As the curtains get drawn to mark the end of the current dispensation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is consumed with the aching desire to be included in the company of the great before history dumps him in its dustbin.
Hence the unseemly haste with which he and his cohort are seeking to displace the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund (JNMF) from the rickety barracks they occupy in a remote corner of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML)’s Teen Murti premises. On September 11, 2018, a full four and a half years after Modi had been in power, and just months before it became clear that he was about to lose it, the JNMF suddenly received a letter from the directorate of estates—under the ministry of housing—describing possession of the premises they have occupied since 1967 as “illegal”, and demanding that they vacate it within ten days.
Extraordinary! True, Nehru’s party has been in power for about 34 of the last 51 years. In the rest of the years, this democratic nation has seen Morarji Desai-Charan Singh’s Janata Dal coalition stumble through three years (1977-1980) of mis-governance; eleven months of V.P. Singh (December 1989-November 1990); seven months of Chandra Shekhar (November 1990-June 1991); 13 days of A.B. Vajpayee (1996); then 324 days of H.D. Deve Gowda (June1996-April 1997); eleven months of I.K. Gujral (April 1997-March 1998); 13 months of Vajpayee-II (March 1998-April 1999); and then five years of Vajpayee-III (April 1999-May 2004, including his six months spanning Kargil War as heading a caretaker government). Not one of them suggested that JNMF is in “illegal” occupation of public premises.
In a letter to his successor, former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh pointed out that during Vajpayee’s six years in office, “there was absolutely no attempt to change the nature and character of the NMML”. Dr Singh cited how Vajpayee paid this noble tribute to Nehru by saying: “In spite of differences of opinion, we have nothing but respect for his great ideals, his integrity, his love of the country and his indomitable courage”. Now, under a vengeful Modi—intensely jealous of Nehru’s national and international reputation and the boundless regard and affection in which even his political opponents held him—we have this petty, last-minute attempt at resorting to legal hocus-pocus in declaring the JNMF’s occupation of the barracks as “unauthorised” within the meaning of the Public Premises Act. This is in order to demolish the barracks and build there a grand monument for Modi, and, it is claimed, the other prime ministers we have had—with none of the others, the Congress or non-Congress, apart from Modi, having asked for it.
The JNMF, in its forceful reply, has recited the “unassailable facts” to hold its presence on the premises to be “totally legal”, “duly authorised”, and “recognised, accepted and duly permitted” since 1967 “by your ministry” itself. Touché!
Modi can always get his sangh parivar or Ambani-Adani-Choksi-Mallya-Nirav-and-Lalit Modis to build him a magnificent mansion to house his papers and the numerous clippings, photographs, recordings and videos he has accumulated to immortalise his eminence. Why demolish the humble barracks where 97 volumes of Nehru’s selected works are being painstakingly put together, upholding the heritage of our freedom movement and the crucial initial years of nation-building, only to foster Modi’s fantasy that he is as great as Jawaharlal Nehru?
Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.