February 22, 2020
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In Nehru’s Backyard: A Row Over Proposed All-PMs Museum At Teen Murti

The proposed museum which will showcase the lives of 14 PMs, including Narendra Modi, will change the NMML’s character which is known for its academic excellence, says former PM Man­mohan Singh.

In Nehru’s Backyard: A Row Over Proposed All-PMs Museum At Teen Murti
NMML main gate
Photograph by Suresh Pandey
In Nehru’s Backyard: A Row Over Proposed All-PMs Museum At Teen Murti

First PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s home, the Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi, will soon have a museum of all his successors. The foundation ceremony was held on October 16 in the backyard of the 25-acre estate.

Teen Murti houses the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), an autonomous institution under the Union minis­try of culture. Some members of the NMML have alleged that the new museum, expected to be ready in a year, would “dilute Nehru’s legacy”. Another point of contention is the authenticity of the design on display at the library ent­rance. A day after the foundation stone was laid, architect Raj Rewal alleged the design is a rip-off from his design of a lib­rary block at the State University of Performing and Visual Arts in Rohtak. In a letter to NMML director Shakti Sinha, Rewal points out the similarity in the Ashoka Chakra on a slanting roof in both the designs. “The notable imitation would only harm the image of the prestigious institution that intends to honour all the PMs of our country,” Rewal tells Outlook, refuting Sinha’s claim that all bidders, including Rewal’s team, had seen the final design without raising any objections.

“Nobody can claim monopoly over the Ashoka Chakra,” says Sinha, adding that a  committee is nonetheless looking into Rewal’s claims. Meanwhile, visitors continue to trickle in. A family from Andhra Pradesh clicks a selfie with Nehru’s portrait. “This place is always associated with Nehru, and I would like to keep it that way,” says Venkat, a visitor. A guide is telling a school-going child, visiting with her family from Japan, about the upcoming museum, which will be interactive and user-friendly.

Design of the proposed museum

Photograph by Suresh Pandey

The 10,975.36 sq m museum, estimated to cost Rs 271 crore, will showcase the lives of 14 PMs, including Narendra Modi. The government went ahead with the proposal even after former PM Man­mohan Singh wrote to Modi, urging him not to change the NMML’s character, which is known for its academic excellence. Calling it an agenda of the ruling dispensation, the former PM wrote: “No amount of revisionism can obliterate Nehru’s contributions.”

Sinha, however, claims the new mus­eum would emphasise Nehru’s relevance. “We are upgrading the Nehru part of the museum, to make it primarily about Nehru,” he says. “And if Nehru’s legacy  is so weak as to be lost in the crowd of PMs, then I’m afraid he needs to be lost.”

“If Nehru’s legacy is so weak as to be lost in the crowd of PMs, then I’m afraid he needs to be lost.”
Shakti Sinha, Director, NMML

One of the first Nehru Fellows, historian Irfan Habib, isn’t convinced. He believes the idea of building a museum for all PMs is unethical as NMML is a tribute to the freedom struggle rather than to Nehru. “Nehru is remembered for the idea of welfare state, his version of socialist policies and the non-aligned movement. He led India in line with the Indian National Congress’s Karachi resolution of 1931, which mandated the building of a secular democratic country,” says Habib.

Besides Nehru, the NMML archives also include the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, C. Raja­gopalachari, Jayaprakash Narayan, Charan Singh, Sarojini Naidu and many others. “The biggest draw is the library, a treasure trove for those interested in the history of modern India,” says a research scholar. “With the upcoming museum and the cacophony around it, this island of peace will become an irritant for scholars. I love my tea sessions at the canteen. The character of lectures too have seen a marked change. All that rem­ains is the tranquillity and beauty of the place, but that too may go now.”

Though the Congress-aligned members of NMML are mainly against housing the new museum in the Teen Murti complex, Dr Karan Singh, also a member, says, “After Nehru’s death, the house was turned into a museum in his memory. Why are you asking retrospectively about its relevance? They should have a separate society to run the new museum.”

In a letter to Sinha, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, also an NMML member, wrote that a portrait of Nehru, instead of Deendayal Upadhyay, should be in the seminar hall. Another member, economist Nitin Desai, who had opposed the idea of the new museum, says that “NMML was established for the very fine purpose of academic excellence and should preserve its character”. 

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