Yes, Minister: Kovind committee packed with yes-men
The composition of the Ram Nath Kovind-led committee on the feasibility of ‘one nation, one election’ is heavily biased towards members aligned with the BJP's stance
"Total eyewash" is what Indian National Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called it on Saturday, 2 September, referring to the committee on the 'feasibility' of a 'one nation, one election' strategy.
The epithet was stated in Chowdhury's letter to Union home minister Amit Shah, written to decline a place in the eight-member committee to which Chowdhury had been nominated. The committee is to be chaired by former president of India Ram Nath Kovind.
The prompt refusal of the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha should certainly raise questions about the committee and its composition.
Chowdhury questioned the decision to leave out the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Rajya Sabha too, and added that the committee was constituted with pre-determined recommendations in mind.
A look at the members seem to confirm his misgivings.
Per the letter, Chowdhury also does not seem to have been consulted before the names of the committee members were notified to the press on Saturday, 2 September.
The other members of the eight-member committee may or may not have been consulted in advance, but most of them have spoken out in favour of 'one nation, one election' in the past or are members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and likely to toe the party line. Hence their opinions are evidently a foregone conclusion, the 'committee' a mere formality.
Who are these other committee members, then?
The oldest member of the committee, Subhash C Kashyap, is 94 years old. Former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha, Subhash C. Kashyap, is on record having spoken in favour of one-nation-one-election in the past.
Sanjay Kothari, a former secretary to Ram Nath Kovind when he was the president of India, is in the committee. A career bureaucrat, Kothari has also served as the central vigilance commissioner.
Harish Salve, the London-based NRI lawyer, is believed to be close to the BJP.
Former bureaucrat and chairman of the finance commission NK Singh, a former Rajya Sabha MP from the Janata Dal (United), had crossed over to the BJP in 2014.
Former MP Ghulam Nabi Azad, who left the Congress last year and formed his own party, also enjoys the confidence of the BJP.
Home minister Amit Shah also being a member of the committee himself, seven of the eight members—including the chairman, former president Kovind—seem to be aligned with the official position!
The eighth member, Chowdhury, has now declined and it remains to be seen who will replace him. Clearly, though, whoever is the replacement will have little say in what the committee decides to recommend.
Did the government require another committee to discuss the feasibility of this strategy, though? After all, this conversation has been in the works for the last nine years.
The Election Commission of India has informed the government that it is ready to conduct simultaneous polls provided it is given the required funds, time, human resources and financial resources.
The Niti Ayog’s discussion paper already endorsed the move and the Law Commission in its report in 2018 elaborated on the pros and cons of a 'one nation, one election' strategy.
So, why the Kovind committee and why now?
Packing the committee with eminences appears geared to stifle criticism. With two Padma Vibhushans as members, a former president as the chairman, a hotshot lawyer, a former Lok Sabha secretary general and a former finance commission chairman in the committee, the objective appears to be to silence any opposition or criticism that the move may trigger. For who could know better?
It is noteworthy that no chief minister, especially from the Opposition, and none of the legal eagles and former law ministers in Parliament on the Opposition benches have been accommodated.
Therefore the questions remain. What, for instance, was the basis for including former MP and minister Ghulam Nabi Azad?
The answer is "blowin' in the wind"!