Government Continues to Blow Hot, Blow Cold on Nehru Library

New Delhi: Days after the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) issued a statement saying the institution had no plans to dilute the centrality of Jawaharlal Nehru from the library or museum housed in his official residence, Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma appears to have lowered the boom on its director.

According to PTI,  Sharma, who spoke to reporters here on Tuesday, termed the appointment of Mahesh Rangarajan as Director of NMML “illegal and unethical”. The appointment was made despite the EC writing to the Culture ministry on May 12, 2014 asking it to defer a proposal on permanent absorption of Rangarajan for the post till the election process was over, the minister claimed.

In fact, Rangarajan’s appointment was approved by the UPA cabinet on May 14, two days after the last day of polling – when the EC’s Model Code of Conduct ceases to be operational  – and he took charge as director on May 19, 2014.

Sharma also faulted the fact that Rangarajan was made director till retirement rather than for a three-year tenure, as had been the case with the previous incumbent, Mridula Mukherjee.

Asked by reporters why he and the NDA government had not spoken about the director’s appointment before, Sharma said, “We never wanted to raise this issue. But, once Congress leaders including the Congress president has reacted on this issue, now it has become our duty to bring the facts before the public.” Sharma said the appointment had been “illegally” made and that the government would be taking an appropriate action in the matter.

In the normally partisan world of Indian history, Rangarajan’s stewardship of the NMML has drawn praise from both Left and Right, with the institution hosting a large number of seminars, talks and events focused both on historical as well as contemporary subjects. The library’s collection has also grown and its status as India’s premier centre for research involving 20th century documentation remains unmatched.

While no politically-induced change in the NMML’s functioning is as yet evident – or on the cards as per the official modernisation plan approved in June – recent statements by the Culture Minister have stoked fears about the government’s intentions.

“The museum will be revamped to showcase contemporary India, including PM Narendra Modi’s campaign for smart cities and the Indian Space Research Organisation’s unmanned flight to Mars. The recast museum will focus on the evolution of Indian democracy”, Mahesh Sharma had told the Economic Times on September 2.

The next day, the NMML director issued a statement seeking to allay concerns that any change of direction at the iconic institution was on the cards:

The Government of India has taken a number of initiatives as part of the 125th Birth Anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru (2014-2015).

Keeping in mind the basic objective of the NMML to spread the ideas of Jawaharlal Nehru and awareness about freedom struggle and history of modern India the National Implementation Committee constituted by the Government of India has recommended plans for modernization of the NMML.

There will be a special focus on the governance of India under Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister of India which has been largely left out in the present exhibition. Teen Murti Bhavan is the house of Nehru the Prime Minister, and the Museum will focus on his years as Prime Minister as he, along with great colleagues, laid the foundations of post-colonial India.

Rangarajan’s statement noted that these plans had been approved by a high level committee chaired by NMML chairman Lokesh Chandra on June 27, 2015.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Mahesh Sharma attacked the Congress party for acting  proprietorial over the NMMLand  said India’s first Prime Minister was a national leader and not a “family property”. “The Modi government has been respecting all the great people and will continue to do so. Nehru’s birth centenary was celebrated. Celebrations are taking place for Gandhi ji, Ambedkar. BJP believes that any great man who has contributed to nation building, they are not fiefdom of any one family. They are nation’s legacy.”