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Jawaharlal Nehru birthday: From jacket jab to museum mess, BJP has been chipping away at legacy of India's first PM

Jawaharlal Nehru's birth anniversary celebrations are usually more about Children's Day and less about the politics the man practised. Apart from a few programmes held by the Indian National Congress and Government of India and some video features on the national broadcaster, most Indians find themselves more connected to the Children's Day celebrations than a debate on the Nehruvian legacy.

However, as India celebrates the 129th birth anniversary of Nehru, the way in which the government of the day has been invoking the former prime minister, it is inevitable that there will be some talk about whether India's 14th prime minister despises its first.

 Jawaharlal Nehru birthday: From jacket jab to museum mess, BJP has been chipping away at legacy of Indias first PM

File image of Jawaharlal Nehru. Getty Images

From denigrating the first prime minister in political speeches to undermining the institutions built by Nehru and successive Congress governments, the current government has taken several steps to chip away the leader’s legacy. Then there are some instances like the controversy surrounding the iconic Nehru Modi jacket that is seemingly trivial, but simply reinstate how Bharatiya Janata Party has made no secret of their disdain for Nehru.

Renaming the iconic Nehru jacket

What was a Persian jacket originally, became the preferred sartorial choice for Indian political elite after Nehru popularised it. The round neck close-collared short jacket found its way into the wardrobes of Indian men, routinely sighted in various colours at weddings and on festive occasions.

However, a debate was kickstarted when South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter for gifting him the "gorgeous” Modi vests. Only what was amiss was that Moon was seen wearing what most Indians would remember calling the Nehru jacket. Moon, perhaps, chose those words because its label featured the words "Modi jacket."

The official clarification by the company that manufactured the vests was that these jackets may have been worn by Nehru and Sardar Patel in the past but they were considered premium apparel for the elite. The company said it was Modi who popularised them among the masses.

A counter to this argument could be that the Nehru jacket was listed in Time magazine's top 10 global fashion list in the year 2012, two years before Modi took office and his sartorial sense became a subject of media scrutiny. Furthermore, as an article in The Tribune points out, Nehru had already put out an iconic jacket on the fashion map back in 1964, when he posed for Vogue magazine's cover. "He wore a hip-length tailored coat with a Chinese collar, when he posed for the Vogue magazine in 1964, instantly making the Nehru jacket a piece of cult clothing," the article reads.

It is indeed noteworthy that Modi, not much unlike Nehru was spotted in the jacket on various occasions, especially when on foreign trips. Like Nehru, Modi too has been praised for his impeccable dressing sense. But the fact that someone would think of re-branding an inconsequential moniker for a piece of clothing — especially when it was to be presented as a gift to a foreign dignitary — has perhaps raised eyebrows.

Scrapping of Planning Commission

In scrapping the 64-year-old Planning Commission, a vestige of the socialist era, Modi made the most fundamental changes to how Nehru attempted governance. Nehru envisioned it to oversee the country’s development and resource allocation, but the body often criticised for its archaic model was replaced by the NITI Ayog. Whether the change was for good or for the worst remains part of a separate conversation, but the Planning Commission was one of the last few governance mechanisms that resembled the Soviet planning system, with which Nehru was so impressed.

The Nehru Memorial Museum

The Modi-led government has pushed for New Delhi’s Nehru Memorial Museum and Library to be dedicated to all prime ministers, not just the first one. The move was widely criticised by the Congress party, which urged Modi not to “change the nature and character” of the monument. However, the turmoil began as early as September 2015 when Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said that the appointment of Mahesh Rangarajan as the director of NMML during the Manmohan Singh led-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was "unethical and illegal"; this was followed by the latter's resignation.

Founded as an autonomous institution, the general council, president and the vice-president of the NMML are nominated by the central government. The NMML remained headless for almost a year but saw another controversy when a new director was appointed. Shakti Sinha, who was a private secretary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he headed the first BJP-led government at the Centre, was appointed as the new director of NMML in August 2016. Within days, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a member of the executive committee (EC), resigned from his post citing that rules were tweaked to appoint Sinha as the director.

The government said that it was not changing NMML but merely building another museum inside the premises of the Teen Murti estate. Critics hit back saying that the proposed museum could be built anywhere else in the capital, but building it inside the premises of Teen Murti Bhavan would be changing the existing character of NMML.

The government, it turned out, was bent on its purpose. But where is the space for a new museum in Teen Murti estate? Are you going to cut down the trees?

In a surprise move, the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, chaired by Sonia Gandhi and housed in the Teen Murti estate, was asked by Ministry of Housing and Urban Development in September to vacate the premises on grounds of "unauthorised occupation". The letter said that NMML is in "dire need of space" and alleged that the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund is occupying the premises "without any authority of law". The fund turned down the request stating that the premises has been in its occupation since 1967, and has "remained unchallenged and never questioned and has been cemented".

Even as there was (and is) no clarity over where the proposed museum would be built, the foundation stone for the "Museum of Prime Ministers" was laid on 15 October.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Nov 14, 2018 14:34:29 IST