It is a simple question of responsibility. Anyone who accepts a nomination to the Rajya Sabha needs to attend its sessions. According to the way the Upper House in the Indian Parliament was conceived, its members are supposed, as Jawaharlal Nehru said in 1953, to represent the “high watermark” of literature or art or culture — suggesting the spheres beyond politics. Of “proven ability and outstanding merit”, such personalities are nominated to the Rajya Sabha by different political parties so that Parliament and the nation benefit from their balanced views and varied experience. The Upper House in India, in effect, substituted iconic figures and highly successful, often popular, professional people for the lords of the realm that Britain flaunted. Of course the Rajya Sabha does have a political function, but many consider that function supernumerary. It is a point of debate whether the imitation of the British bi-cameral structure has been useful or meaningful for the Indian reality. But as long as the Rajya Sabha exists, its rules must be followed. Rajya Sabha members of parliament cannot ignore the fact that attendance is one of their duties.
Both Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha, whose absence in Rajya Sabha sessions since they were nominated to it by the Congress in 2012 is now the subject of irate questions in Parliament, may say they have not violated any rule. Yet. According to the Constitution, an MP has to be absent for a period of 60 days before his seat is considered vacant. Mr Tendulkar has been absent for 40 days, having been present only three times since 2012. Ms Rekha does better, having been present seven times, once even this year. Mr Tendulkar’s excuse of his brother’s illness is not just thin, it is also embarrassing in a person known for his meticulousness, focus and sincerity. Focused work and a relentless striving for excellence also define Ms Rekha. Yet both icons have failed as far as their sense of responsibility to the Rajya Sabha is concerned. It is not a question of rules: whether they are absent for 60 days or not is a technical point. It is the attitude displayed by their continued absence that is being criticized. Their colleagues in the House would not be considered unjust if they construe this as an insult to Parliament. Doubtless the two stars do not intend it as such. But they should certainly have thought more deeply about what they were taking on when they accepted the nominations.