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Power shift starts in culture country

Sonia leaves Nehru hub Modi will preside over

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Teen Murti House in New Delhi

New Delhi, May 22: Sonia Gandhi has resigned as member of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, taking the first step to dissociating herself from establishments that will be funded by a government headed by Narendra Modi.

The resignation from the repository of the finest collection of reference material on modern Indian history is in keeping with a delicate convention — not always followed wholeheartedly and without a shove in India — that gives the new government a free hand to begin its innings with a clean slate.

Sonia is not alone in having done so: several persons appointed by erstwhile governments in different bodies have started putting in their papers.

Among them are Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the former Bengal governor who has resigned as chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and the Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai; and Suman Dubey, Rajiv Gandhi’s close friend who has quit the Nehru Museum as well as Prasar Bharati.

Justice Leila Seth had resigned as chairperson of the advisory board of National Library in Calcutta just before the election results were out. National Commission for Women (NCW) chief Mamta Sharma said she would resign on Monday.

But Sonia’s stepdown from the Nehru Museum, which will be presided over by Modi in his capacity as Prime Minister, stands out because of the extraordinary events that unfolded behind the scenes when the BJP came to power at the turn of the millennium.

Unlike 15 years ago, the other Nehru-Gandhi bahu, Maneka Gandhi who is now a BJP MP, would be watching today’s developments with a sense of anticipation and glee.

In 1999, Maneka’s status as culture minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government gave her a chance to supervise various family trusts headed by Sonia. Maneka ordered a probe into alleged irregularities in some trusts and questioned the trust deed of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).

However, the pace she set ruffled many feathers. Maneka was abruptly shifted to the department of statistics.

It was said that Vajpayee’s principal secretary, the late Brajesh Mishra, was influenced by two members of the foreign service to tilt the scales in favour of Sonia.

Eventually, former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and noted jurist L.M. Singhvi, both life members of the IGNCA, prevailed upon Sonia to step down as life president in 2001. Rao had reportedly confided in his associates that his human resource development minister, the late Madhavrao Scindia, had approved the IGNCA deed without consulting the cabinet.

The trusts named after the Nehru-Gandhis had come under the political spotlight as soon as Sonia formally entered politics in early 1998. Jaya Jaitly, a close associate of Nehru-Gandhi baiter George Fernandes, had raised the issue of copyrights and royalty from books written by Nehru and Indira Gandhi going to Sonia.

According to Jaya, the Government of India’s publications division should have been a claimant to the copyright and royalty from the speeches and writings of former Prime Ministers.

Sonia has so far resigned from the Nehru Museum and the government’s national committee to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Nehru. She continues to be the chairperson of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, a private fund that shares space with the Nehru Museum at Teen Murti House where the builder of modern India lived.

Teen Murti House is government-owned. Unlike the museum and library, the fund is not associated with the government. It handles Nehru’s estate and organises events on his legacy.

To quit orů

While the looming ex officio presence of Modi at the museum may have accelerated Sonia’s decision, conventions, a sense of fair play and comfort factor — rather than rules cast in stone — guide such decisions when governments change.

Dubey, close to Sonia, set an example by giving up his Prasar Bharati membership. Dubey sent a letter to the information and broadcasting ministry in which he said he was an appointee of the outgoing UPA government and was resigning because of the change of regime.

Dubey said the new government would want to make its own appointments and he decided to quit.

According to officials, the Prasar Bharati Act does not have a provision to reconstitute the board, and it is not easy for the government to remove a member. However, if anybody wishes to leave, it is the “call of their conscience”, an official said.

But the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library does have a convention of members appointed by the government resigning following a change of guard. The facility’s then vice-president, T.N. Chaturvedi, and a few members had resigned in 2004 after the UPA government came to power.

NCW chairperson Sharma termed her decision to quit on Monday as a “moral” one. “I will tender my resignation as morally I cannot work with this government. I am a Congress memberů. However, under the NCW Act, no new government has the power to remove or dismiss members of the commission,” she said.

Sharma, who was a Congress MLA from Bundi, has only two months of her three-year tenure left. Two other Congress nominess, who have a year left, are planning to take their chances with the new government. Another member, Charu Wali Khanna, said she was not a “political appointee” and thus had no reason to resign.

J.S. Rajput, who was the director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) when the NDA was in power, said there was no rule that people had to resign. Rajput took voluntary retirement after the UPA came to power.

He said that in some institutions like the Planning Commission, the posts of deputy chairperson and members were coterminous with the government. They have to resign once the government completes its tenure.

Ishwar Singh, a member of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, said the panel was a constitutional body and the government could not interfere in its affairs. “I do not think any of the members of the commission should resign. We have been appointed by the President,” Singh said.