Best of Comment (2014)

  • Atul Sobti
  • India
  • Dec 26, 2014

Aam Sabha


The mood of the masses – the aam aadmis – is surely changing. It can no longer be ‘system as usual’. We ignore the signs at our peril. Perhaps it’s time therefore to review ceremonies and ceremonials…posts and even ‘sabhas’…to separate the Khaas from the aam - or perhaps to merge them. Surely the role of the Rajya Sabha should be made more meaningful. 

Do we really need a second (Central) Chamber in our Legislature? What is the point of a different Legislative House when its members cannot even vote differently (than their political Lok counterparts)? What price conscience? Disqualification, of course. The Rajya Sabha anyway has a restricted franchise. Its removal would really have no impact on our Federal structure – a Centre and the States would still remain. Managing the immense diversity of a vast country seemed to have played a big role in the setting up of this extra House. It was a most valid reason, but perhaps the solution was a poor choice. Surely not intended by the Founding Fathers, this Institution has perhaps laid the seeds for ‘tokenism’ - which we have today taken to such glorious heights. Rather than ensure that the diversity – of people, customs, culture – is maintained and protected, with requisite authority, the House (its membership) has become a ‘consolation prize’, a dispensation of favour to a few chosen people – by the Party boss(es). Through the Rajya Sabha the legacy of the Raj continues – while Swaraj is still outside our grasp. The Rajya Sabha also does not provide us any real ‘check’ on the Lok Sabha. The Courts, upto the Supreme, provide more than enough checks and balances on the Lok Sabha and the other Estates.

We have perhaps 2 choices:

First, if we wish to retain the Rajya Sabha:

Its role and mandate must be redefined. It should not be an adjunct of the Lok Sabha – for any matter, or any voting. The Head of the Rajya Sabha should report to the President. There should be an equal representation of members from all the States (versus ‘proportional representation’ – as per population - today). This House should not be about numbers, or about might being right. All States should be equal in the ‘new’ Rajya Sabha’s eyes. It should have independent powers to ensure, through the President, its right and might on its mandate. This scenario should also be ideal for some ‘reservations’ to be mandated – definitely for women and youth. This ‘new’ Rajya Sabha can be ideally mandated, through the President, to recommend on Inter-State matters (like water sharing or handling of the Naxalite problem), or even some Intra-State (like the creation of smaller States). The work would hopefully be more rational and meaningful than that undertaken by ‘appointed’ Committees, and would also be less politically-charged.

Alternatively, we do away with the Rajya Sabha (more palatably, ‘merge’ it):

We should add as many seats (about 250) into the Lok Sabha – in addition to the almost 530 now. This will ensure more direct representation of the people – and with the increasing education and urbanization, this will definitely be good news. Also, if making smaller States is becoming problematic, having more MPs within each State may be a good answer. This will also ensure that the Prime Minister would always have to be a member of the Lok Sabha – he/she must not just be ’put in the ‘driver’s’ seat’ as a Khaas privilege. To address diversity and ‘special’ areas, a select band of specialists, sane voices, should be nominated from chosen fields – maybe a total of 50 persons across the country. They should be chosen by a designated panel – perhaps of the Prime Minister, President, Vice President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chief Justices of a few High Courts, Leader of the Opposition and Speaker of the Lok Sabha. They could also be designated as ‘Advisors’ to appropriate Ministries. These chosen people could be from the areas of Literature, Arts, Science, Social Service, Business, Media and Sports. 

So, let us either make the Rajya Sabha more meaningful for this vast, diverse Nation, or merge it with the Lok. Maybe, in the coming days of the aam aadmi, just having an aam house of the lok would be appropriate….and sufficient. υ

NB: If legacy and the Raj nostalgia still haunt us, let us be aware that the House of Lords may soon be bereft of its lords.



