When he took oath as a Rajya Sabha MP in August 2016, media baron Subhash Chandra it was now time to “give back to society” since he had done “a great deal of business in life”.
“As an MP, I perhaps can benefit lakhs of people, raising important issues and using my good relations with parties on both sides to work together," said the Zee founder and Essel Group chairman, whose website claimed that he continued to raise points “inherent to sustainable and progressive development of the nation” through his addresses in parliament.
His track record, however, suggests otherwise as his six years as a legislator in the upper house come to an end on Monday – with the MP failing to secure a second term after the Rajya Sabha poll defeat last month.
Chandra hasn’t asked any questions in the last four years, and all the 10 queries he shot were in the first two years of his stint as an MP. None of them pertained to the news media industry. He has neither introduced a bill nor suggested any amendments, and even his overall attendance has hovered below the national average – at 55 percent as against 79 percent according to .
Besides five other parliamentary panels, the media baron has also been part of the committee on communications and information technology, which dealt with several matters closely linked to the media and broadcasting sectors.
The 71-year-old from Haryana might have lost the Rajya Sabha election from Rajasthan as a BJP-backed independent candidate, but his decision to contest the poll had baffled media pundits, who said it “queered the pitch” for the governing Congress in Rajasthan. However, Chandra lost, and the BJP won only one seat as the remaining three were wrestled by the Congress in the desert state.
When Chandra filed his nomination in 2016, his assets at Rs 49 crore, to Rs 46 crore when he contested the seat again from Rajasthan.
As per the social and cultural activities and achievements listed for his nomination, Chandra is the founder of the Zee Group, associated with Ekal Vidyalayas, has “strived to make education accessible in distant areas”, “adopted five villages” in Haryana’s Hisar district, associated with Global Vipassana Foundation, and “endeavoured to provide modern infrastructure to villages and cities”.
As he now bids farewell to the Rajya Sabha, here’s a look at the MP’s performance.
Among six debates, one animated
Chandra participated in six debates, way below the national average of 98.1 debates and state average of 58.4 for MPs, according to PRS data.
The discussions Chandra participated in were linked to an ayurveda institutes bill passed by the Lok Sabha, the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and its bifurcation into union territories, the passage of the GST law, the need to rename Andaman islands, push for daily hearings in the Ayodhya case, and the destruction of the Aravalli hills.
While the degradation of the Aravallis directly impacts Chandra’s home state Haryana, the MP chose to merely “associate myself” in the matter raised by NCP MP Vandana Chavan from Maharashtra.
In fact, it was only the discussion on the ayurveda institutes bill – which merged existing ayurveda institutes for an institution of national importance in Gujarat’s Jamnagar – that left Chandra animated in 2020. The MP said that opposed to what many people believe, ayurveda cures everything and not just small ailments. He elaborated how it was shameful for India that countries such as Germany and Switzerland had done more research in the field. And this was the last debate Chandra participated in.
Committees and ‘conflict of interest’
The media baron was part of six house panels, including those on rules, communications and information technology, official language, urban development, and the consultative committees for the home and human resource development ministries.
Of these, Chandra continued to be part of the committees on rules, official language, and communications and information technology. It is, in fact, the last that could be a subject of concern as the MP has stakes in the media industry.
A 2009 report by a parliamentary panel led by former minister VK Chandra Deo had suggested that legislators should not be made part of panels that sifted through issues concerning their business or personal interests.
Among other matters, the panel on communications and information technology also looked at the “ministry of communications, the ministry of electronics and information technology and the ministry of information and broadcasting”.
While Chandra was part of this committee, it brought out a report on ethical standards in media coverage. It observed that the Cable Network Rules 2014 prohibited programmes promoting ‘anti-national attitudes’, but this term was not defined and demanded this ambiguity be removed. It also suggested a change in the TRP system by giving equal weightage to rural and semi-urban areas through an increment in the sample size.
Questions, and an answer to ED summons
During his Rajya Sabha stint, Chandra has asked 10 questions – none concerning the media. According to PRS data, the national average was 284.8 questions and the state average 221.93 for MPs.
Notably, Chandra shot across all these queries in the first two years of his term, and several of them concerned major issues such as unemployment, growth of villages, rural development, skill development of the disabled, potable water and the clean Ganga campaign.
His other questions were linked to the bureau of Indian standards, clinical trials for ayurvedic medicines, and the auction of diamond mines.
Besides these questions, he also shot across a supplementary, shortly after his election to the Rajya Sabha in August 2016. Congress MP Digvijaya Singh questioned then finance minister Arun Jaitley about details of companies whose loans had been waived off. When the minister responded, Chandra added his query, seeking to know if there were any corporate houses or companies that had been chargesheeted for criminal offence, and if there had been a restructuring of their debts or any waiver.
But years later, Chandra found himself at the centre of a similar controversy as Yes Bank incurred losses, with its loans given to Chandra’s Essel Group allegedly outstanding. The Enforcement Directorate launched a probe into the affairs of the bank and called Chandra, among other top businessmen, for questioning in March 2020.
With the parliament in session, Chandra an ED summons to sit through a discussion on unani medicine and sought a fresh date to appear before the agency. The Essel Group later put out a statement saying he had fully cooperated with the agencies.
The MP’s attendance during that session was 39 percent.
This episode, however, provided the Congress in its crony capitalism charge against the Narendra Modi government. The party questioned why no action was taken against Essel Group for allegedly defaulting on repayment of loans to the Yes Bank. It alleged that the central government did not act against Chandra, and that rules were bent and laws ignored in the case “to protect the vested interests” of the “favourite businessmen” of PM Modi.
The crisis, after all, was linked to the of the Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services explosion – one of India’s biggest financiers of infrastructure projects in the non-banking financial company space. And Chandra’s Essel Group was caught on the wrong side for its investments in the infrastructure sector.
Last year, the Essel Group chairman issued a statement saying that over 91 percent of the debt had been settled. But the crisis had not left Zee network unscathed with investors seeking a management overhaul and Chandra putting his shares on the block.
Zee has now nearly finished processing a merger with Sony which could help it capture nearly a third of India’s entertainment space. And with the Rajya Sabha term over, the media baron may return to re-polish his crown jewel.
Correction: This report erroneously stated Subhash Chandra had been nominated though he won the election in 2016.
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