Saturday, September 05, 2015

Converting Nehru Museum into Modi propaganda spot is "anachronistic, inappropriate, unjustified": Top scholars

Gopalkrishna Gandhi
By Our Representative
Well known public personalities and scholars Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Girish Karnad, Romila Thapar, and Ananya Vajpeyi have strongly protested against the plan to convert the prestigious Nehru Museum in Delhi into a “Museum of Governance”, and "to repurpose it to broadcast the activities of the current government".
They have demanded "public debate involving historians, conservationists, educationists, cultural decision-makers and other stakeholders" before any changes are "authorized to one of our most valued institutions of higher learning."
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a reputed ex-civil servant, Girish Karnad is a top theatre personality, Romila Thapar is India's foremost historian, and Ananya Vajpeyi is a well known social scientist.
"While the government has every resource at its disposal should it want to build a Museum of Governance and use such an institution to display its own achievements, the Nehru Museum was never meant to be anything other than a museum dedicated to India’s first Prime Minister, his life and his times", a statement issued by them says.
Pointing out that the "Nehru Memorial Museum and Library bears the name of Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), a political leader, intellectual, lawyer, thinker and author who became India’s first Prime Minister", the statement underlines, "Imposing these varied concepts on what was and remains Jawaharlal Nehru’s prime ministerial residence from India’s Independence until his death is, from the perspective of both history and aesthetics, anachronistic, inappropriate and unjustified".
The Nehru Museum, located in the former Prime Minister’s residence on the precincts has been known as repository of the years he spent living in that house, which was also the period immediately following India’s independence from British rule, and the first phase of the nation’s life as a new republic.
Nehru lived and worked from Teen Murti for close to two decades, and his residence is full of memorabilia connected with his person, with the office of the Prime Minister, and with the history of post-colonial India until the mid-1960s.
The scholars say, "The Nehru Museum like all museums deserves and requires periodic conservation, renovation and modernization." However, disturbingly the news about changing it come when "an eminent conservation architect has been appointed to attend to this museum and a sum of Rs10 crore has been set aside for this task".
The scholars say, "All around the world, houses of significant political leaders and politician-intellectuals have been converted into museums and memorials open to the public, and these act as excellent spaces in which to educate a wider citizenry about the modern history and political life of whichever country they might be located in. The Nehru Museum has exactly such a mandate and function. It must be allowed to fulfill its purpose."
Instead of converting Nehru Museum, the statement says, the Government of India has enough resources at its disposal to build other museums in order to showcase “governance”, “space research”, “smart cities”, the Mars Mission "or whatever other idea that the Ministry of Culture has evolved during its deliberations and which it deems worthy of a separate museum for display, memorialization and public pedagogy."
Pointing towards the importance of the museum for scholars, the statement says, "The Nehru Library has been and continues to be the country’s premier research library for modern history and the social sciences. It houses the papers of a range of writers, political leaders and significant scholars belonging to the founding generations".
Further: "It also has an eclectic collection of institutional papers. Its holdings are non-partisan and reflect the broad swathe of political ideologies and schools of thought that have existed and flourished in nationalist–era and independent India. The Library, unlike the Museum, is in no way limited to Nehru’s papers, Nehru’s writings or scholarship that might be described as Nehruvian”.
The statement wonders why are "ministers, spokespersons and special appointees of the current administration making statements to the press suggesting that the Nehru Library is focused on Nehru alone? This is patently false. Students, researchers and scholars working on a spectrum of topics in the history of modern India, from anti-colonial movements to communism to the world wars to Hindu nationalism to state and regional politics to Gandhian studies to non-alignment, all need to consult the books, papers, microfilms, newspapers, archival materials and journals that are housed in the Nehru Library. This has been the case from the very inception of the library."
Demanding that the Nehru Museum's "essential task, standing and autonomy must not be impaired or distorted", the statement says, they fear that the Museum's "role and repute are endangered by the sorts of irresponsible statements emanating from some sections of the government".

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