The Bharatiya Janata Party government has reaffirmed yet again that aversion to dissent ~ in a democracy ~ is quite the most pronounced in the academic and quasi-academic circuits. After the suicide of a student at Hyderabad Central University and the kerfuffle at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the decision to reconstitute the committee of the venerated Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi is testament to the establishment’s intolerance towards the slightest ideological divergence.
The replacement of three erudite members of the NMML Society, who have been vocal in their opposition to the idea of a museum on the Prime Ministers of India, is testament to the establishment’s intolerance towards ideological divergence. At another remove, ideological inclusiveness is the bedrock of a healthy democracy.
More than a passing-show that is etched in stone, the Narendra Modi administration seems intent on overshadowing Jawaharlal Nehru by according him the position of one among equals. This is somehow concordant with the BJP’s opposition to the policies of Nehruvian India. Not surpringly, economist Nitin Desai, former bureaucrat BP Singh, and academic Udayan Misra have been axed and four new members ~ close to the establishment ~ inducted.
Aptly enough, the Centre’s move has been interpreted as an initiative to dilute the significance and contribution of the country’s first Prime Minister, indeed a convoluted attempt to craft its preferred historiography. Appointed in April 2015, those dropped still had two years to go for their five-year tenure to conclude. It bears recall that one of the Society members, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, had resigned in protest against what he called the “marginalisation of academic credentials” in the selection of the Museum’s director.
The timing of the recast at NMML has been carefully calculated i.e. as the BJP-led NDA government enters the twilight phase of its tenure. Culture minister Mahesh Sharma’s plea that the changes had been approved by the Prime Minister is a feeble expression of sarkari procedure. Not wholly unrelated is the distinguished historian, Ramachandra Guha’s refusal to join Ahmedabad University”due to circumstances beyond my control”.
He has clothed his response with the lament that “a biographer of Gandhi (The Years that Changed the World) cannot teach a course on Gandhi in Gandhi’s own city”. Guha has been suitably gracious to use the language of understatement. He was scheduled to join as the Shrenik Lalbhai Chair Professor of Humanities and the director of the Gandhi School at the School of Arts and Sciences.
It is more than mildly shocking that this has happened in a private institution that claims to”offer students a liberal education”. More accurately, the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, has claimed responsibility. Going by its note to the university’s Registrar, it sought “intellectuals in educational institutions, not anti-nationals”. Interpretation of facts is a matter of subjective reflection. The BJP’s praxis runs counter to the certitudes of the discipline. The ABVP has humiliated Guha, and the space for dissent is progressively shrinking.