Much before Nehru Memorial and Museum and Library executive council (EC) member Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned on Thursday, protesting against former bureaucrat Shakti Sinha’s candidature as the NMML director, EC chairperson Lokesh Chandra had expressed strong displeasure over Sinha, The Indian Express has learnt.
Sinha, who served in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s PMO, is said to be the RSS’s choice, and was a director in RSS-aligned think tank India Foundation until a few days ago. Sangh leaders such as Ram Madhav are learnt to have pushed his candidature in NMML.
Madhav is on the board of directors of India Foundation. Two members, including the chairperson of the search-and-selection committee for NMML director, are also on the same board.
The search committee, headed by vice-chairperson and BJP MP M J Akbar, had Mehta, Prasar Bharti CEO A Surya Prakash, Kumar Sanjay Krishna and Makhan Lal as members. Akbar and Prakash sat on the board of an institution with Sinha as directors. Sinha left India Foundation a few days ago.
His candidature, sources in NMML said, is yet to receive the go-ahead of either the Culture Ministry or the PMO.
Significantly, Barring Lal, all members of the search committee were drawn from the EC, even though the council’s chairperson, the dissenting Lokesh Chandra, was left out.
The Indian Express called and send text messages to Akbar for his comment but got no response.
The advertisement issued for the director’s post is learnt to have been modified at the last moment. The one approved by the EC sought a “scholar or writer”, but the advertisement eventually released read “scholar, writer or administrator”.
Sinha fulfills the only the “administrator” criterion.
While EC members strongly objected to this sudden change in criteria without the council’s approval, the selection committee went ahead with the advertisement, as Mehta’s resignation letter also indicates. The EC also questioned the hurry in the selection process. While the advertisement was put out on July 22, the last date to submit applications was August 1, with interviews scheduled for August 11.
With little time given to applicants, the committee received only about 30 applications for the coveted post. Among them, the committee selected five people for the interview. Sinha, sources said, remained the frontrunner throughout.
In his August 11 letter to EC chairperson Lokesh Chandra, Mehta wrote that “developments of the last few weeks lead me to conclude that NMML is heading in a direction that makes me uncomfortable”. He noted that “the Committee…has acted in deep haste, in a way that will harm the long term reputation of…NMML”.
He also noted that “the head of the institution (needs to) be someone, who commands intellectual respect”, but “I do not believe the candidate the Committee has recommended as its number one choice commands such respect amongst the academic community…”