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Teen Murti row: Manmohan Singh guided by Congress rhetoric, new museum at complex won't tarnish Nehru's legacy

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh has joined other Congress leaders opposing the central government's plans to set up a museum on all prime ministers in the Teen Murti complex, which is dedicated to the memory of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The Teen Murti complex houses the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), Nehru Planetarium, Nehru Memorial and the headquarters of the Sonia Gandhi-headed Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Manmohan accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre of being guided by an "agenda" to change the nature and character of the NMML and Teen Murti complex. He urged the government to leave the 25-acre memorial for Nehru “undisturbed”. The content of his letter is in sync with the Congress' allegation that the Narendra Modi regime was trying to "obliterate" Nehru's legacy.

 Teen Murti row: Manmohan Singh guided by Congress rhetoric, new museum at complex wont tarnish Nehrus legacy

Narendra Modi with Manmohan Singh. Reuters

Manmohan's letter needs to be debated as he is not just a senior Congress leader but is also a former Prime Minister of India, which would mean that his life and work would also be on display at the proposed museum. From the published excerpts of his letter, it appears that he is not objected to the idea of a museum on all prime ministers being built, but he does not want this honor for posterity at the NMML premises, 200 meters from the memorial dedicated to Nehru.

It is also interesting that Manmohan's objection comes around a month after Home Affairs Minister Rajnath Singh chaired the 43rd annual general meeting of the NMML Society, at which members broadly approved of the construction of the new museum within the Teen Murti complex.

Manmohan is apparently guided more by the rhetoric of the Congress and loyalists of the Gandhi-Nehru family than by facts, considering that he believes the proposed museum for prime ministers would wipe out Nehru's legacy.

The current dispensation has already undertaken a massive renovation-cum-reconstruction project to showcase Nehru's legacy at the existing premises. The idea is to beautify and add value to the memory of India's first prime minister, not modify his legacy. In contrast, the state of the memorial deteriorated over the last 50 years, even though the NMML Society was under the control of nominees of the Congress' first family and the Centre was under Congress rule. NMML director Shakti Sinha had said that the captions and photos at the memorial had faded, and the negatives were either destroyed or not stored.

Manmohan's allegation is that the Modi government has an "agenda" to "obliterate" Nehru's legacy. The proposed changes — mentioned in the "New Design for the Nehru Museum" section of the NMML's official website — include rearranging the display at the memorial to showcase the following:

- Five big moments of Nehru's life till 1947
- Nehru's personal life from childhood in Anand Bhawan to 1964
- Crisis management in 1946-47
- India wins freedom
- Foundation of the Indian democracy
- Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi's relation
- Nehru's vision of education
- Nehru and science
- Nehru and cartoons
- Nehru's take on an inclusive state policy

One can now judge whether the proposed changes to the memorial will enhance Nehru's legacy or destroy it.

Teen Murti House, as it is now called, was known as the Flagstaff House in the pre-Independence era and used to be the residence of the commander-in-chief of the British armed forces. In June 1948, the property was officially designated as the prime minister's official residence. In an interview to this reporter, the NMML director said that even after Nehru's death, there was an opinion within the government that the Teen Murti House should continue to be the official residence of the Prime Minister of India, and that NMML should be built or shifted to Travancore House in Delhi. But later, it was decided that the Teen Murti House would be turned into a memorial for Nehru.

The new buildings that hold the library and planetarium were later additions. The Nehru Memorial Fund, a private organisation chaired by Sonia Gandhi, h4as also been allotted a complex inside the premises. In fact, the first gate of the Teen Murti complex at the roundabout opens into the Nehru Memorial Fund. Visitors are not allowed into that part of the complex.

Cartoon by Manjul.

Cartoon by Manjul.

If a museum on all the prime ministers of India is indeed established at the complex, it would not be the first time a new structure would be built there. The problem lies elsewhere — so far, all new structures and allotments inside the Teen Murti complex have borne Nehru's name, almost making the entire property an exclusive Nehru preserve. The proposed museum would take away from that as it would serve as a museum for all other prime ministers, from Lal Bahadur Shastri to Narendra Modi and whoever holds the post in future.

Although the new structure is proposed to be built around 200 meters from the main Nehru museum building, both would have the same main entry gate, and the NMML would run both. There were arguments for a different body to operate the new museum and for a separate entry.

The government is in no mood to yield to these demands. A top minister said that the government's decision is final. "A decision to build a museum for all prime ministers was made after due deliberation, and now, there is no scope for any review. As it is, the renovation work of the existing Nehru museum is on, and you will see that it will have a much better look and feel. All concerns in this regard are unfounded," the minister said.

Sinha said that the NMML was a government property, which meant that the government in power had the authority to build something within the premises to add to the reputation of the place and serve researchers and tourists significantly.

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Updated Date: Aug 27, 2018 21:38:34 IST