Much would be made of the joint sitting of both Houses – just 3 times in our history [for Banking (1961), Dowry (1978) and POTA (2002)]. It is not much the Rajya Sabha contributed to there – except perhaps giving us the satisfaction that we ‘involved’ another House. And of course a Constitution Amendment Bill would need to be passed by both Houses. However, given the manner in which members are ‘elected’, and who all ’make it’, should not make us feel reassured on this count. And what has been, the value addition of the Rajya Sabha for the people of this country - and especially in proportion to the huge outlays on the members and their ‘support infrastructure’? What have been the members’ special abilities? Are they differently loyal than their Lok brothers?




Bharat Ratna - The Jewel in our Crown


It’s time for a Bharat Ratna for the ‘Aam Aadmi’…and for the Maha-atma - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Since the govt has now opened up the Sportsmen arena, surely no one should grudge the Aam Aadmi – after all most of the Ratnas started as Aam Aadmis (Aurats inclusive). Maybe AAP should have called itself Aam Aurat Party – it would still be AAP (and smell sweeter); it still can (there’s at least a 50% chance of a 50% plus vote). The Mahatma missed out, as there was no posthumous award earlier. This was changed in 1966, but guess he was forgotten by then. In these times, Bapu needs to come back strongly into our consciousness. 


The criteria for the Bharat Ratna, an Award established in 1955, mention: national impact, public service, performance and highest order/degree in any field of human endeavour – for both individuals and teams. The PM, after receiving recommendations from a set list of decision makers, who are to give their reasons in writing (why kept secret?), forwards the list to the President for his/her approval. There can be a maximum of 3 Bharat Ratna Awards in a year. 

It should not be difficult to find that one Aam Aadmi who’s been there and done all that, but not got covered (in Page 3) yet. Of course Bapu would walk briskly right through.


A point to ponder:

Why has no PM received a Bharat Ratna after Rajiv Gandhi? Narasimha Rao – the first non-Nehru/Gandhi to be Congress PM for a full term - has been disowned by the very Congress, and Vajpayee would have to wait for a more gracious PM. It would be a farce if Manmohan Singh were now to receive it for warming a chair for 10 years; or Sonia Gandhi, for ‘giving it all up’ till....




Our Iconic Institutions

ISRO has made the country proud…again.

It is truly a world-class institution.

We tend to award deserving men and women, but often ignore the(ir) institutions (which are surely bigger than them). Of course there are rare exceptions - like Mahatma Gandhi, who himself became an institution.

It’s a good time to pay tribute to many world-class institutions of India, and/or those that are truly exceptional in their own ways. 

The Constitution of India – the unity in our diversity.

The Election Commission – the global Tau of Voting.

The Armed Forces – our democratic force in an autocratic neighbourhood

The Supreme Court – in SC we trust; often ‘the first resort’ in public interest

The Premier Professional Institutions: IITs/IIMs/Indian Institute of Science/TIFR/NID – inspiring the aspiring millions

The Cultural Academies: of Classical & Folk Dances, Music, Songs & Theatre – cradling and showcasing our heritage

The Filmy Extravaganza: Bolly, Tolly, Kolly, Molly woods – entertaining all Indians and Bharatis – resident or not

Wholesome Food & Drink: Vegetarian food (esp. dals), spices, herbs and tea, and Amul – organically tickling the world palate

Wellsome India: Yoga & Ayurveda – holistically taking care of the body, mind and heart

Religious Thought and Language: The birthplace of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Sanskrit – travelling from Shunya to Vedanta

The Outsource IT/BPO Capital – the epitome of Binary India

The Medical Tourism ‘Hub-in-the-making’: AIIMS, Narayana Hrudayalaya, the Jaipur Foot & the private hospitalities – Get Well In India 

Taj Mahal - the most Wonderful institution of India

Vikramaditya & Vikrant - Aircraft Carriers - in time for the water wars (a rare one-up on the Chinese)

BCCI (ICC’s nom de plume) – finally beating the English at their own game

ISRO – the MOM of all scientific effort.



