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Every govt, every PM has helped take India to current heights: Narendra Modi
What’s in the new museum to Prime Ministers: concept, content, technology

Written by Divya A | New Delhi |
April 15, 2022 4:00:06 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inauguration of Pradhan Mantri Sangrahalaya, in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Thursday that every government, every Prime Minister of independent India has contributed to nation building, taking the country to the heights where it is today. He said barring one or two exceptions — he did not elaborate but it appeared to be a reference to the period of the Emergency — the country has a “glorious tradition of strengthening democracy in a democratic way”.

Inaugurating the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya at Teen Murti Estate in New Delhi, the Prime Minister said the museum is a living reflection of the shared heritage of each government. He recalled how most Prime Ministers came from ordinary families. “It gives confidence to the youth of the country that even a person born in an ordinary family can reach the highest positions in the democratic system of India,” he said.

Members of the Gandhi family, who were invited to the event, did not attend. Those present on the occasion included Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s daughter Namita Bhattacharya, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son Anil Shastri and grandson Adarsh Shastri, P V Narasimha Rao’s grandson N V Subhash, and family members of Charan Singh and Morarji Desai. Also present were Rajya Sabha vice-chairman Harivansh, ministers G Kishan Reddy, Meenakshi Lekhi, Arjun Meghwal and V Muraleedharan.

“Barring one or two exceptions, we have a glorious tradition of strengthening democracy in a democratic way. So it’s our responsibility also to strengthen democracy through our efforts,” Modi said. Calling India “loktantra ki janani” (the mother of democracy), he said, “The great feature of India’s democracy is that it has been continuously changing with the passage of time. In every era, in every generation, there has been an effort to make it more empowered.”

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“Desh aaj jis unchayi par hai, wahan tak usse pahunchaane mein swatantra Bharat ke baad bani pratyek sarkar ka yogdaan hai. Maine Lal Qila se bhi yeh baat kayi baar dohraayi hai. Aaj yeh sangrahalaya bhi pratyek sarkar ki sanjha virasat ka jeevant pratibimb ban gaya hai (Every government formed after Independence has contributed in taking India to the heights where it is today. I have said this from the Red Fort several times. This museum is a living reflection of the shared heritage of each government),” he said.

Inaugurating the museum on Babasaheb B R Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, the Prime Minister paid rich tribute. “The Constitution, of which Babasaheb was the main architect, gave us the basis of the Parliamentary system. The main responsibility of this Parliamentary system is upon the office of the Prime Minister. It is my good fortune that today I have got the opportunity to dedicate the Prime Minister’s Museum to the nation,” he said.

He mentioned that the NDA government had announced November 26 as Constitution Day, and called the museum “the next step in the effort to honour the Constitution of India”.

He greeted families of the former Prime Ministers: “Desh ke har pradhan mantri ne samvidhaan sammat loktantra ke lakshyon ki poorti mein bharsak yogdaan diya hai (Every Prime Minister of the country has contributed immensely towards achieving the goals of constitutional democracy).”

“To remember them is to know the journey of independent India. People coming here will be familiar with the contribution of the former Prime Ministers of the country, their background, their struggles and creations,” he said.

Speaking to The Indian Express on the sidelines of the event, Adarsh Shastri called the museum an “excellent initiative by the PM”. He said, “It is important for people to understand the contribution of all PMs, not just one ideology or one family. Such museums exist in many countries but we never had one. This will fill that gap.”

Shastri’s family has donated his charkha (which came as a wedding gift), his badminton racquet and some important letters. Morarji Desai’s Bhagavad Gita, Gandhi topi, pen and rudraksh mala find place in the gallery dedicated to him, while there are some handwritten diaries by Chandra Shekhar on display, besides Vajpayee’s Bharat Ratna medal, spectacles, wrist watch and some letters.

N V Subhash, who is also the Telangana BJP spokesperson, said, “There is space for all PMs here — whether they were at the top post for six months or six years. It’s as if my grandfather has got his due 18 years after his death. For all these years, it felt as if this place belonged to the Gandhi family; now, it belongs to all PMs.”

Chandra Shekhar’s son Neeraj Shekhar, BJP member of Rajya Sabha, in a Twitter post, said “wherever he is, my father would be blessing” Prime Minister Modi and “so would all other Prime Ministers”. “Let this museum begin a new culture of statesmanship,” he said.

The 10491 sq-metre museum, built at a cost of Rs 306 crore, has 43 galleries, with a capacity to hold 4,000 visitors at a time. The highlight is Anubhuti, an experiential gallery where visitors can walk with any Prime Minister’s hologram, take pictures and their signatures. The space is a mix of physical and digital displays, with a heavy reliance on technology — virtual reality, augmented reality, holograms and audio-visual elements.

