Ideological design behind Nehru Memorial revamp?

Anil Anand

One of the most unlikely places to be engulfed by a controversy, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library or most popularly known as ‘Teen Murti House’ is suddenly in the midst of an identity crisis. For those who have witnessed the existence and growth of the Independent India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s official residence, the complex was synonymous with his name.

But not anymore as a seemingly avoidable complexity in the name of revamping the NMML has pushed the historic building to the throes of identity crisis. Revamp, discovery and rediscovery are continuous processes which none other than Pandit Nehru himself would have supported at all times. But the motive and manner in which the entire process has been kick-started by self-professed RSS acolyte and Union Minister for Culture Dr Mahesh Sharma has left a bad taste and raised many questions as to the real intention of the Government.

This is not to say that he is operating on his own. The obvious inference is that he is moving with the backing of all those he is answerable to both in the government and other levels.

By definition the Rs 10 crore revamp in the name of making the place and the philosophy of the person after whom it has been named, more relevant to current times sounds perfect. But the underlying spirit amply articulated in Dr Sharma’s view, points to a sinister political design aimed at getting squarer with one of the tallest Congress leader who many feel played a historic role both in the Freedom Struggle and on course to the Free India’s development. There is no denying the fact that he had his fair share of failures as well.

The controversy has already accounted for its first casualty. Mr Mahesh Rangarajan has almost been forced to resign as the NMML director, the post to which he was appointed for life by the previous UPA dispensation. It is the right logical move, removing him, by the Culture Ministry backed by the ideological proponents of the idea to revamp the place in a particular way. This is certainly a psychological advantage and a moral victory in some sense for the proponents of a new look NMML.

With a newly constituted Executive Council already in place which has some prominent faces who are opposed to the Nehruvian thought as its members and a Culture Ministry official having been appointed as working director of the NMML, the die seems to have been cast for the revamp. All eyes will be riveted on the Council-Ministry combination as to how the plan is conceived and taken forward.

The question arises whether the approach will be an all encompassing or will be pursued with the insight of the Culture Minister and his ideological proponents.  Whatever be the approach but it is quite clear that both the Museum which reflects on the times of Pandit Nehru as Prime Minister and the Library are in for major changes that do not seem to be akin to the basic premise on which this institution was founded.

It is also clear beyond any doubt that the NMML will have less and less of Nehru, which incidentally was dedicated to his life and work as Prime Minister after his death in 1964. Mr Lokesh Chandra, chairman of the NMML Executive Council has been quoted having said that the museum is stuck in the past. “Right now it is only about the times of Nehru…. We have to make the museum relevant to today’s times so that questions on governance in present day are addressed,” he had added.

Expectedly, Mr Chandra’s initial observation is in line with the broader thinking behind the revamp plan and does not amuse anyone. But how can one miss the point that the basic foundation of this institute was propagation of Nehruvian thought with no stopping on new additions as part of research.

He provided just another index of things to follow that ultimately rose heckles of free-thinkers and those swearing by the Nehruvian thought. “The Library can be a place where present-day issues of governance and international problems are discussed. For instance, why not have scholars from West Asia come here to debate on the perils of Islamic State or to discuss our PM’s UAE visit?”. Does it need any further clarification on the real motive behind the revamp plan?

These ideas floated by Mr Chandra leave none in the doubt that exercise is being undertaken in a pre-conceived manner. The contours of the plan have been drawn leaving little scope for debate or encompassing ideas from different sections of the society.

In the backdrop of these developments, voices of dissent particularly those demanding a discussion on the possible revamp plan have also starting emerging. Expressing concern over the move, Mr Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, noted historian Ms Romila Thapar as well as film actor and writer Mr Girish Karnad have demanded a public debate involving eminent persons from different walks of life before going ahead  with the plan.

It is logical for them to express their apprehensions. “We fear that the NMML’s role and repute are endangered by the sorts of irresponsible statements emanating from some sections of the government. A public debate involving historians, conservationists, educationists, cultural decision-makers and other stakeholders must be had before any changes are authorised to one of our most valued institutions of higher learning,” is their take.

Some voices, which are influential and credible, are still to be heard in the context of NMML controversy. One of these, veteran Congressman Dr Karan Singh not only had close association with Pandit Nehru, whom he describes his political Guru, but also with the NMML and its related organisations. He is chairman of Nehru Memorial Fund which operates from Teen Murti House premises.

It is ironic that the voice that could matter is maintaining a studied silence. His proximity to Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi is well known who has publically praised scholarly (with respect to Hindu scriptures) knowledge of Dr Singh. The latter’s silence and the presence of his two sons, one in BJP and the other in PDP as MLCs, make the situation interesting.

The question is whether the ‘shishya’ will speak out in favour of the legacy of his political ‘Guru’.

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