'Institutional Subversion': Criticism as Dhankhar Appoints Personal Staff Members to Standing Panels

'VP is Chairperson of Council of States Ex-officio. He is not a Member of House like Vice Chairperson or Panel of Vice Chairpersons. How can he appoint personal staff on Parliamentary Standing Committees,' Congress MP Manish Tewari asked.

New Delhi: Critics and opposition leaders have called Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankar’s decision to “attach” eight of his personal staff members to 12 parliamentary standing committees and eight departmental standing committees an act of “institutional subversion” and “illegal.”

Indian Express has reported that the officers attached to the committees from the vice-president’s staff are Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Rajesh N Naik, Private Secretary (PS) Sujeet Kumar, Additional Private Secretary Sanjay Verma and OSD Abhyuday Singh Shekhawat. From the Rajya Sabha chairman’s office, the appointees are his OSDs Akhil Choudhary, Dinesh D, Kaustubh Sudhakar Bhalekar, and PS Aditi Chaudhary.

In 2021, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra had tweeted claiming that members of Dhankhar’s extended family had all been appointed as Officials on Special Duty or OSD at the Bengal Raj Bhavan. Dhankhar was governor of Bengal then.

If Moitra’s claims are true, then Abhyuday Singh Shekhawat and Akhil Choudhary – part of the latest tranche of appointments to standing committees – are related to Dhankhar.

A Tuesday order from the Rajya Sabha secretariat says that these officers have been attached with immediate effect. The vice-president of India is the Rajya Sabha chairperson.

An unnamed Rajya Sabha MP has told the newspaper that such a move is “unprecedented.” The same word was used by Congress’s Digvijaya Singh – also an RS MP – in a tweet.

Advocate and rights activist Prashant Bhushan called it an illegal move and said it was an instance of “abuse of power by VP.”

Congress’s Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari wrote that the vice-president of India is the chairperson of the council of the states ex-officio and not a member of the house like the vice-chairperson or the panel of vice-chairpersons.

“Would this not tantamount to institutional subversion?” he asked.

Jairam Ramesh, Congress’s Rajya Sabha chief whip told Express that he planned to take up the issue with Dhankhar as all committees of the Rajya Sabha “already have competent staff drawn from the secretariat.”