‘We must delink MPs and MLAs from the Executive’
Rajiv Pratap Rudy, 46, lost a bitter battle with Railway Minister Lalu Prasad in the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Bihar. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) didn’t want to keep a young politician like Rudy unemployed so it put him in the Rajya Sabha.
Rudy was been a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, handling first the commerce and industry ministry and then the civil aviation ministry as a minister of state. He now doubles as one of the BJP spokespersons.
So far scandal-free, Rudy is one of the brighter sparks of the BJP, especially from Bihar where the party is keen on improving its presence. These are the excerpts from an interview with Vijay Simha for the series Young MPs and Their Idea of India.
It is often debated that we are not able to find the best person to head the country’s government because of our system of election. Do you think direct election of the Prime Minister and the President is a solution?
The present form of government, where the elected representatives hold executive positions, definitely affects the overall working of the legislature in our country unlike, say, the US and other places where the legislature is completely separate from the executive. A President-elect has his own team to work with in the US. In India it is very different. I think we are not fully equipped. Sixty years of our experience with the current system proves that there needs to be a revised form of electoral process.
Is the presidential form a better bet then?
I can’t say outright that it would be the best bet. But certainly there is a need for certain changes in the present system wherein elected representatives hold executive positions. This results in larger expectations in the people from the elected representatives. Possibly this is where we are not able to build a fair delivery mechanism. Personal expectations, personal bias, and the over-dependence on your electorate, are all matters which take away the real thrust of legislative action.
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Another lacuna apparently is the lack of accountability. A person considers himself or herself immune from accountability for five years after an election. Should there be a right to recall MPs and MLAs on grounds of non-performance to counter such apathy?
Well, in some states, at the panchayat-level election, the right to recall has been introduced. The efficacy of this system has still to be judged correctly because in most of the places, they are going for judicial review. There is a lot of dispute involved in the process of recall. I am not very sure whether this system would work in India. Primarily, we have to see that good and better people come into politics. Right to recall is a sort of a reverse mechanism being established. So we still have to judge the efficacy of this new system.
It has been suggested that one way to sensitise an MP is to put him or her through a formal education process. Should there be a minimum education qualification for people who want to contest an election? And, on the other hand, should there be an age beyond which they shouldn’t be working?
These two issues have been coming up off and on. As far as minimum education qualification is concerned, the makers of our Constitution had debated this extensively and then realised that in a country like India, which has a spectrum of people in terms of group and individual caste and religion involved in the election process, and where literacy levels are not as advanced as in other countries, this may deprive real social workers, who may not be very literate, of political representation. We need a lot of debate on whether we really want a system where a minimum education qualification is mandatory. As far as retirement age for politicians is concerned, we see that in a country like India, you need large experience and your awareness levels should be high. Your vision gets created over years of getting experience going around the country. So it would be very difficult to pin down a maximum age limit for politicians.
What other electoral reform do you think we should pursue?
What we need is to hit criminalisation. This is one thing that has affected the image of politicians in a very big way. Primarily it is because of individuals who get elected without the right background. The second reform is in the use of money power in the electoral process. The third reform needed is where the administrative process is part of the election process. How far can we segregate this from the government of the day? For instance, we need to address the role of the Election Commission and the District Returning Officers they appoint.
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So how do we address these?
There are many proposals. I think appropriate legislation and intervention of political parties in opposing candidature of such people with criminal records are desirable.Moving a little away, we are in an economic crisis zone. There’s a fair amount of churning on the jobs front and in creating revenue. Other nations are making laws to curb outsourcing.
Should Indian firms be allowed to outsource as a policy?
Outsourcing is a modern economic practice that has come to stay whether we like it or not. It will always be there. In an atmosphere where profit and investment do affect the working of an individual or an organisation, we have to give enough room for outsourcing.
For instance, a big Indian conglomerate or firm wants to outsource jobs and employ people from, say, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. Is that fine?
In a global economic scenario, it would be very difficult to restrain certain actions of enterprises through legislation. To legislate on every action would be very difficult with reform on the anvil, and with commitments to the WTO as well as domestic commitments to keep. It think there has to be a mix and match of both. Rights of the workers, yes. But rights without production and competition, no.
How far does India go with its liberalisation? Where does it liberalise?
As far as huge investments go, yes. With majority stake holding by Indian partners, yes. Core infrastructure, yes. Strategic infrastructure, careful. Sovereignty of the nation, no.
How do you create employable people? It seems to be a major crisis.
That is a very big crisis and I think we must have better training and professional institutions for medicine and engineering, for instance. India has been failing tremendously as far as the cutting edge of production is concerned, involving technicians, plumbers, drivers, electricians, nurses, paramedics, and people in electronics, basically all areas where we need a working hand. We need huge investment to create this manpower of employable people.
Where is the money going to come from?
The government has to decide about it. The government must make it a focus area. There are plenty of raw resources available, especially when 400 million people work in the unorganised sector. We need to convert it into trained manpower.
