of administration to organise raids on the Congress leaders in Karnataka who gave them sanctuary.
The BJP did not show any reluctance in spending dozens of crores of rupees to defeat Patel. In the end, the overzealousness of two Congress turncoats put paid to Amit Shah’s plans. They did a foolish thing. They showed the ballot papers to Shah to convince him that they indeed voted for the BJP candidate. In doing so, they violated the secret nature of voting.
Patel needed 45 votes to win the election but when the Election Commission, after seeing the video images of the two MLAs showing their ballot papers to Shah, invalidated their votes, he needed only 44 votes to win. And he got exactly those many votes. That is how Patel was elected to the Rajya Sabha. Just to please Shah, virtually half the Union Cabinet presented itself before the EC in its bid to bulldoze it to take a decision favourable to the BJP.
It must be said in eternal fairness to the EC that it went by the rule book, not Shah’s firman, while taking the decision. The result is a body blow to Shah.
Ordinarily, the BJP should have objected to the party chief making the election a needlessly prestige issue for him and the organisation. Alas, the party is not in a position to take a stand against Shah, who thinks it was Patel who sent him to jail for his alleged involvement in the encounter killings which had become common in Gujarat when Modi was the Chief Minister. Incidentally, once the encounter specialists were put behind bars, encounters stopped in Gujarat!
An impression has been created that Amit Shah is a great political strategist. Is he a great strategist as he is made out to be by the friendly media? Now, let’s see how his master Modi consolidated his position in Gujarat.
The BJP was losing ground when he became Chief Minister. Every by-election result was going against the party. That is when Godhra happened. There are many versions of how the karsevaks were burnt to death. May their soul rest in peace!
Whatever be the proximate cause of the train burning, the fact is that the BJP exploited the tragedy to foment communal trouble. In the words of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi failed to do Raj Dharma. The failure to do Raj Dharma helped him to consolidate the Hindu votes and return to power.
Left to himself, Modi would have held elections in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots and swept the poll.
Again, it was the Election Commission which stood in the way. Modi abused the then Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh and insinuated that he took orders from Sonia Gandhi when they attended the church together. Little did Modi know that Lyngdoh was an atheist who never went to any church or temple or mosque but did the job entrusted to him under the Constitution of India.
History is replete with instances of demagogues winning elections. Those who give a clean chit to the Modi government in Gujarat cannot overlook the fact that a lady who was a Cabinet minister was tried and punished for her involvement in the riots. She is still in jail. It is a different matter that the chief instigators escaped the long arms of the law.
Of course, Modi was able to capture the imagination of a section of the voters who were misled to believe that the UPA government was thoroughly corrupt while the BJP leaders were as white as lily white.
That is why Modi was able to come to power at the Centre. He made lavish promises none of which has been fulfilled so far. It is a measure of his hold on the party that he was able to have his Sancho Panza as the party chief. True, the party achieved some successes under Amit Shah. To deny it would be to close one’s eyes to reality.
In the 2014 elections, Shah was in charge of Uttar Pradesh. There were a series of communal incidents in the state which he exploited to the party’s benefit. That is how some of those who should have been in jail are now in Parliament or the Union ministry. It does not behove a political strategist to appeal to the base instincts of the people.
In the election held immediately after the Lok Sabha election in Delhi, the BJP was reduced to an auto rickshaw party. In Bihar, where Modi and Shah tried all the tricks of the trade, they could not come anywhere near the RJD-JDU-Congress combine. Accepting political reality is not something germane to Shah or Modi.
In the recent elections in UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa, the party lost in Punjab, Manipur and Goa but it managed to form governments by flexing its money and muscle power in Manipur and Goa. It is determined to rid India of the Congress. Its actions in Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal show that its real aim is to rid the country of all opposition.
Laloo Prasad’s sons who are MLAs in Bihar were teenagers when the fodder scam occurred. They were not in politics when the latest allegation against Laloo that he made money in some land transaction happened. Yet, this was used as a pretext to separate the JDU from the RJD.
Remember that it was not long ago that Nitish Kumar considered Modi unworthy of even sitting together. Shah’s genius lies in doing anything and everything to achieve his ambition. Once Gujarat gave rise to a leader by the name Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who said means must also be good to attain good ends.
Shah is trained in street politics. In the great Mahabharata war, Karna had great difficulty because the Pandavas wanted him to honour all the promises he made while they themselves were ready to do all the cheating.
It is difficult to believe that Shah would forget the drubbing he received in his own Gujarat. He has power and he thinks that with power, he can do anything he wants. He wants to win Kerala. His party in Kerala is nowhere near power but that has not prevented some of its leaders from collecting crores of rupees from businessmen in the name of getting favours from the Central government. They have proved themselves to be good middlemen.
The BJP is good at spreading misinformation. Once Modi made the mistake of comparing Kerala to Somalia when the fact is that it will take several decades for Gujarat to catch up with Kerala in terms of life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate and mother’s mortality rate. Now it wants to give the impression to the world at large that the Marxists are killing RSS workers. Unlike anyone else in the country, the RSS cadres are the only ones who are given weapon training.
Statistics prove that the Marxists have suffered more at the hands of the RSS. Most of those slain in Kerala are Hindus, whether RSS or Marxist. The other day I heard a speech wherein a BJP leader who happens to be a woman threatened the CPM general secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan that he might not have a peaceful death. The BJP would like to follow the Gujarat model to come to power in Kerala.
A ray of hope in the otherwise dark horizon is that there were some MLAs, including one in the BJP, who were ready to stand up to Shah and vote according to their conscience. And that is how Ahmed Patel was elected. Let Shah&Co realise that the average Indian wants peace and progress, not the trishul that they offer to stick into their rival’s body! Satyameva Jayate.
The writer, a senior journalist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org(Published on 14th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 33)