New Delhi: Amid the controversy over the central government removing all senior Congress leaders from the reconstituted Nehru Museum Memorial and Library (NMML) Society, one of the new members on the board, Ram Bhadur Rai, has questioned the legacy of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Rai, a former journalist who also heads the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts board and was in the 1970s associated with the ABVP and JP movement, told News18 that Nehruvian legacy is “debatable” and the sooner the country becomes free of it, the better it would be.
The Centre had on Tuesday reconstituted the NMML society by removing Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and Karan Singh as its members and inducting home minister Amit Shah, TV journalist Rajat Sharma and censor board chief Prasoon Joshi, among others. The committee strength has been cut down from 34 members to 28.
The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, an autonomous institution under the ministry of culture, was set up in Delhi’s Teen Murti Bhavan in 1966. It preserves Nehru’s personal papers and others related to the freedom movement.
The move to reconstitute the board has been criticised by the Congress as one of political vendetta as it comes at a crucial time as the government plans to extensively revamp the museum. The previous board had repeatedly objected to the proposals.
But Rai asserted that the government had the right to reconstitute the committee as “NMML is not the jagir (estate) of 10 Janpath” and the move will help bring the NMML society into the “fold of democracy”.
Here are the excerpts from the conversation:
Q. Diversity is an important factor in autonomous bodies of the country as it ensures all views get a platform. Do you think the rejig act of the government reeks of vendetta?
A. In a democracy, two things are important. First, to bring in desired and just changes in the system without doing injustice to anyone. In the case of Nehru Museum Memorial and Library, (NMML) there was the monopoly of one family but now we see real democracy.
If you go inside the vicinity of the NMML, you will see how people from poor backgrounds became the Prime Minister of India. The facts will be shown there and made known to people. There are many stories to tell on Indian diversity and unity, and the things have started happening, and to show how things are changing the model is NMML campus.
It has been removed from the raja, maharaja and feudal mentality that was prevalent in the country. The attempt is to bring it in the fold of democracy.
The eliminations have led to a ‘Congress-Mukt’ NMML. How do you look at this omission of people from other political orientations?
The NMML is a sansthan (organisation) that is 100 per cent funded by the government of India. The Indian government has the right to reconstitute it. Earlier, NMML was in the memory of Nehru but with Modi Sarkar it has become a just portrayal of all PMs. It is now on the lines of a national museum.
To put it frankly, NMML is not the jagir of 10 Janpath. The NMML Society is GoIs, and it has the right to decide who will stay and who will not. Earlier PMs kept 10 Janpath in mind and moulded it accordingly.
But Modi is above that. He did what he thought right. In one of my interactions with the former PM Chandra Shekhar, I asked him about his regrets and he said that he had two: One that he made Sonia Gandhi the chairman of NMML and made TN Seshan the CEC on the insistence of Rajiv Gandhi.
We need to understand now that the character of NMML has changed. When Nehru died, the Cabinet decided that in memory of Nehru, something should be done. Its land use changed, but then a socialist leader Mohan Singh put the question asking if “NMML land use changed?” The minister then, Arjun Singh, said that information is being collected. This was inquired as demanded in the Parliamentary system. The committee got to know that the land use was not changed. The culture ministry paid rent to housing ministry.
Since the time the government has come, there have been sweeping changes in NMML – from museum for all PMs to removal of Congress leaders. How do respond to the cry that it is an attack on Nehruvian legacy?
I have had a bypass surgery and this question demands a very long conversation. But I will try to say it in a line – the Nehruvian legacy is debatable, we have to see what its plus points are, and adopt them and abandon the minuses. Finally, I think the sooner the country becomes free of Nehruvian legacy the better it is. With this, we will reclaim Gandhi’s route and pursue Swarajya.