Modi Picks Arnab Goswami to Replace Pratap Bhanu Mehta at Nehru Memorial Library

Turmoil regarding the construction of a Museum for Prime Ministers appears to have had a bearing on the recent changes.

New Delhi: In a surprise development, well-known news anchor Arnab Goswami has been nominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with three others, to join the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) Society as a member. The new appointees have replaced eminent personalities like academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta and economist Nitin Desai, who had strongly opposed the Centre’s move to set up a Museum for Prime Ministers within the Teen Murti premises just a few months ago. Teen Murti is closely linked with the legacy of the first Prime Minister and Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

According to an order issued by the Union Ministry of Culture “with the approval” of the prime minister, Mehta’s resignation from the NMML Society was accepted and his spot on the board has gone to Goswami. Goswami is former editor-in-chief of Times Now and ET Now, and co-founded Republic TV with businessman-politician Rajeev Chandrashekhar.

Desai has been replaced by former journalist and author Ram Bahadur Rai, who was in 2016 also appointed by the Modi government to head the 20-member board of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.

Also read: ‘Political Pressure’ Bad for Academics: Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s Resignation Letter from NMMLAnother member, Dr. B.P. Singh, has been replaced by career diplomat and former foreign secretary of India, S. Jaishankar, who served as the Indian ambassador to the US, China and the Czech Republic, and high commissioner to Singapore. A key player during the negotiations of the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement, Jaishankar joined the Tata group on his retirement.

The fourth person to find a place on the reconstituted NMML board is BJP national vice-president and Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe. He heads the party’s think tank, Public Policy Research Centre, and was earlier appointed president of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. He replaces the well known Assam-based scholar, Udayon Misra.

Congress opposition

Of the four new faces on the board, the one which appears to have irked the Congress the most is Goswami’s, whom party spokesperson Sanjay Jha described as a “religious bigot, who regularly spews hatred, spreads fake news and polarises society”. Accusing Goswami of being a BJP-RSS “mole masquerading as a TV anchor”, Jha tweeted that he would be sacked as soon as Congress wins the 2019 polls.

Many senior journalists also said that Goswami’s appointment was not a good idea as the NMML is a place for scholars, and not just for camp-followers.

Opposition to Museum for Prime Ministers

It is clear that the turmoil NMML witnessed over the issue of the Museum for Prime Ministers had a bearing on the recent changes.

The Wire had earlier reported on how the move to set up the Museum for Prime Ministers had gained traction after Mahesh Rangarajan, who was appointed by the UPA government, resigned in 2015 and retired IAS officer Shakti Sinha who had served in the PMO under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, took his place. Sinha had also served as the director of India Foundation, a think-tank aligned to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.

Mehta had opposed Sinha’s appointment and resigned as an executive council member in protest. Desai had also opposed the shortlisting of Sinha for the post.

When the Executive Council decided to amend the memorandum of association (MoA) of the NMML last year, members like Desai had opposed the idea.

He had submitted in writing that Nehru “represents a link between the freedom struggle and early years of independence and that his contribution to our evolution as a nation is qualitatively different from that of his many successors” and advocated the need to reject the proposed amendments. He had also demanded that Nehru’s successors be commemorated in a separate institutional context.

Also read: Private Prejudice as Public Policy is Displacing Teen Murti’s Most Revered ResidentThereafter, there were fireworks at a NMML board meeting in July this year. During the meeting, chaired by Union home minister Rajnath Singh, senior Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh, Mallikarjun Kharge and Karan Singh, historian Nayanjyot Lahiri, economist Nitin Desai and B.P. Singh had also opposed the idea to set up the Museum of Prime Ministers within the Teen Murti complex. They demanded that NMML retain its original mandate of preserving memorabilia and personal objects related to Jawaharlal Nehru.

But with the news changes to the board, the Centre has sent out a clear message that it will be calling the shots in the future.