PT Usha, Ilaiyaraaja nominated to Rajya Sabha: Why celebrities are picked and how they have fared?


The Upper House of Parliament will see four new faces in its new session after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominated four legendary personalities to Rajya Sabha.

On Wednesday, the Centre announced its nomination of former Olympic track and field athlete PT Usha, legendary film composer Ilaiyaraaja, screenwriter and film director Vijayendra Prasad and philanthropist Veerendra Heggade to the August House.

After the announcement, several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) senior leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president JP Nadda, extended their congratulations to the four members.

As these four eminent personalities make their way up to the steps of Rajya Sabha, we take a look at why these members are selected, the process of their selection and how they have fared in the past.

Nominated members to Upper House

The Rajya Sabha or the Upper House of Parliament is modelled after the House of Lords in the United Kingdom.

It has 245 members, including 233 elected members and 12 nominated. As per the constitutional limit, the Upper House strength cannot exceed 250.

According to the rules, 12 MPs must be luminaries from the fields of literature, science, arts, sports or social service. These members are nominated by the President as per Article 80(3) of the constitution of India for six-year terms and enjoy all the privileges of other elected MPs, except the right to vote in the election for the President of India.

The rationale behind this principle of nomination is to provide eminent persons a place in the Rajya Sabha without going through the process of election. It also ensures that the nation receives services of the most distinguished persons of the country who have earned distinction in their field of activity.

As per the rules, a nominated member can join a political party within the first six months of being nominated to the house.

Big names

Since Rajya Sabha was constituted in 1952, a total of 139 luminaries have so far been nominated to the House.

Some of the big names include actor Prithviraj Kapoor. The patriarch of the Kapoor family of Hindi films remained nominated as a Rajya Sabha member for eight years — 1952 to 1960.

Regarded as one of the finest actresses in India, Shabana Azmi was nominated member of the Rajya Sabha in 1997.

Maqbool Fida Husain, known as India's very own 'Picasso' was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

A novelist and journalist Khushwant Singh was also a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 1986.

In 2012, Sachin Tendulkar, widely considered by many to be one of the greatest batsmen of all time, was nominated to Rajya Sabha, making him the first active sportsperson to be a representative in the Upper House.

In March 2020, President Ram Nath Kovind nominated former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to the Rajya Sabha, just four months after he stepped down from the apex court. This was the first time a government had used its power to nominate individuals for the Rajya Sabha to offer a post-retirement sinecure to a former Chief Justice of India.

Sachin Tendulkar was nominated to Rajya Sabha in 2012. In his tenure, his attendance was a poor eight per cent and he asked a total of just 22 questions in his tenure. AFP

How have they fared in the House?

While a lot has been said and reported when these celebrities are nominated to the Upper House, many a times their performance has fallen flat.

Nominated members have shown varying degrees of participation in terms of asking questions and joining debates. For instance, legal eagle Ram Jethmalani, who was nominated from 2006-2009 asked more than 2,500 questions whereas Tendulkar, Rekha and businesswoman Anu Aga — nominated in 2012 — did not ask any questions during their tenures.

Mrinal Miri, a philosopher and academician from Assam who was nominated to the house in 2012, told Scroll, “In the Rajya Sabha, even though nominated members are like back-benchers, I think that the questions I asked were taken quite seriously, and action was also initiated.”

He added that he was particularly interested in ensuring that India’s many endangered languages are protected, so had asked questions on that issue twice.

Besides asking questions, the performance of a nominated MP is measured by attendance and participation in one of the many parliamentary committees constituted by the Rajya Sabha.

Records from the Rajya Sabha show that film actress Shabana Azmi had the highest attendance among celebrities.

An analysis of the attendance records of these members reveals that Lata Mangeskar who was the Rajya Sabha MP from 1999 to 2005 had attended only six out of over 170 sittings.

Filmmaker Mrinal Sen had more or less similar records when he had attended 30 out of 170 sittings of Upper House during the same period as compared to 113 by Shabana Azmi.

Much was spoken of Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha’s performance in the House in 2012. In fact, Samajwadi Party MP Naresh Agarwal had raised the issue of Tendulkar and Rekha’s attendance in the Rajya Sabha, lamenting that they hardly attend the house.

Data revealed that Sachin had an attendance record of around eight per cent, while Rekha had a dismal record of 5.17 per cent.

Similarly, the duo didn’t participate in a single debate in their nearly five-year stint in the Rajya Sabha. Overall, Tendulkar asked just 22 questions — all in the years 2015 and 2016 — and did not participate in any debates.

However, it’s not all dismal; KTS Tulsi, nominated in 2012, asked the most number of questions – 134 – and participated in the most number of debates – 54 – out of all nominated members. Even Olympic medal winning boxer Mary Kom, who was nominated in 2016, participated in debates and had an average attendance record of 43 per cent.

Data revealed that an expenditure of 36.18 lakh was incurred on Sachin Tendulkar while an amount of 44.14 lakh was incurred on Rekha, raising the debate of whether celebrities should be made a part of the House.

Here’s hoping that the newly-nominated members will shine in the Upper House and help in bringing about change to the country.

With inputs from agencies

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PT Usha, Ilaiyaraaja nominated to Rajya Sabha: Why celebrities are picked and how they have fared?
PT Usha, Ilaiyaraaja nominated to Rajya Sabha: Why celebrities are picked and how they have fared?
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