The policy of reservation has divided us like few issues have. People have killed themselves and others on this issue. Do we continue with the policy of reservation?
The Constitution did provide for reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for an initial period of 10 years. The government has adopted it, and extended it because people said that reservations are necessary for a certain category of people. Religion-based reservation would not be acceptable at any point of time. I think we should head for a formula of one-time reservation benefits. We have provided reservation in perpetuity and this causes discrimination among those for whom reservation is being given. Parliament should debate this and legislation must be brought in.
Another issue on which lives have been lost is religious conversion. Should conversion be allowed?
Conversion by choice, absolutely no problem. Conversion by force is unacceptable across religions.
How do you differentiate between conversions by choice and those by force?
You do come to know about it. There are laws to prevent forcible conversion. There are parameters to define forced and voluntary conversions, especially when you target those people who are illiterate and poor. When you find a large number of such cases being converted, presumably that is not by choice. That is by coercion or other means of influence.
Though we have faced terrorism for long, it seems there is no going back from confronting it. How does India deal with terrorism?
First, we must have absolutely zero tolerance towards terrorism. Second, our policy must not indicate that in the name of religion and community, we can unknowingly or knowingly provide mental or logistical support to such organisations with links to terrorists. This (the UPA) government’s policy towards terror, for instance, is also linked towards their attitude towards minorities. This is not a battle against a community. A terrorist is a terrorist.
One suggested method is to embrace the foe. It has been said, for instance, that hostile borders, with menacing looking barbed wire fences, don’t help. Does India deseal her borders?
We have attempted to seal our northwestern border, which is a difficult task. At the moment there is no question of desealing it. It is a question of strengthening what has been a difficult terrain for the country. There are some areas that cannot be sealed anyway. We have fenced 2,000 kilometres of our 6,000-kilometre border. To a large extent, this has been done in the northern sector. We are more concerned about the eastern sector. The sealing exercise must go on. We also have 7,000 kilometres of coastline to worry about, remember.
Foreign policy has become a critical area with Islamist terrorists often citing Palestine as a root cause for their mayhem. How does India deal with four countries that could impact her life seriously – the US, Pakistan, Israel, and Sri Lanka?
Pakistan has to come clean on terror. It cannot be experimenting with India on terror. Sri Lanka is a close neighbour and a large population of Indian migrants lives there. Sri Lanka must address the issues of this community within its democratic polity. As far as the US is concerned, we have a good understanding and share common enemies. But when it comes to many other issues, for instance sovereign matters, India should not at any point of time accept the US as a bully.
So if in Pakistan the experimentation with terror doesn’t stop, how do we deal with them?
That is the big question. Let the election take place, and there will be something here. We don’t expect anything from this government (the United Progressive Alliance - UPA) especially when it is in its last days. Our stand is clear. (The BJP has said India must snap all ties with Pakistan and recall its envoy in Islamabad because Pakistan has failed to act on terror).
List three changes you would like in the Constitution.
I would like the Constitution to devise exact provisions to find the right set of people in politics. I would like to amend the form of government that we have, and I would like to address the weaknesses that inhibit the functioning of the union government in dealing with centre-state matters.
Talking of centre-state relations, should we do away with Article 356, which has often been used to sack state governments and impose President’s Rule?
In a large country like India, with different social and political configurations, maybe it is not the right time to abrogate Article 356.
The way India is constructed is again a constant subject of debate with many demands for more and smaller states. Is there a case for more states in India?
The experiment with smaller states has been sweet and bitter. We (the BJP) had supported the creation of Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Chhattisgarh. We (the BJP) have supported the demand for Telangana and there is a demand for Vidarbha. Possibly yes, there is enough scope for the creation of some more states.
There are a few seemingly perennial issues that trouble India, like Kashmir, the northeast, and naxalism. What does India do to solve these issues?
The Congress party has pampered the northeast with money and no commitment. We need to bring the people of the northeast on board socially and economically. It will take a while to set things in order in Kashmir. The BJP has said it wants a reunited Kashmir. But whether this is possible … (trails off). We have a PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) but we don’t recognise its boundaries in our maps. So, I’m sure … (trails off again). Naxalism is a major challenge. The Naxals are basically victims of the state’s battle against poverty, injustice, and illiteracy. We must deal with this problem in that framework.
The Rajiv Pratap Rudy Agenda
- Separate the Legislature (MPs and MLAs) from the Executive (the government).
- Consider a presidential form of government.
- Segregate government from the election process (so it has no influence on the Election Commission).
- Find a way to halt criminals from the election process.
- Extend liberalisation with majority stake holding by Indian partners.
- Formalise training procedures to create a pool of skilled labour.
- Make reservation a one-time formula, and not in perpetuity.
- Continue to seal India’s borders.
- Don’t allow the US to become a bully.
- Snap ties with Pakistan if it doesn’t prevent terror activities.
- Consider creation of more states.
- Amend Constitution to get right people into politics.