The erstwhile Nehru Museum building has been seamlessly integrated with the new museum building. The Nehru Museum is now designated as Block I, and has a completely updated, technologically advanced display on the life and contribution of India’s first Prime Minister. A number of gifts received by Nehru from all over the world, but not exhibited so far, have been put on display in the renovated Block I.

While the lives and times of 14 former PMs have been showcased, the current PM is not part of the narrative. Nripendra Misra, chairperson of the executive council of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, which has executed the project, told The Indian Express that the museum is a work-in-progress and that in the coming months, glimpses from Modi’s first term (2014-19) will be added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya at Teen Murti Estate in New Delhi on Thursday. The museum recalls the tenures of 14 Prime Ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh, and the various challenges they navigated while leading the country. (The museum is a work in progress, and Modi’s own tenure is not part of the narrative yet.)

Desh ke har pradhanmantri ne samvidhaan sammat loktantra ke lakshyon ki poorti mein bharsak yogdaan diya hai (All Prime Ministers have contributed immensely towards achieving the goals of constitutional democracy),” Modi said at the inauguration.

Concept and controversy

The idea of a museum dedicated to India’s Prime Ministers was mooted in 2016. The Congress opposed the idea, since Teen Murti Estate was Nehru’s residence, which was later turned into a memorial to the first Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh wrote to Modi, expressing concern over the “agenda” to “change the nature and character” of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) and the Teen Murti complex.

NMML officials say Teen Murti Estate, where Nehru lived for 16 years, is the natural home for the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya because of the continuity the site represents.

The Rs 270-crore project was approved in 2018, and NMML was appointed the nodal agency for the project in May 2019. Delays in civil works and content and curation issues, as well as disruptions caused by pandemic lockdowns resulted in the project missing the completion deadline of October 2020.

The idea of a museum dedicated to India’s Prime Ministers was mooted in 2016. (Express Photo: Abhinav Saha)

Erstwhile Nehru Museum

What used to be the Nehru Museum has been integrated with the new building. The Nehru Museum is now designated as Block I of the Prime Ministers’ Museum, and has been technologically upgraded. A number of gifts Nehru received from all over the world, which had not been put on display so far, have been exhibited in the toshakhana on the first floor of the renovated Block I.

Two new galleries — Constitution Gallery and India at Independence: British Legacy — have been added on the ground floor.

The new building

The top of the new museum — Block II of the complex — is built in the shape of the Ashok Chakra, from where visitors walk down to the various galleries. The ground floor has galleries dedicated to Gulzarilal Nanda, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao, H D Deve Gowda, I K Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Manmohan Singh.

The first floor has galleries dedicated to Rajiv Gandhi, V P Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Morarji Desai, and Charan Singh. The guiding principle has been to recognise the contribution of all Prime Ministers in a non-partisan manner, officials said.

The Shastri gallery highlights his role in the Green Revolution and the Indo-Pak war of 1965. The Indira gallery highlights India’s role in the liberation of Bangladesh, and the nationalisation of banks. The Vajpayee gallery celebrates him as a great parliamentarian and orator, and highlights India’s victory in the Kargil War and the Pokhran nuclear tests. The economic reforms of the early 1990s and the civil nuclear deal with the US are highlighted among Manmohan Singh’s contributions.

What used to be the Nehru Museum has been integrated with the new building. (Express Photo: Abhinav Saha)

Memorabilia, displays

Over the last two years, families of all former Prime Ministers were requested to give some of their personal items for display. Shastri’s family gave his charkha, badminton racquet and some letters; Morarji’s family donated his copy of the Bhagavad Gita, his Gandhi topi, pen, and rudraksh mala.

Some handwritten diaries of Chandra Shekhar are on display, as are Vajpayee’s Bharat Ratna medal, spectacles, wristwatch, and some letters.

No new personal items have been added in the Indira and Rajiv galleries.

The displays comprise photographs, speeches, video clips, newspaper interviews, and some original writings. These were collected from Doordarshan, Films Division, Sansad TV, the Ministry of Defence, Indian and foreign media houses and news agencies, and the toshakhana of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Families were requested for valuable information about the leaders; most of this content has been acquired on perpetual licence.

The 10,491-sq-m museum, built at a final cost of Rs 306 crore, has 43 galleries, and can accommodate 4,000 visitors at a time. (Express Photo: Abhinav Saha)

Virtual engagement

The 10,491-sq-m museum, built at a final cost of Rs 306 crore, has 43 galleries, and can accommodate 4,000 visitors at a time. There is a ‘Time Machine’ to transport visitors into the past, and an engagement zone, ‘Anubhuti’, offers a walk with the hologram of any Prime Minister, a picture with the PMs, or a letter ‘signed’ by them.

The museum makes extensive use of virtual reality, augmented reality, holograms, and audio-visual elements. A levitating emblem is the centrepiece of the reception zone, and ‘Glimpses of the Future’ on the ground floor allows visitors to be virtually part of future projects.

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