In Delhi, you get down at Indira Gandhi International Airport, and via either Nehru Place or Motilal Nehru Marg, you can reach Rajiv Chowk. This, though sounding like a mere description of the route, in fact, is a political statement. Whether one dares to discuss it or not, the fact remains that one single ruling family in India has been recognised and decorated too disproportionately over the last seven decades. Journalist and former Prasar Bharati Chairman A Surya Prakash had very painstakingly compiled a list of over 100 government organisations and institutions named after the members of just one family, obviously from the Nehru dynasty. The recognition is so disproportionate that the long list also incorporates a national park in Mumbai named after Sanjay Gandhi, whose only qualification to fame was being Indira Gandhi’s son.
It is in this setting one has to assess the importance of the inauguration of Pradhan Mantri Sangrahalaya in Delhi a fortnight ago. The Sangrahalaya is not just about the addition of yet another iconic spot to the list of must-visit sites in the national capital but it is also important for at least three other more prominent reasons. Firstly, it marks the institutionalisation of the end of political untouchability practised religiously so far by the Congress and many so-called progressive political groups. Secondly, it also sets up a unique example of how a project that could be considered purely political could be handled in a completely non-partisan and objective manner. Thirdly, it underscores the importance of documenting contemporary history and preserving artefacts of the present times. In addition, it also stresses on showcasing the contemporary history using almost all available modern technologies.
Firstly, the Sangrahalaya is unique for both the concept as well as the conduct. It showcases by far the most inclusive and democratic approach towards creating monuments that have a political underpinning. So far, only five ex-PMs—Nehru, Shastri, Indira, Rajiv and Vajpayee—have their samadhis right in the capital. P V Narasimha Rao died in Delhi but his family was not allowed to carry out the last rights in the capital, lest there would be a demand for a samadhi. Besides, the national capital has museums dedicated to Nehru, Shastri and Indira only. The new Sangrahalaya puts an end to this selective generosity. It showcases the contribution of all ex-prime ministers while providing enough space for all future PMs. More importantly, the depiction of the contribution of every PM along with a review of his/ her tenure has been done in an indisputably objective manner. As a result, at least so far, no family of any ex-PM could find a reason to complain about. In fact, as commented by a visitor, the Modi government has captured the tenure of Jawaharlal Nehru in a much more impressive manner as compared to the old Nehru Museum, created by the dynasty of India’s first PM. Interestingly, the gifts received by past PMs and later on deposited in the Toshakhana or the official government store of collected gifts, and displayed in the Sangrahalaya are very limited in number. This is because, apparently, not many ex-PMs had deposited them in the Toshakhana. Nonetheless, as underscored by Modi, every government led by every PM has contributed to the nation’s advancement in its own way and the Sangrahalaya not just recognises this but also expresses the nation’s gratitude towards all of them.
Secondly, the Sangrahalaya comes across as a textbook example of total objectivity in presenting all former prime ministers, representing different political ideologies. This, in the backdrop of scores of examples of political untouchability that the nation had been a witness to for several decades, is just remarkable. No matter how brief was the tenure of a PM, he or she is duly recognised here. Considering that public discourse in India has always evolved under the shadow of what many believe as political correctness, this museum steadfastly remains away from such a lure. In our country, few PMs had decorated themselves with Bharat Ratna while they themselves were in office. For a few others, their decoration had to wait for a more sympathetic political party to come to power.
Considering all this, with this project, PM Narendra Modi has opened a new refreshing chapter of democratising national recognition to our past PMs, making it a museum of magnanimity.
Lastly, the setting up of this Sangrahalaya is singularly important considering the fact that as a society we are not famous for properly documenting contemporary history. In fact, generally speaking, neither our universities nor contemporary researchers and history scholars have given due importance to the post-independence history of India. This museum has effectively done away with this glaring lacuna. History is always in the making and one can hope that this Sangrahalay would keep reminding us about the continued importance of documentation, compilation of archival material and also collection of artefacts of not just the past but also the present. Our criminal neglect of all the above has made India a nation of maximum history with minimum institutionalised efforts to respect and recognise the same. Also important is the fact that this Sangrahalaya is much more than a traditional museum. History telling, here, comes with a blend of creativity and modern technology. From artificial intelligence and simulation technology to machine learning and virtual reality, most modern technologies have been used here in a seamless manner making this modern India’s tech-marvel too.
When next time in Delhi, visiting this Sangrahalaya is a must as it tells us how to look at your past, while being dispassionate about the present for the benefit of the future.
President, ICCR, and BJP Rajya Sabha MP