It's the midnight of August 15, 1947. The Central Hall of the Parliament is lit yellow. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, is delivering his "Tryst with Destiny" speech as key political figures, like Vallabhbhai Patel, hear him speaking from the front seats of the gallery.
The scene has been recreated at the Nehru Memorial Museum in Delhi with human-size figures, forming the most visually interesting part of it. A guard, sitting at one corner of the reconstructed Central Hall, keeps an eye that nothing goes wrong in the hullabaloo of selfie-clicking visitors and boisterous school children.
The museum – housed in the Teen Murti House which served as the official residence of Nehru for 16 years till his death in 1964 – documents the life and times of Nehru, as well as the key events and players in India's freedom struggle. The plush Teen Murti House, surrounded by picturesque lawns and a garden, was built in 1929-30 and served as the official residence of the commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army.
A human-size figure of Jawaharlal Nehru - delivering the famous Tryst with Destiny speech on August 15, 1947 at the Parliament - at the Nehru Memorial museum. (Abhishek Saha/HT Photo)
The Narendra Modi-led NDA government recently announced a plan – budgeted at Rs 10 crore – to revamp the museum and "to focus on the evolution of Indian democracy and highlight recent achievements". The Congress party and many historians have lashed out at the government calling the move an attempt to rewrite and manipulate history.
Earlier this year, the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) management – an autonomous body under the ministry of culture – was rejigged by the central government.
A walk down the museum, however, reveals that it is not "only about Nehru". Its exhibits paint a holistic portrait of how the country wrought its freedom. For instance, a section on the rise of the revolutionary movement features photographs of as diverse personalities as Khudiram Bose – the 18-year-old Bengali revolutionary who has hanged by the British government in 1908 – and the Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Savarkar.
"The museum has never been only about Nehru. It looks at the entire freedom struggle and its various branches, and the rise of the sovereign republic of India through the prism of Nehru's life," a senior museum official told Hindustan Times, requesting anonymity.
"Yes, it is primarily a personalia museum, because this has been Nehru's residence for a long time. But, as a whole, it is quite wide-ranging," he added.
When asked about the government's renovation plans, he refused to comment.
Officials say that the NMML experiences an average footfall of 5,000-10,000 per day, including large batches of school children. (Abhishek Saha/HT Photo)
The museum begins with the "Young Nehru" section, where there is a photograph of Nehru visiting his alma mater, the Harrow School in London, in 1960. Nehru can be seen acknowledging the cheer from scores of waving students.
A middle-aged school teacher asks her queue of Class 5 students to pause for a while in front of the photo. She tells them, "See, after Nehru became the Prime Minister he re-visited his school. When you become big and famous, you should also come and visit us."
Officials say that the NMML experiences an average footfall of 5,000-10,000 per day, including large batches of school children.
The museum documents the formation of the Congress and the Muslim League. Large sections are dedicated to the various movements initiated by the Congress, like the Quit India Movement, Swadeshi Movement, the Non-cooperation Movement and the Boycott Movement. It also houses exhibits which illuminate various Muslim voices in the freedom movement, furnished with photographs of leading figures like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr MA Ansari and Maulana Mohammed Ali.
Exhibits on Bengal's reform movement leader Raja Ram Mohan Roy at the Museum. (Abhishek Saha/HT Photo)
One gallery enlightens visitors about the framing of the Constitution and showcases the transfer of power.
Had the museum been "only about Nehru", it would not have had a detailed section on the hanging of Leftist revolutionaries Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in Lahore and the encounter of Chandrasekhar Azad in Allahabad by the British police in 1931.
The framed text of what Nehru wrote after Singh's execution reads: "Why is everyone thinking of Bhagat Singh today? … He was a clean fighter who faced his enemy in the open field. He was a young boy full of burning zeal for the country. He was like a spark which became a flame in a short time and spread from one end of the country to the other dispelling the prevailing darkness everywhere."
A gallery on the execution of revolutionary Bhagat Singh at the Nehru Memorial Museum. (Abhishek Saha/HT Photo)
The well-illustrated segment on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose shows how his Indian National Army (INA) fought against the colonial rulers. There are also sections on the internal rifts in Congress in 1939, following which Bose had resigned as the party president.
In the gallery on Bose titled "The Great Escape 1940-43", a photograph shows him shaking hands with the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Two young women stare at the photo and one asks the other, pointing to Hitler, "You know who this man is?"
Not getting an answer she continues, "He was Hitler. A very dangerous man."
Then, the other woman questions, "Then why is Netaji shaking hand with him?"
A caretaker of the Museum takes a short break. (Abhishek Saha/HT Photo)
(The writer and photographer tweets as @saha_abhi1990 )