THOUGH INITIALLY ESTABLISHED as a memorial to Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) is now better known for its spectacular and sparkling addition, the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya or the Prime Ministers’ Museum. Is it time to rename NMML as PMML—Prime Ministers’ Museum and Library? Will that put a seal of stability to its change in identity, affording its makeover durability if not permanence? Those who have been following the story of its transformation might readily concur that the time has finally come to make the changeover long-lasting by officially giving it a new identity.
As a two-term member of the NMML Society, I was privileged to witness the inauguration of the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya on April 14, 2022. It was not only Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birthday but also coincided with Mahavir Jayanti last year. So impressed was I with both the building and its contents, that I felt impelled to write about it. In that op-ed, I recounted how, under Narendra Modi’s groundbreaking presidency of the NMML Society, this hallowed establishment, so closely identified with the Nehru-Gandhi family, had undergone a foundational and character-altering transformation.
From institutionalised dynasticism tantamount to the promotion of the Nehru personality cult as the founder of modern India—promoted at the taxpayer’s expense—NMML was transmuted into a tribute to all the prime ministers of India. The Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya now serves as a powerful symbol of people’s power, the strength of Indian democracy, not of any individual, however powerful or significant. Its 43 galleries cover the tenure of 15 prime ministers using innovative technologies and immersive experiences, including a sound and light show, to document the saga of Indian parliamentary democracy.
Thousands of visitors come each day to witness Indian democracy’s survival against overwhelming odds and multitudinous challenges, including war, insurgency, economic and food crises, Emergency, and, more recently, a global pandemic. This is a museum that not only empowers every ordinary citizen of the country who visits it but also educates future generations and visitors from abroad, showcasing the vibrancy and endurance of Indian democracy. What is more, NMML’s changed identity has not been achieved by excluding, let alone erasing, the extraordinary contribution of our first and, as yet, longest-serving prime minister, Nehru.
The iconic original Teen Murti building, designed by Robert Tor Russell, and constructed in 1929-30 south of the Viceroy’s Palace or Rashtrapati Bhavan, used to be the official residence of the British Commander-in-Chief. Nehru occupied it in August 1948 and lived there for sixteen years till his death in 1964. Most of the original galleries in Teen Murti house have been preserved and seamlessly integrated into the brand-new, high-tech, state-of-the-art new building, which serves as worthy contrast. It is as if the past and the future of India are facing each other without any conflict or competition.
In fact, the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya narrates a tale of continuity, from India’s liberation from the British Raj, through the early Nehru years, right up to the beginnings of the Modi era. Even the older exhibitions have been technologically and digitally enhanced. One of its key features is the heroic and inspiring account of India’s freedom struggle right through to the making of our Constitution. Thereafter, the great efforts and exertions of independent India to the hope and promise of the renascent India to come.
Nehru passed away on May 27, 1964. On November 14 of that year, which would have been his 75th birthday, then- President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan officially dedicated NMML to the nation as an autonomous institution, committed to commemorating Nehru’s legacy and promoting advanced research on Modern and Contemporary India. One-and-a-half years later, on April 1, 1966, the Indian government established the NMML Society to manage the institution. Its mandate remained practically unchanged, with its management firmly in the hands of the Gandhi family, till Modi became India’s fourteenth prime minister on May 26, 2014.
The Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya empowers every citizen and educates future generations, showcasing the endurance of Indian democracy. NMML’S changed identity has not been achieved by excluding the contribution of Nehru
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The extraordinary metamorphosis of the old NMML to the new Prime Ministers Museum and Library, which we might as well call PMML, could not have happened without tremendous foresight, planning, and efficient execution. The old trustees had to be dislodged, the deeply entrenched vested interests sidelined, and a new set of administrative procedures implemented. Prime Minister Modi’s hand-picked men worked over a period of several years to bring about the change. After Modi took over the society, he turned it into a multi-ministerial advisory and executive engine, with important members from civil society, including academics and public intellectuals.
If one looks at the composition of the NMML Society today, we would notice that it includes the defence minister as its vice president, the home, finance, education, culture ministers, as well as the ministers of state (MoS) for external affairs and information and broadcasting, and the president of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, in addition to secretaries from several ministries and other distinguished and accomplished dignitaries, including the chairman of the University Grants Commission and the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Relations, as its prominent members. Heading the executive council is senior retired bureaucrat, Nripendra Misra, who had served as the prime minister’s principal secretary. The vice chairman is A Surya Prakash, eminent journalist and former chairman of Prasar Bharati.
I cannot think of any other organisation in India which shows such an inter-ministerial coordination and cooperation. India’s soft power sector occupies a broad spectrum when it comes to the gargantuan state sector. It spans the ministries of education, culture, external affairs, among others, and is divided into literarily scores of bodies. It was only until under Modi’s leadership that all these organisations, along with their top leadership, could work in a coordinated manner. Some problems still remain, including the occupation of certain parts of the NMML campus and buildings. There is a resolve to sort these out with the help of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. But the most important changes have already been effected.
On Monday January 2, the first working day of the New Year, the NMML Society conducted its 45th annual meeting at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, the prime minister’s residence. When the prime minister
wishedallthemembersahappynewyear, Icouldn’thelpremembering that it was also Vaikuntha Ekadashi, auspicious for a soul’s onward progress and liberation. Modi’s beloved and revered mother, Heeraba, had passed just three days earlier at the age of 99.
Besides Modi, there were six ministers in the room. A glowing Rajnath Singh, recently recovered Nirmala Sitharaman, attentive Dharmendra Pradhan, diligent G Kishan Reddy, energetic Anurag Thakur, and tranquil V Muraleedharan. In addition, other leaders and influencers were in attendance, such as Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Swapan Dasgupta, Raghuvendra Tanwar, Sachchidanand Joshi, Prasoon Joshi, and Anirban Ganguly. The meeting was ably conducted by the chairman Nripendra Misra, and NMML director Sanjiv Nandan Sahai.
From the security check and ushering in of the members, the tastefully arranged high tea, the chairman’s report, the approval of the minutes and finances, the culture minister’s address, right up to the prime minister’s concluding remarks and observations, the proceedings were efficient and flawless. Indeed, I cannot think of a meeting of any governmental agency that transpired as smartly or smoothly. Why can’t most, if not all, meetings be of this calibre, I wondered? They answer is obvious. The presence of India’s most powerful person in the room, with the venue, his own home, made all the difference. It was the Modi touch which made the difference, lifting up the quality of the event.
As G Kishan Reddy read out his remarks, Modi, as is his habit, closed his eyes. He was gathering his thoughts and focusing his mind on how NMML might serve his bigger plans for India. Speaking in Hindi peppered with English, he outlined his ideas for NMML’s next phase of development. I might sum up his approach as vividhata and vistaar— diversity and augmentation—in the service of the nation. At the heart of his vision is the idea of “Ek Bharat Shreshth Bharat”— One India, Excellent India. A thinking man, always aiming at big goals, Modi is a remarkable leader. Looking at him and at the other people around the table, I felt that India was not only in safe hands but that its future was also bright and secure.
It was a great way to begin 2023.
(To be continued)
About The Author
Makarand R Paranjape is professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views are personal.
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