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Controversy brews in India’s premier library, museum
Published on 12 Jul. 2009 11:28 PM IST
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A controversy over the functioning of the prestigious Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in the capital has reached the office of the prime minister and is making waves among top Indian scholars. A group of 57 scholars including Rajmohan Gandhi, Sunil Khilnani, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Ramachandra Guha, Nayanjot Lahiri, Sumit Sarkar, Krishna Kumar, Partha Chatterjee, Sugata Bose, Joya Chatterji, Nivedita Menon, Rukun Advani, Mahesh Rangarajan and Mushirul Hasan, in an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urged him to set in motion steps necessary to revive the NMML. ‘Until 1990, the NMML was a world class centre of scholarship and research and a worthy memorial to Jawaharlal Nehru, the great democrat and scholar after whom it was named. In recent years, however, the institution has been trapped in a culture of apathy and mediocrity,’ the scholars said in their letter sent in June. They said the library has discontinued its publication programme, acquisition of rare manuscripts and oral histories have come to a standstill and it has ‘abandoned its principled non-partisanship by opening its door to political use and misuse’. In their letter, a copy of which is with IANS, the scholars urged the prime minister to ‘end the nepotistic tenure of consultants, induct into the executive council of NMML three or four respected scholars, encourage the executive council to restore the NMML to its position as India’s pre-eminent centre of dispassionate scholarship in humanities and social sciences’. They demanded that ‘once the present director Mridula Mukherjee’s term ends in August, her successor must be chosen through an open, transparent process’. When contacted in Bangalore, historian, social scientist and writer Ramachandra Guha, one of the signatories to the petition, told IANS on phone to ‘quote the petition because it contained the complete scenario’. However, some other scholars who refused to be named alleged that the petition was an effort to ‘remove eminent historian Mridula Mukherjee’, a former professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, from her post as director and was ‘an attempt to cover up certain serious irregularities in the NMML under the previous bosses in 2004-05’. NMML, a repository of the personal memorabilia of the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was founded at the initiative of the government under the ministry of culture in 1964 after Nehru’s death. Housed at Teen Murti Bhavan where Nehru lived, it also serves as an advanced research centre. It has been allocated Rs.26.50 crore in the budget by the culture ministry for modernisation, said a senior official of NMML. In a statement on the website of the museum, Director Mridula Mukherjee said: ‘The entire activities of the library will be automated through computerisation, thereby reducing paper work.’ Mukherjee, who is out of the country at the moment, said in the statement that the digitisation work has two objectives - preservation and to make the contents available to the world. The digitisation committee, which met in January 2009 to approve the bids for it, shortlisted 10 vendors in May. The terms of reference to the shortlisted vendors have been issued in June. Citing new projects initiated by the library, an official said the director has been reaching out to rural, marginalised and challenged children across the country with the message and values of Mahatma Gandhi and the secular and scientific ideals of Nehru through interactive programmes based on music, painting, dance and theatre. The library has seen several eminent personalities like V.P. Singh, Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King III, Amitav Ghosh, Medha Patkar, M.S. Swaminathan and Robert Jessop debate on issues like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, right to information, the Gandhian Legacy, globalisation and the environment.

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