Academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta has quit the high-profile Nehru Memorial Museum and Library as its executive committee member, citing “political pressures”, another backlash at the Modi government’s strengthening grip over top institutions.
Bhanu is the second official at the Nehru Memorial to resign. Last year, historian Mahesh Rangarajan quit his post as director.
Mehta was upset over the choice of a bureaucrat as director of the institution, rather than a candidate with intellectual scholarship. The bureaucrat, Shakti Sinha, an Indian Administrative Service officer, was private secretary to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In his resignation letter, which HT has seen, Mehta said appointing an administrator “as the number one choice” sends a “very bad signal”. He said the advertisement put out for a candidate tweaked the qualifications for the post of director to include bureaucrats or administrators, which was never the case before.
The Nehru Memorial, housed out of the sprawling Teen Murti Bhawan — the official home of India’s first prime minister — is not just a monument to Jawaharlal Nehru. It’s also a leading think-tank for social sciences scholarship.
Mehta told HT he had “nothing more to add” to why he quit. However, the contents of his resignation letter are emblematic of a familiar battle playing out in the world of academia under the Narendra Modi government.
Mehta said there was an “impression that good academics will find it very difficult to function in the institutional set up we have created, with its multiple political and administrative pressures”. “We are doing everything to exacerbate the impression…”
Some of the government’s top nominations have led to outrage. These include actor Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman of FTII, India’s premier film institute, and former cricketer Chetan Chauhan as the head of the National Institute of Fashion Technology. Last year, opposition MPs in Parliament had criticized the government for infusing Right-wing Hindu nationalist ideology into the country’s education sector through political appointments.