Weeks after over 900 historians passed a resolution at the Indian History Congress against the government’s approval for having any social scientist – and not just a modern historian – to head the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the government is unwilling to relent on the change.
The controversy arose when NMML director and historian Mridula Mukherjee dissented from the proposal to change the recruitment rules for director in an executive council (EC) meeting of the premier research institution. Historians endorsed her moves, with veteran historian Satish Chandra even writing to EC chairman Karan Singh against the change.
A combative Culture Ministry has now shot off a tough letter to the NMML director, saying that she should have recused from the discussion in the executive council, as she was an “interested party”.
“Since the director was an ‘interested party’, it was inappropriate for her to take part in the discussions related to amendment of Recruitment Rules and appointment of the next Director,” says the letter. Historians are livid at the turn of events."The term social scientist is vague enough to enable an office-holder in future to smuggle into the post someone with little academic credentials but with a certain orientation whereby the secular approach to history and national movement will be undermined," Satish Chandra told HT.
“The institution’s prime purpose is the preservation of historical materials on modern Indian history, and a modern historian alone is professionally suited to shoulder the responsibility,” says NMML fellow KL Tuteja. Culture Secretary Jawhar Sircar disagrees, “The NMML has many objects, including archiving, maintaining a library, political discussions, historical research and others. Each lends itself to a specialization: archivist, political scientist, librarian, historian etc.”
AMU historian Shireen Mousvi counters this logic: “Let them then appoint a librarian as director to do mechanical work there.”
Mukherjee’s dissent note before the NMML executive council said that preserving historical material, establishing a library on and promoting research in modern Indian history and nationalism are the institution’s prime functions: “The MOA of NMML at 3(1) (a) to (n) makes it clear that the first object of the NMML was to preserve… ‘historical materials’.”
With a search committee having been appointed to look for the next director, some historians claim the aim is to ease out Mridula Mukherjee. She completes five years in the post later this year, but they say the NMML director’s post has no specified term.
“Two former directors BR Nanda and Ravinder Kumar served for 16 years or more,” quips a historian.
Historian Arjun Dev, a member of the NMML society, said, “There are suspicions they have somebody in mind. The idea may be to morally compel the present director to quit.”