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Set the record straight

This refers to the article, The charge of the fright brigade (Comment, April 20) by Satish Chandra, Bipan Chandra and Arjun Dev.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2011 22:58 IST

This refers to the article, The charge of the fright brigade (Comment, April 20) by Satish Chandra, Bipan Chandra and Arjun Dev. At the outset, let me say that the title is totally incomprehensible. I can assure you that there is no question of the executive council of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) being frightened. On the contrary, it is the outgoing director and her mentors who seem to have panicked, as her term draws to an end.

After Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in 1964, the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, of which Indira Gandhi was the chairperson and I was the secretary, was set up. I was involved in every phase of its planning and execution and have been associated with it ever since its inception. My interest in its welfare and progress is such that I would never do anything to dilute or devalue its status. On the contrary, my constant effort is to support and strengthen NMML in every way possible, including acquiring from the government a special grant of R20 crore that is now being used for long overdue modernisation and digitisation.

The first significant issue relates to the rules for appointment of NMML’s director. The institution deals with the freedom movement, which had many facets. Apart from its history, Indian nationalism had significant political and sociological dimensions. In view of its broad mandate, we found no reason to confine the directorship to professional historians. Why should outstanding political scientists or sociologists not be eligible for appointment as director?

Unlike the Indian Council for Historical Research, the NMML is an institution named after Nehru who, apart from his remarkable role in the freedom movement, was for 17 years the first prime minister of India during which a large number of political, social and developmental issues were addressed. To confine the directorship to only a historian would limit the field of selection, although historians will by no means be excluded. Let me add that BR Nanda, who was director for 17 years, and OP Kejriwal, director for five years, were not professional historians.

The second point revolves around the search committee, where the complaint is that no historian has been included. Let me recall that in 2009, when the question of extending the term of the current director for two years was being considered, there was a fierce controversy within the historian-academic community. I was deluged with angry emails from eminent historians protesting strongly against extending the term of the present director by two years, and making allegations of factionalism, nepotism and authoritarian style of functioning. Nevertheless, we stood by our decision to extend her term. The sort of letters that flew from both sides clearly showed that the community was passionately divided on this issue. We, therefore, deliberately did not include any historian lest he or she fall into one or other of the camps.

Finally, I have never been dismissive to any communication in this connection, and the quote assigned to me at the end of the article (“Many people are writing letters. They mean nothing. The decision has been taken.”) is unfounded and unfair. Quite clearly the term of the present director ceases when she completes five years on August 9, 2011, and the question of her continuing as director until retirement does not arise. She has been on deputation from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and, once she returns to her parent institution, she can continue until the retirement age in that university.

Karan Singh is chairman, Executive Council, NMML The views expressed by the author are personal