Commission an ERG (Workgroup)


It’s no secret that a ‘field’ person (say in corporate life or the armed forces) often thinks little of ‘staff’ people – and their role. Why should it be any different in politics or the governance of a State/Nation? The field commander of Gujarat has probably already had more than his fill of central babudom and has decided to strike at the national apex of the staff function – the Planning Commission. He has reportedly called the alternative the National Development Reforms Commission (surprising that he has retained the last word – though he usually has it anyway).

Someone will have to bell the cat. Planning (long and medium range) – more aptly, envisioning - is critical for a country, and especially one so vast and diverse as India. It may be a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) or a Scenario, but dedicatedly plan we must. And the people doing so would invariably be ‘staffers’. They provide a diversity of opinion and ideas (maybe due to reading more), which is so critical in helping chart an innovative way forward. This group of people should not be bound by any metric or 'logic', and must be composed of the most diverse of specialities and personalities.  They must be charged with only envisioning a fairly distant future - thinking of 10 and 25 years ahead. They need to as independent a body as possible – and definitely not HMVs (His Modi’s Voices). This is all the more important and relevant in the current context, as the Cabinet does lack ‘relevant experience’. Members of this Envisioning Group, about 20, should be from among academia, scientists, the Cabinet, Parliament, legislatures, judiciary, press, industry, armed forces, NGOs, artistes, doctors, doctorates and civil society. They should maybe meet 6 times a year, across different destinations in the country, and refresh the 10 and 25 year plans about every 3 years. Their outcomes should be about Scenarios & Sensitivities, Visions & Goals – to help the PM and key members of his/her Cabinet take some critical decisions as and when felt right.

To complement this broad and deep envisioning, for the more ‘mundane’ 1, 3 and 5 year ‘plans’ the PM can and should have his fill of ‘reformists’, or field-sensitive personnel, helping him track and ensure delivery of his Namo-nama, including National Priorities(see Box). The monitoring of a majority of the plans, projects and schemes should be delegated to the respective ministries, with this Reform Group only coming in where they see deficient performance (say, when a Ministry reviews with the PM – preferably quarterly) or there are inter-Ministry disputes. This Group should have the expertise to help a Ministry evaluate any of its programs or initiatives, or suggest reforms to existing ones.  ‘Standard’ Task Forces and Committees (always doing or reviewing ‘something’) need to be disbanded. This Group does not need to spend most of its time on ‘managing’ national resources (material, capital and human) or distributing Central resources to States ‘equitably’ - some ‘key’ functions of the current Planning Commission. The first should be the domain of the individual ministries, and the second is best undertaken by the ‘neutral’ Finance Ministry. 

So, Modiji, let’s set up of an Envision & Reform Group (ERG) in place of the Planning Commission. Thodi aapki baat…thodi hamari. Aap bhi lambe race ke ghode hona chahenge na?



  • Ek Bharat – Shreshtha Bharat 
  • Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas 
  • Minimum Government, Maximum Governance
  • Poverty elimination…not just poverty alleviation
  • Youth Development to Youth-led Development
  • Beti Bachao – Beti Padhao
  • Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojana 
  • Swachh Bharat Mission 
  • Har khet ko paani 
  • Jal Sanchay, Jal Sinchan
  • Per drop - more crop
  • Har haath ko hunar
  • Skilled India
  • Digital India
  • Skill, Scale and Speed
  • 5Ts – Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade, Technology
  • 3Ds – Democracy, Demography, Demand
  • India’s ‘softpower’ potential – Spiritual, Cultural and Philosophical heritage

National Priorities

  • National Education Policy
  • National Multi-skill Mission
  • National Sports Talent Search System
  • Swachh Bharat Mission
  • National Health Assurance Mission
  • National Energy Policy
  • National Land Use Policy
  • National e-governance plan
  • National e-Bhasha Mission
  • National Mission on Himalayas
  • National Mission on Pilgrimage Tourism
  • National Madarsa Modernisation Programme
  • PM Krishi Sinchayee Yojana
  • Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojana
  • National Maritime Authority
  • National War Memorial


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