Three noteworthy events occurred during VP Jagdeep Dhankhar’s first Rajya Sabha term.
Parliament adjourned sine die on Friday, bringing the winter session to a close six days early. It was also Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar’s first session as Rajya Sabha Chairperson. While Dhankhar presided over an Upper House that was 102% productive, his statements about the judiciary, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, and business disruption were also noteworthy events.
Dhankhar took over as India’s 14th vice-president and ex-officio chairperson of the Rajya Sabha on August 11, after beating Margaret Alva of the Congress.
Dhankhar is just the sixth vice president to have previously served as governor. He was the governor of West Bengal till he was selected by the BJP-led NDA to run for vice president. Before becoming vice president, Zakir Hussain, Gopal Swarup Pathak, BD Jatti, Shankar Dayal Sharma, and Krishan Kant all served as governors.
Only four of the 13 vice-presidents preceding Dhankhar (Zakir Hussain, Gopal Swarup Pathak, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, and M Venkaiah Naidu) had served as Rajya Sabha MPs before becoming the Upper House’s ex-officio chairperson. Dhankhar was a Lok Sabha MP representing Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan from 1989 to 1991.
Dhankhar is the only BJP vice-president nominee who has never served in the Rajya Sabha. Before becoming the Upper House’s ex-officio chairperson, both Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and M Venkaiah Naidu were MPs.
Dhankhar is the second from Rajasthan among the three vice presidents chosen by the BJP. M Venkaiah Naidu is from Andhra Pradesh, whereas Shekhawat is from Rajasthan.
Dhankhar noted in his valedictory comments at the end of the Rajya Sabha’s 258th session that it had been a learning and enjoyable experience.
Rajya Sabha productivity has been 102% in the 13 sittings since December 7. It ran for 64 hours and 50 minutes, as opposed to the overall period of 63 hours and 26 minutes.
However, vice-president Dhankhar’s first Rajya Sabha session will be noted for three additional concerns.
1. Observations on the judiciary
In his first speech to the Rajya Sabha on December 7, the vice-president criticised the court for overturning the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).
“The essence of democracy rests in the preponderance of the people’s ordainment represented through a legitimised platform,” Dhankhar added. Parliamentary sovereignty is unassailable in any democracy. We’ve all taken a pledge to protect it.”
He stated that Parliament took an important historic step by passing the 99th Constitutional Amendment Bill, clearing the path for NJAC.
He stated that NJAC was receiving extraordinary support.
The Lok Sabha overwhelmingly approved it on August 13, 2014, with no abstentions. On August 14, 2014, Rajya Sabha cleared it unanimously with one abstention. On December 31, 2014, the president of India granted his permission under Article 111 after 16 of the 29 states passed the central law.
According to Dhankhar, the Supreme Court wrecked the entire attempt. “On October 16, 2015, the Supreme Court rejected this historic parliamentary mandate by a 4:1 vote, concluding that it did not conform to the judicially created idea of the Constitution’s ‘Basic Structure”.
“We must remember that under democratic government, the underpinning of any ‘Basic Structure’ is the supremacy of the people’s mandate stated in Parliament,” Dhankhar, himself a lawyer, noted. The solitary and ultimate arbitrator of the Constitution’s design is Parliament.”
He lamented that the problem had received no attention in Parliament for almost seven years. “This House, in collaboration with Lok Sabha, as custodian of the people’s ordainment, is duty obligated to solve the matter, and I am confident it will,” he added.
2. Sonia Gandhi Comments
Sonia Gandhi, the UPA’s chairwoman, took issue with Dhankhar’s remarks towards the judiciary.
“A worrying new trend is the intentional endeavour ongoing to delegitimize the court,” she remarked in her presentation to the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) on December 21.
“Ministers – and even a high constitutional authority – have been engaged to make statements criticising the court on different grounds,” Sonia remarked, without identifying Dhankhar. It’s evident that this isn’t an attempt to provide realistic ideas for change. Rather, it is an attempt to lower the public’s perception of the judiciary.”
The vice-president took issue with Sonia’s words.
“The observations are profoundly inappropriate, displaying a lack of confidence in democracy, making this unprecedented response essential,” he stated.
“The comment made by the Hon’ble Chairperson of the UPA is far apart from my observations,” he said. Delegitimizing the court is not an option for me. It is a cornerstone of democracy. I would advise and expect leaders from all political parties to remember not to submit high constitutional posts to partisanship”.
3. House disruption
Dhankhar summoned Rajya Sabha MPs for disruption and chaos in the house on occasion.
“Disruption, resulting in loss of precious time of 1 hour 46 minutes and presentation of inappropriate behaviour, afflicted the process in some degree,” he remarked on the penultimate day of the winter session.
He said that disruption as an expressive method was antagonistic to the Rajya Sabha’s elegance, decorum, and sublimity as a serious venue. “The consequence is generally negative, since it causes individuals to feel disillusioned, disappointed, powerless, and hopeless.”
He urged all MPs to “seriously reflect” on their performance and seek a “reality check” from the public.