Rajya Sabha andConstitutional Crisis
N B Rakshit
During the heyday of the Congress, it enjoyed an overwhelming majority in both the Houses of Parliament and, hence, it was easy for the Government to enact laws and even amend the Constitution. But with the breakdown of the Congress monolith, things have changed. Now either coalition-Government of minority-cabinet takes the reins without clear support in the Lok Sabha to which it is under Art 75(3), legally accountable. But, more often than not, the cabinet fails to secure majority-support in the Rajya Sabha. In such case, of course, it is not required to step down, but lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha sometime puts the cabinet to troubles.
For this reason, the BJP-led cabinet at the Centre often faces acute problems to pursue its actions or adopt measures in consonance with its avowed objectives. However, the Founding Fathers could hardly contemplate that things would take such a turn as a result of the changed political perspective.
As Art. 79 suggests, Indian Parliament consists of two Houses – Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. Of course, some members like Md Tahir, Sibban Lal Saxena and Jayaprakash Narayan were in favour of a unicameral Parliament, because in their view, such legislature could work smoothly and without complexities. But Sardar K M Panikkar, Gopalswamy Ayanger and Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayar strongly pleaded for a bicameral legislature due to its multiple advantages. The Union Constitution Committee also accepted this view. So, ultimately, a bicameral Parliament was created. But instead of making them co-equal partners, the makers legally made the Lok Sabha more powerful than the other chamber. Yet the Rajya Sabha can, occasionally, frustrate the intentions of the Lok Sabha by exercising its recognised powers.
But the intention of the makers of the constitution was quite different.
They actually presented three arguments for creating an upper chamber. First, the Indian political system was federal which required, as a natural concomitant, the bicameral legislature. They thought that while the Lok Sabha would be a popular body, the Rajya Sabha would represent the units of the federation and would, eventually, prevent the centralising tendency of the system. Secondly, eminent persons hardly agreed to contest for parliamentary seats, but the existence of the upper House would give the Head of the State an opportunity to involve them in the parliamentary affairs by means of nomination. Thirdly, a bicameral Parliament would hardly be despotic and erratic, because each of the chambers would exercise a regulatory authority over the other and keep it within necessary restraint.
Of course, following the British system, they carefully divided powers between them in such a manner that the Lok Sabha has become more powerful than the other House. In fact, the Rajya Sabha is, in several respects, a weak partner of the Lok Sabha. For example, Under Art. 75(3), the Council of Ministers or the Cabinet is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha and hence, the former has to resign whenever it is outvoted in this House. But the Rajya Sabha cannot pull down a cabinet by passing a motion of no-confidence or that of censure. Secondly, as Art. 109(1) suggests, a Money Bill can, by no means, be introduced in the Rajya Sabha – in every case it is to be raised before the Lok Sabha and, when it is passed, the former can neither reject nor modify it in any manner. In other words, the authority of the Rajya Sabha with regard to Money Bills is very little, if not totally non-existent.
But, in other matters, two Houses enjoy co-equal powers. The constitution has been so framed that in some crucial matters they need to act in harmony. In fact, participation and collaboration of both the Houses are essential for the legislative business and other important activities of the Government. They have the same powers in matters of election, ordinary legislation, amendment of the constitution, impeachment of some high officials, approval of Emergency act.
But, as a matter of fact, the Founding Fathers could harldy contemplate that the two Houses would, in future, disagree on any matter. The dominating position of the Congress during the making of the constitution actually prompted them to determine a particualr type of relationship between the two Houses. It was not at all thought that, in future, the political condition might change and that the two Houses would be dominated by different parties or hostile groups of parties. In fact, if the ruling authorities fail to secure a comfortable majority in the Rajya Sabha, some troubles may come up and, ultimately, they may even create a constitutional deadlock.
With regard to ordinary Bills, the Rajya Sabha, however, enjoys equal authority with the Lok Sabha. If the Government fails to obtain majority in the Rajya Sabha, every ordinary Bill raised by the Ministers would be rejected by it and, under Art.108, a joint-sitting of two Houses would be necessary in order to decide the fate of such Bill. It is often believed that the Government will eventually win over the Opposition in the joint sitting, because the numerical strength of the Lok Sabha (545) is more than double the membership of the other House (250). But the fallacy of such logic lies in the fact that the joint sitting hardly implies a battle of numbers between the two Houses — it is actually a division between the government and the opposition. In such case, the opposition may even carry the day by utilising its numerical supremacy over the Rajya Sabha. An illustration would suffice to substantiate our point. Let us suppose that in the Lok Sabha, an ordinary Bill is passed by 300/200 votes, but, in the Rajya Sabha, the Government Opposition voting ratio is 70:180. In such case, the opposition will, in the joint sitting, win by 380/370 votes. A government has to pass some thousands of ordinary Bills during its normal term, but during such party aligment, every joint-sitting is sure to mark its defeat and, resultantly, may hasten the resignation of the P M.
Secondly, two Houses exercise equal authority in removing some dignified functionaries. But, in a changed situation, it may create some problem. Under Art. 61, the President may be removed from office for ‘violation of the constitution if such a resolution is passed by two-thirds majority in both the Houses. But if it is passed by the Lok Sabha and rejected by the Rajya Sabha, the President would be entitled to honourably stick to his office though the popular chamber has found him guilty of a gross defiance of the constitution. Similarly, the removal of the Vice-President, the Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts and the Chief Election Commissioner requires the concurrence of the two Houses. So, in case such resolution of the Lok Sabha is rejected in the Rajya Sabha, these dignitaries would honourably remain in office in spite of their dubious credibility in the public mind.
Though the President can under Articles 352, 356 and 360, proclaim three types of Emergency, they require, for their continuance, the endorsement of both the Houses. If such a resolution is passed in the Lok Sabha without the concurrence of the other House, then the President would be legally bound to revoke the proclamation, though the country might be in need of such presidential intervention.
Last, but not the least, Art. 368 makes them equal in matters of the amendment of the constitution. So, if the Rajya Sabha rejects an important Amendment-Bill of the lower House only to play politics, the progress of the nation would be totally retarded by such power-conflict between the two Houses.
Thus, constitutional crisis may develop in the state when the Opposition dominates over the Rajya Sabha. For example in 1977, Janata Dal formed the cabinet by having absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, but Congress (I) had, at that time, a thumping majority in the Rajya Sabha. So, the process of 43rd and 45th amendments was substantially halted. Particularly, the Rajya Sabha agreed to accept the 45th Amendment Bill of the Lok Sabha on condition that five clauses of the Bill would be deleted and an enquiry into the business activities of Kanti Desai, the P M’s son, was to be held. Obviously, such a proposal cannot be palatable to a Government and, hence, it rejected it.
So, it can be claimed that the role of the Rajya Sabha becomes quite different and, even obstructive when the Indian politics casts off its one-party dominance and offers a favourable position to the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. In such case, the Rajya Sabha may prevent the important measures of the Lok Sabha in order to take the wind out of the Government’s sail.
In that sense, the Rajya Sabha has a danger-potentiality and, unless it is sufficiently offset by the numerical supremacy of the ruling side in both the Houses, every chaos may lead to a crisis. Thus, even with less authority, the Rajya Sabha may become a gallant rival of the other House and put the Government to troubles if the ruling party or group fails to capture majority-seats in it.
In other words, for a smooth working of the administration, the ruling party or group needs a comfortable majority in both the Houses. Normally, the government is backed by the required majority in the Lok Sabha. But if the Opposition dominates over the Rajya Sabha, it may land the former in an embarrassing situation by rejecting the crucial measures. The Government is now, once again, in a fix, because it has, at present, no majority in this House.