NMML restructuring culmination of long-drawn exercise

Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

The recent reconstitution of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) Society that sparked off a flurry of protests over removal of all the Congress leaders from the body was the culmination of a series of events that changed its face and functioning since the BJP-led NDA came to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.

Nearly six months before its term was to expire, the government on Tuesday reconstituted the society, removing Congressmen Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and Karan Singh as its members. Besides them, those considered close to Congress were also dropped from the body. 

The re-constituted society, whose total strength was also trimmed from previous 34 to 28, dons a totally changed look now with the induction of 14 new faces who are either from the government or close the BJP.

The latest recast of the society, in which the Congress would have a token presence only through “a representative” of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund (JNMF) under Congress' interim president Sonia Gandhi, reflects a pattern that was evident since the Congress lost power in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

In September 2015, Union Culture Ministry mooted a plan to “revamp” the NMML, triggering apprehensions among the intellectuals that the Modi government would “subvert” its original character in the name of giving it a “contemporary” look.

Mahesh Rangarajan, an eminent historian and author, stepped down as the NMML director within a month later after then culture minister Mahesh Sharma raised the issue of “procedural lapses” in his appointment to the post, saying he was appointed by the UPA government just two days before the declaration of 2014 Lok Sabha poll results.

Though Rangarajan had made a quiet exit from the NMML, Congress had claimed that he had put in his papers due to "unbearable pressure" mounted on him by the Modi government.

Shakti Sinha, who served as a private secretary to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was subsequently appointed as the new director of the NMML in the same month. The government had appointed the retired bureaucrat to the post, relaxing the required age limit for the post.

As there was much resistance against any move to change the character of the NMML set up in 1966, the Modi government started establishment of a “modern museum” on the premises of the Teen Murti Bhavan, official residence of the first prime minister, in October 2018 to showcase life and contributions of “all prime ministers of India,” apparently to eclipse Nehru.

The government also tried to remove the JNMF's office from the Teen Murti Estate on the grounds of “unauthorised occupation,” serving an eviction notice to it in 2018. The matter is currently subjudiced with the Delhi High Court.

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