Shouldn't the government's nominees for the Rajya Sabha have shown some interest in public affairs, some evidence that they have an understanding of national issues, asks Sherna Gandhy.
When Press Council of India Chairman Justice Markandya Katju remarked recently, much to the country's consternation, that 90 per cent of Indians are fools, he probably had in mind those who suggested the names of Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha as fit candidates for the Rajya Sabha, and those who think these nominations are a great idea.
What are we trying to do?
Make a joke of Parliamentary institutions, which anyway provide enough mirth should we be in the habit of laughing at things that should make us cry?
Yes, Sachin is a great cricketer and Rekha may have been a great actress, and yes, people from diverse walks of life have every right to become nominated members of the Rajya Sabha (though former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash Kashyap says nominations can only be made under the categories art, literature, science and social, under Article 80 of the Constitution).
I don't care what field nominees have excelled in, they should still be eligible for nomination. But shouldn't they have shown some interest in public affairs, some evidence that they have a grasp or understanding of national issues?
Shouldn't we know via interviews or their writings whether or not they have some intelligence and are capable of reasoned debate?
Shabana Azmi, an actress, made it to the Rajya Sabha and I am happy she did. She may not have done anything substantial once she got there (but then, who does?) but she was a vigorous participant in public affairs and spoke and wrote enough on public issues for us to judge that she was a good choice.
What have we heard from Rekha or Sachin apart from comments on their films/matches?
Before someone trots out a predictable line of argument, let me pre-empt it. Very few of us know who even the elected Rajya Sabha members are, since they are not elected directly by the citizens as Lok Sabha MPs are. And given our distrust of politics, we are sure in our cynicism that many of them couldn't be a very bright bunch. So, why object to Sachin, Rekha and their ilk?
Well, for the obvious reason that we don't need more of the same. If Justice Katju is right, there is still 10 per cent of the population that can be called upon to fill the benches of the Upper House with more substance than style.
As for the argument that this is a way of honouring people who have excelled in their fields, let me just say -- not at our expense. There are Padmas and Ratnas and what-not for that purpose.
Film stars, and maybe now cricketers, are nominated in the hope that they will make the public warm to the party that proposed them. These days, when the Congress is distinctly feeling a Siberia-like chill creeping into its relations with voters, the party hopes that Sachin will usher in a much-needed thaw.
And it may be right. The films-and-cricket craze that Justice Katju pointed to as proof of the lack of grey matter in the Indian population, may well help boost the party's ratings.
But if that is all the Rajya Sabha is about, then why have it?
If all we want in Parliament are people that other people fawn over, let's get rid of this nomination business, since it may help individual parties, but not we, the people.
True, even elected representatives of both Houses are often not worth a groat (look at that jabber-mouth Navjot Singh Sidhu), but unfortunately, in the system of parliamentary democracy we have opted for, we cannot do without elected members, who perform a function, however badly.
There seems no reason, though, why we should shoulder the financial burden (and it is a hefty one) of unelected Rajya Sabha members who really don't add anything to the Rajya Sabha except a pretty face, and a doughty reverse swing or whatever it is that cricketers do with a bat.
The Rajya Sabha obviously does not have the powers of the Lok Sabha, but it does have a role and responsibilities and can be a force for good if it is staffed by the right people.
Maybe 12 nominated members cannot do much harm if they are a set of well-intentioned folk. But if they are public-spirited men and women of some intelligence, they could be influential.
And, God knows, we need whatever help we can get when it comes to good governance and sensible, just and equitable policies.