IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER, a prime area in the long-overdue national endeavour of civilisational reclamation began with the physical ejection of political squatters from Delhi. The list includes scores of MPs who had lost elections and had no business to continue in their plush accommodations funded by the taxpayer. The most recent celebrity ejectee (that is a word) was Priyanka Vadra who is most famous for the surname she had acquired by the accident of birth, a surname that continues to generate negative dividends. She has never held any political office till date but in that unique Wonder of the World that is the Nehruvian ecosystem, she enjoyed a sprawling Government accommodation for years. Other notorious names include Charan Singh’s son who threw a huge fit when asked to de-squat, and Shabana Azmi, infamous for her ugly lobbying to occupy a posh bungalow on Lodi Road. A Dara hua Musalman who is unable to find a house in Mumbai is miraculously transformed into a highly successful Lutyens lobbyist in Delhi. Such examples abound and a diligent researcher has enough material to author an independent volume on this micro-specialised subject.
The sickening phenomenon can only be described as a state of existing in a semi-permanent stupor induced by the Nehruvian political potassium bromide.
When the sun finally set on their seven decades of entitled merrymaking, these stupefied Lutyens denizens were forced to earn their keep by obsessively ranting against Modi, even as he quietly undid another colonial vestige: renaming Race Course Road to Lok Kalyan Marg, the road of his official residence. To those in the know, the term “7 RCR” still sends a chill... when we recall a certain disgraced journalist repeatedly hollering that address over the phone in the blighted Radia Tapes scandal.
Perhaps the mother of all physical decolonisation initiatives that Narendra Modi has heralded is the Central Vista project about which I have written in detail elsewhere. In its fundamentals and in its essence, it echoes and will perhaps fulfil Sri Dharampal’s profound vision for a comprehensive civilisational decolonisation. More than half a century ago, Dharampal had appealed to the nation to transform all colonial structures in Delhi into museums narrating the tragic story of our colonisation.
The biographies of the greatest monarchs and the histories of the most fabulous empires unerringly reveal a keen grasp of their understanding of the gravity and awe that physical structures exude by their mere presence. For all his other faults, Nehru too, understood this; rather, he had learned the lesson well from the British. In an anonymous paean to himself – an equivalent of a sly tweet – he had delusions of being a Caesar of sorts. He described himself as a self-confessed imperialist who had an “intolerance for weak men.” He wasn’t entirely wrong. The weak men eventually emerged as his hagiographers, and Ramachandra Guha, the hagiographer specimen-in-chief has been briefly profiled here.
Among other things, Nehru as Prime Minister, astutely expropriated the colonial structures built by the British. As unapologetic and proud colonialists, these buildings served an express purpose: to ooze their brute power as global marauders, to stun and awe and inspire fear in the hearts of the unclean Hindoo savages.
BUILT ON A THIRTY-ACRE expanse, it was part of the new imperial complex that the British constructed when they decided to shift India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi. Inaugurated in 1930, the Flagstaff House served as the winter headquarters of the Commander-in-chief of the imperial British Forces in India. He was also the Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the Princely States. Or to make it more explicit, the Flagstaff House was the HQ of a ruthless military that was used to plunder, massacre, oppress, and keep Indians in a state of semi-permanent slavery even in “peacetime.”
After 1947, it became the official residence and workplace of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The new avatar of Flagstaff House was the Teen Murti Bhavan. It was a mere name change and in hindsight, a morbid continuance of pretty much the same colonial trappings. One continues to remain puzzled over some trivial questions: for example, what law permitted say, Padmaja Naidu to occupy an impressive bungalow on the Teen Murti Bhavan estate? After all, India had now become a democratic republic where even the “lowliest” citizen could become Prime Minister and extending unearned privileges to the extended family of royalty was a thing of the past. Indeed, on multiple occasions during the freedom struggle, Nehru the great democrat, had expressed his distaste for the methods and lifestyles of our Maharajas. Which rekindles the same question: in a country then populated by thirty-four crore Indians, why or how he was unable to spot talented and honest people for appointments to high offices apart from his extended family and coterie of admirers and cup-bearers? What were the exact qualifications and distinction of say, Vijayalakshmi Pandit to occupy the sensitive position of India’s ambassador to the USSR?
The answer: the new monarch had arrived and instead of building a palace for himself, he effortlessly eased himself into and annexed the physical imperialisms of the near-departed oppressor. The full story of the vast acres of real estate directly and indirectly, and still controlled by the Nehru clan in Delhi, when told truthfully, will make eminent fodder for multiple seasons of a web series dripping with deceit, intrigue and chicanery.
But the posthumous story of Teen Murti Bhavan is even more interesting. History reveals to us how this colonial building was used to further congeal the Nehru myth by transforming it into a “national memorial” dedicated to his edification. This was done after he had allowed China to gobble up precious Indian territory, after he had made India friendless on the global stage, not to mention the ignoble precedents he had inaugurated: mauling Article 19 and using Article 356 to dismiss democratically elected state governments
Needless, the refurbished avatar Teen Murti Bhavan continued to remain in the iron thrall of the Nehru clan for about seventy years though nominally owned by the Government of India. But then, it was no ordinary Indian Government, it was an owned Government.
Although by no means an isolated phenomenon or a unique building, the Nehru Memorial and Museum is perhaps the most illustrative of the Nehruvian colonisation of “independent” India. Yatha raja thata praja: as the king, so the people. In his case, “as the king, so his courtiers.” This usurpation for example, of the Flagstaff House, is one of the roots of the aforementioned political squatting in Delhi.
Until recently, access to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library was tightly controlled and reliable sources tell me that some archives in the building continue to remain sealed. Forget Indians, numerous western authors writing for example, on the Indian freedom struggle and biographies of Nehru and Indira Gandhi are unanimous on one fact. Katherine Frank, Mrs. Gandhi’s biographer, and Alex Tunzelmann who chronicled the sunset of the British Empire testify their frustration at encountering this insurmountable Black Wall of the lack of archival access. Reminds us of those notorious British signboards when they were ruling us: dogs and Indians not allowed. Those who were allowed, quite obviously, were loyal durbaris populating the various strata in the Nehruvian and Lutyens food chain.
With the decisive arrival of Narendra Modi, the Nehru dynasty’s stranglehold over this institution is pretty much a thing of the past although some vestiges of the hold have endured. However, even those vestiges stand on a thin string.
It all began with the maiden Red Fort speech where Modi acknowledged the contributions of all Prime Ministers and eventually announced his intent to showcase their legacies such as they are. And now, renaming the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library as “Pradhan Mantri Sangrahalaya” (Prime Ministers’ Museum) is the concrete realization of that vision and intent. It follows the same line as renaming the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in the honour of the hockey legend, Major Dhyan Chand.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the expanded and spruced up Prime Ministers’ Museum on April 14, the birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar. Quite a befitting day especially when we recall his anguished resignation speech in Parliament delivered on October 10, 1951. A few excerpts from the speech are relevant in this context:
It is clear that Dr. Ambedkar, in no uncertain words, charged Jawaharlal Nehru as a man who breaks his word. It is clearer that Nehru got what he wanted by orchestrating things standing behind an Iron Curtain. Pretty much how things worked at the Flagstaff House before and after it was transformed into Teen Murti Bhavan, which in turn was renamed as the Nehru Memorial Museum. Fifteen days from now, even this remnant of the Nehruvian colonisation of India will fade into history.
Dr. Ambedkar has had the last laugh. Deservedly so.
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