With Ilaiyaraaja as MP, rising demand for SC/ST reservation in Rajya Sabha
There has been a rising demand for reservation for SCs and STs in the Upper House. The nomination of Ilaiyaraaja to the Rajya Sabha, officially tagging him as a Dalit, has added to the crescendo of demand
There has been a rising demand for reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Upper House of Parliament. The nomination of legendary musician Ilaiyaraaja to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP, officially tagging him as a Dalit, has added to the crescendo of demand.
Villupuram MP D Ravikumar, who is also general secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), which works predominantly for the upliftment of Dalits, has pushed for SC/ST reservation in the Rajya Sabha.
“The music of Ilayaraaja is priceless. The place given to his music by the Tamils in their hearts is bigger than the Rajya Sabha post. The post which has only six years duration will never replace the post of ‘Isaignani’ (musical guru),” Ravikumar tweeted.
Poor representation of Dalits in RS
Ravikumar told The Federal that the Constitution has provided for reservation only in state assemblies and the Lok Sabha. Legislative councils, the upper house of the state legislature, and the Rajya Sabha are out of the ambit of reservation.
“The objective behind the creation of the Upper House has never been achieved (by SC/STs) till now. The members in the Upper House should be chosen from learned people and they must be appointed beyond party politics. But that is not the case in reality and so the social representation is so poor. In the Lok Sabha, the representation of SC/ST parliamentarians is 25.4 per cent. But in the Rajya Sabha the representation is just nearly 9 per cent,” Ravikumar said.
According to Rajya Sabha data, there have been 139 nominated members from 1952 till date. Pradeep Narayanan, director, research and capacity building, Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices, wrote in an article in September 2020 that only four of these members were from the SC and only one was from the ST community.
“Among 17 in the category of ‘artists’, nine are Brahmins, three others from dominant castes, and none are SC or ST,” he said in the article.
As of 2021, there are 17 Dalit members in the Rajya Sabha.
Interestingly, back in 2018, when Rajya Sabha elections were announced for 58 seats across the country, senior JD(U) leader Shyam Rajak pointed out that not a single candidate was a Dalit.
Lack of legal obligation
The logic is simple. If there is no legal obligation, the government won’t provide reservation to SC/STs, said Ravikumar. Take the case of minorities. There is no reservation for them in the Lok Sabha. In the current Lok Sabha, their representation is just 4 per cent. This continues in the Upper House, too, he said.
“We have been demanding reservations in the Upper House for many years. But it was not heeded either by the Congress regime or the BJP. Now, the BJP says that by nominating Ilaiyaraaja to the Upper House, it gives representation to Dalits. If it really cares for the empowerment of SC/STs, what prevents its from providing reservation in the Rajya Sabha?” he asked.
Even in the 24 standing committees of Parliament, the participation of Dalit parliamentarians is said to be abysmally low.
“Both the houses do not give the standing committee chairman posts to Dalits. Nearly 300 members in the Lok Sabha are from the BJP. Most of the standing committee chief posts are held either by the BJP or the alliance parties. This despite there being senior Dalit members with competence. The real empowerment of SC/STs should be reflected in these issues,” Ravikumar stressed.
Will Ilaiyaraaja join BJP?
Of the 12 members appointed to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP-led government since 2014, KTS Tulsi’s term ended in 2020 and the term of five other members, such as Swapan Dasgupta, Subramanian Swamy, Narendra Jhadav, Suresh Gopi and Mary Kom, appointed in 2016 got over in April 2022. The term of Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati ended in June. Another member, Roopa Ganguly, is to complete her term in October 2022.
“Of the 11 members who were nominated from 2016, eight joined the BJP, except boxer Mary Kom, economist Narendra Jhadav and journalist Swapan Dasgupta. If a member wants to join a party after being nominated to the Upper House, he or she should join the party within six months. Whether Ilaiyaraaja will join the BJP or any other party, it will be revealed in another six months,” said Ravikumar.
He said the BJP has nominated Ilayaraaja purely for vote bank politics. The belief of the BJP that it can attract a significant vote bank by doing so, should not be given less weightage, he said.
Ravikumar further said it was difficult for him to accept Ranjan Gogoi’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha.
“Gogoi, as the Chief Justice of India, had the power even to administer the oath of office to the President. A person of such a stature being nominated as an RS member is not the problem of an individual but it’s like degrading the institution. Similarly, Ilaiyaraaja has won many awards. This nomination is not going to bring any new recognition to him. Unfortunately, he has been reduced to just a Dalit. He was not even mentioned as a Tamil or a musician,” he said.