India’s prime ministers lack a common legacy

(Teen Murti Complex)

One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry over the media reports about the allegation that the architectural design of the planned Museum of the Prime Ministers of India in the Teen Murti complex in New Delhi has been “plagiarized”.

This allegation surfaced in the media just a couple of days after cabinet ministers performed the puja at Teen Murti to propitiate Hindu gods in anticipation of the construction work. PM Modi is reportedly “eager” to lay the foundation stone of the imposing museum building (which will also be consecrating his political legacy.)

The gods apparently feel uneasy that they have been dragged into this invidious project to force Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s famously agnostic first PM who once called the scientific and educational institutions as the real temples of modern India, to take up residence with a galaxy of believers and quasi-believers who succeeded him.

(Nehru with Che Guevara)

It is in the fitness of things in today’s India that the hare-brained $40 million project is tiptoeing toward a scam. The project’s DNA is a scam itself – visceral hatred of Nehru and an itch to belittle him, engendered by deeply entrenched inferiority complex that manifests as petty acts.

It is never too late to cry halt to a bad idea. The scandal of plagiarism provides a window of opportunity to introspect. Do we need such a $40 million museum?

Just think of the enormous drain of recurring financial expenditure needed to furbish it, maintain it and to marshal the army of retainers and bureaucrats who will be recruited to keep it running. How many houses for the poor people living on the streets of Mumbai or Delhi can we build with that money?

Will the people of India feel hurt or offended if they don’t have such a Museum? A good case can be made that people may simply prefer to forget some of their prime ministers. Indeed, why should Indian people want to remember their prime ministers with affection? Especially, the 500-600 million Indians who are barely keeping body and soul together? What makes the ruling elite so confident that the people adore them and cherish their memory?

A better course may be to follow the American example where there are presidential libraries in honour of each president, largely funded through donations and grants, which become the repositories of the legacies. Scholars visit them to do research, travellers pay by to pay respect. And they are usually located in the place of birth or residence of the presidents.

Perhaps, we can ‘tweak’ the idea and locate our prime ministerial museums in the capitals of their ‘home state’ – eg., Charan Singh and Chandra Selkar in Lucknow or Morarji in Ahmedabad. Of course, there is a risk that a ‘stand-alone’ museum may badly expose how little some of our prime ministers delivered despite rhetoric.

Without doubt, Nehru’s legacy is impeccable as the architect of independent India in its formative years. In fact, the formidable legacy cannot even be assessed without taking into account the backdrop of his leadership in India’s freedom struggle.

(Nehru with Gandhi)

The bottom line is to leave it to the people to demand such a museum on the hallowed grounds of Teen Murti where Nehru lived as independent India’s first PM. Don’t impose it on them.

It is a fallacy to think that being in Nehru’s company, the lesser mortals in the pantheon of Indian PMs may also earn immortality. Does a fly gain in stature by perching on the back side of an elephant? Unlikely. It will only be an act of plagiarism.