New Delhi: The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in the national capital has been committed to honouring India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The current central government, though, has been mulling over another “museum for all Indian PMs” in the NMML premises.
The move has been subject to varied reactions, from being viewed as undermining the Nehru legacy to giving other PMs their due. On the 128th birth anniversary of India’s Prime Minister, News18’s Eram Agha spoke to the present Director of NMML, Shakti Sinha, on the proposed fresh developments. Edited excerpts:
The Centre is considering a museum for all Indian PMs at NMML. What do you think about the need for it?
It is the government’s decision to have a museum of all India’s PMs in NMML. The last book on the Prime Minister’s Office was published in 1976 and in the following years, there were chapters on the PMO but never a comprehensive study on it.
With this museum, there is set to be a comprehensive approach towards studying the PMO. In the US, there are a number of centres that study the presidency, the Congress or legislature. This is very important for the democracy. The museum will enable the Indian society to know more about democratic institutions. Also, scholars will get the one-stop shop to study the subject and get to know about our democracy.
The idea of having a museum for all Indian PMs, in the Nehru museum premises, was not welcomed by some. There were apprehensions that the Narendra Modi-led government might undermine Nehru’s legacy this way. What do you have to say?
Pandit Nehru was a believer in democratic institutions and democracy. There are documents of his correspondence with Sardar Patel over the role, duty and conduct of a Prime Minister. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi mediated between the two leaders.
With Nehru being an institution builder, there is all the more reason for NMML to develop the idea in its premise. Nehru cannot be frozen in time – our leaders should be debated, discussed. I might agree with him, disagree with him, I might partly-agree with him or I might partly-disagree. Everyone should be given a chance to discuss our leaders, our way. The museum for all PMs is in line with the Nehru legacy.
Currently, the museum’s storyline stops at Gandhi’s death and India gaining independence. After the revamp, you will see different aspects of Nehru, explained in the museum. There will be a gallery on ‘Nehru and Foreign Policy’, ‘Nehru and Industry’, ‘Nehru and Education’ and ‘Nehru and Gandhi’. It will be a modern, interactive museum.
NMML has been at the centre of cultural wars. With the BJP-RSS on one side and the Congress in the other.
The status quo changes all the time. Today, the times are not like how it used to be. To expect any government to not communicate its vision is being unrealistic. The previous governments have also set up these institutions to forward their vision.
What changes have you seen in NMML, since you took over?
We have stepped up the level of activities. From the year 2016-17 to now, we have added 70 programs. We have partnered with loads of people and organizations. We choose those who satisfy us and have the program in line with what we do.
NMML invites everyone – I have hosted left-leaning intellectuals, Congress leaders, people who are pro-government, anti-government. All have been given space for their conferences.
The museum is currently hosting a second exhibition regarding the life and times of all Indian PMs. There are books on all PMs that have been displayed, what are your takeaways?
This in itself told us that we need to collect more work on all the other PMs. There is not much available on HD Deve Gowda and PV Narasimha Rao, except some material on them in vernacular languages. This shows that we have not gone beyond Hindi and English. Lal Bahadur Shastri and Chaudhury Charan Singh are quite under-researched.
We have hired people to develop material on all PMs. There will be work on improving technology and to harmonise content with it. We are looking for an architect who can design a museum, which will be in harmony with the surroundings of NMML.