Federalism is far too important to be left to politicians alone
In a welcome move, India’s Supreme Court has stayed two fundamental changes to the Rajya Sabha which the previous Parliament wanted to sneak into the rule books. Those changes would have permanently destroyed the vestiges of federalism left in the Indian system. India needs a strong upper house that represents the interests of the states. In its absence, the lower house will continue to be divided along regional lines and be forever condemned with hung parliaments. States that see inadequate representation in a population-denominated representative system as the Lok Sabha will seek to vent their frustration through secessionism and insurgency. If anything, the Rajya Sabha should be strengthened perhaps along the lines of the US Senate.
The second change sought to deal away with the system of closed ballots, another hallmark of democracy.
Regardless of party affiliations, the ruling class is clearly seeking to perpetuate its hold on the spoils of power through these changes. Their intention is as clear as it is unconstitutional – the reduction of the Rajya Sabha into a back-door to parliament and cabinet. It is just as well that the Supreme Court has decided that it intends to consider putting a stop to further undermining of India’s representative institutions.
The domicile requirement has been honoured more in its breach and required another look anyway. But there has been no change in the federal principle enshrined in its system through which the strength of a party in the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha are reflected in the voting outcome. The provision to do away with the secret ballot was to prevent cross-voting and horse-trading that reportedly takes place in Rajya Sabha elections. However, the amendment had been approved by a committee of Parliament and had the support of all parties barring the Left. If the stay is not vacated, the apex court may have set the stage for a confrontation with Parliament [HT]
If the constitution is in danger of being seriously maimed, as it is now, the Supreme Court must confront Parliament.
Related Link: An editorial in The Hindu ‘Undoing the Fraud’ calls for the Election Commission to “find a way to ensure that the residency requirement intended by the Constitution-makers is honoured in substance and in spirit.”