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The wisdom and vision of earlier thinkers are, like everything else, constructed within a particular historical context. Changing times create different needs and new insights; earlier structures and understandings are questioned and reassessed. The arguments in favour of having a Rajya Sabha, or a council of states, apart from the Lok Sabha, that were made at the time of formulating the Indian Constitution turned on the diversity and size of the newly independent country. It was felt that the Lok Sabha, the members of which were to be elected directly by the people, might fail to deal adequately with the variety and multiple dimensions of the problems such a country could throw up. Hence the bi-cameral system, with the Rajya Sabha giving proportional representation to the states. Its members would be elected indirectly — 12 by the president, and the others each by members of the legislative assembly of the state he or she represented. The argument is important, for the emphasis was on providing an extra dimension in governance, that being specifically of the state. The Rajya Sabha was not thought up so that parties in power — or aspiring to power — could use it to make up the numbers. Or even to ensure that the high official positions of politicians who have never won a single general election could be retained without debate. Instead, a Rajya Sabha member would be expected to represent the interests and viewpoints of the state from the assembly of which he was elected.

This cannot be the case if an Uttar Pradesh member of parliament from the Congress contests one of the Rajya Sabha seats from Assam. Whatever Sanjay Singh may have done in his colourful career — party-hopping being one, coming under suspicion of conspiracy to murder being another — distinguishing himself in the service of Assam is not one of them. The Assam chief minister’s easy compliance with the Congress high command’s wishes to field Mr Singh from Assam has caused strong resentment among other parties, some of which perceive this as an insult to Assam. It is as though Assam does not have people fit for the Rajya Sabha.

The misuse of institutions behind the cover of shamelessly thin technicalities is common practice among India’s politicians. The Congress has had long practice at this, and this particular decision has a notable precedent. The present prime minister began as Rajya Sabha MP from Assam. With its usual high-handedness, the party expects Mr Singh’s candidature to go smoothly too. It has never paid much attention to its state units if they disagreed about candidates or alliances, not even if the high command was later proved wrong. Obviously, the Congress has not got rid of this tendency. It should have thought twice before using Assam for the same thing twice.