Nehru, legacy and the Teen Murti Estate

Last Updated: Fri, Sep 07, 2018 12:57 hrs
Teen Murti Bhavan

India with its population of 135 Cr (2018) is one of the most populated countries in the world. It accounts for 17.7% of the world’s population. In fact, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often spoken about the same, calling it the ‘demographic dividend’ of India.

However, the population can be a demographic dividend only if it is an asset. 135 Cr people can be an asset or a liability for any nation – depending upon what is their role in the nation. Are they healthy, aware citizens who contribute to nation building or are they ignorant citizens who are treated as no more than a vote bank? A nation flourishes if and only if its citizens know, take pride in and learn from its history. Ignorance and consequent apathy is the largest enemy of a nation.

But how does a nation institutionalise the process of creating awareness about its past? State run/ supported museums are one of the most effective and efficient ways to do the same.

Museums highlight our history or a facet thereof, showcase our achievements, share our failures and encourage our present to learn from our past. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that it does not falter on this seemingly intangible, but very important objective. It is in this context that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to build a museum commemorating the legacies of all Indian Prime Ministers is laudatory. It has been proposed by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) Society that the Teen Murti Estate in New Delhi could be the site for such a museum.

This appears to be a practical and well thought out decision for multiple reasons, a few of which are given below.

  • The Teen Murti Bhavan (originally called the Flag Staff House) was designated as the official residence of Independent India’s Prime Minister in 1948. Pandit Nehru (in his official capacity as the 1st Prime Minister of Independent India) was the first occupant of the same in its avatar as the Teen Murti Bhavan. It was never proposed that he would also be the last occupant. As seen in many other democracies including the USA and UK, the new Head of State moves into the same official residence which the previous Head of State was occupying. Nowhere has there been a precedent of an official residence being converted to either a family house or a memorial dedicated to one person. Thus, converting the Estate into a museum for all Prime Ministers is a step towards the right direction, given that the 25 acre Teen Murti Estate was not supposed to be meant only for one individual.
  • A museum or centre which is dedicated to all the Prime Ministers of the country showcases the journey that an infant nation took on its way to adulthood. Nehru’s socialism, Lal Bahdur Shastri’s “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’” or Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy did not belong to them alone. They were the elected representatives of this country and their story is as much ours, as it is theirs. It is the duty of the Government to make sure that their contribution is made available to all – in fact the previous dispensations have been guilty of neglecting the same. It is time that this oversight is addressed.

  • Webster's dictionary defines legacy as, “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor”. There is no objective or quantifiable metric for assessing the legacy of a person. Thus, who decided that P V Narasimha Rao’s move towards economic liberalization or Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s boldness in conducting the nuclear tests at Pokhran were not as great a legacy as Nehru’s socialism and thereby not worthy of recognition? In fact, Narasimha Rao’s visionary approach in transforming the moribund, inefficient Indian economy to an efficient, vibrant free market economy saved our country from economic disaster. Yet, his own party (the Congress) did not deem it important to have a memorial for him in the national capital. His legacy was recognised 10 years after his death – ironically by the current NDA Government.

  • The Teen Murti Estate is already mapped on the tourist and cultural trail of New Delhi. It is a popular site for the Hop on-Hop off Bus Service and is well connected by road and metro. The infrastructure, maintenance, logistics and overall administration are all already been taken care of. Choosing a large, popular, familiar location for the proposed museum is by far the more prudent and sensible choice than setting up a facility from scratch with significant time and resource investment. Moreover, having a dedicated museum for all PMs is far more impactful than having separate memorials/ museums at different locations.
  • Lastly, the Government is well within its rights to decide what to do with the said estate. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) Society was set up as an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. The NMML is headed by the Prime Minister of India. The Home Minister is the Vice President of the NMML. Thus, the entire estate vests with the Government of India. It is neither the property of the Nehru-Gandhi family nor of the Congress Party. If the Government decides to convert it to a museum for commemorating all PMs, it has the legal and moral right to do so. Neither can the intent be faulted, nor can the idea.

Surprisingly, a section of the people especially politicians have taken umbrage over the proposed move. They have alleged that this decision will undermine Nehru’s legacy. But if a legacy is so weak that it can be diluted by inclusion of other PMs in the museum, then is it really a legacy? In any case, the NMML has specified that the proposed museum will be separate from the existing structure of the Nehru Memorial. Surely, the impact that Pt. Nehru had on this country was not so weak that it will get affected by inclusion of other PMs in the same 25 acre estate. Every Prime Minister has had a role in shaping India – some more, some less…but each and every one of them did play a pivotal role. The life that we ordinary Indians lead is a sum total of the legacy that each of the previous PMs have left. It is only fair that we get to know about them all.

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Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta, currently she works in the corporate sector. She comes from an army background.