Emergency to Ayodhya, 1971 war to N-deal: India via its PMs

“On the morning of 6 December 1992 activists suddenly entered the then disputed site of Lord Ram’s birthplace in Ayodhya and destroyed the abandoned structure. That night (P V Narasimha) Rao imposed President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh,” states a clip on a screen in the section “challenges” faced by Rao at the Prime Ministers’ Museum that opened Thursday.

The word “kar sevaks” has been replaced by “activists” and the “challenge” is dismissed in two lines. The clip goes on: “The dispute was finally settled on 9 November 2019 by the unanimous judgement of the five -judge bench. All the litigants honoured the judgement. The judgement recognised the claim of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas to the title to the entire land under dispute.”

Barring that one visual, the museum at the Teen Murti complex in New Delhi captures fairly well the historical initiatives and achievements of all Prime Ministers — from Lal Bahadur Shastri to Manmohan Singh — and marks milestone events and turning points in the country’s history through their tenures.

There’s glowing praise for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Perhaps the largest enclosure is on him which features a special corner dedicated to the Pokhran tests and another to his historic Lahore visit. There is mention of the Kargil war, Jammu & Kashmir peace initiatives, formation of three new states, rising GDP, disinvestment, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Golden Quadrilateral road network.

On the other hand, there is a dramatic portrayal of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi and the excesses committed during that time. To be fair, a section is dedicated to India’s victory over Pakistan under her leadership in the 1971 war which led to the birth of Bangladesh.

The Prime Ministers’ Museum opened Thursday. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

A mention of the infamous Shah Bano case, the Bhopal gas tragedy and the Bofors scandal find mention in the section dedicated to Rajiv Gandhi. So do his achievements including the telecom and computer revolution, the Mizo peace accord, the Assam accord, the Punjab accord and the Ganga Action Plan.

With a photograph of Shah Bano, the clip details the case: “A political decision cast an indelible shadow over Rajiv Gandhi’s image… Impelled by fear of electoral consequences, Rajiv Gandhi submitted to Muslim hardliners within Congress. The mis-named Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986 which overturned the Supreme Court decision and denied Shah Bano her paltry sustenance was passed.”

The museum at the Teen Murti complex in New Delhi captures fairly well the historical initiatives and achievements of all Prime Ministers — from Lal Bahadur Shastri to Manmohan Singh. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

The museum of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, is situated in the main Teen Murti Bhawan building. It remains unchanged but has undergone technological updating. Inaugurating the museum, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said every government in independent India has contributed in taking the country to the heights where it is today.

A tour of the museum is a quick run through the history of independent India.

Some events mentioned find contemporary relevance. For instance, the enclosure on Shastri has a corner crediting him with the Green Revolution. A screen says the economic situation improved under him in 1965. But another section on the language agitation states that in “January 1965, the Government of India issued a circular stating that only Hindi would be used in official communications. DMK leader C N Annadurai raised the concern that this step of the Central government could create discrimination in government jobs. This dormant fear flared up into a language agitation.” There is, of course, mention of the Tashkent Agreement of 1966 and his ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan slogan’.

A tour of the museum is a quick run through the history of independent India. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

Listed are Indira Gandhi’s initiatives including abolition of the privy purse, nationalisation of banks, the Nathu La battle, the Pokhran I nuclear test and the 1969 split in the Congress. Emergency finds a detailed portrayal. For instance, there is a jail with a screen inside. And the short video which runs has photographs of all Opposition leaders who were jailed during the Emergency and the hardship faced by some of them.

Old television and radio sets are on display which tell visitors of the press censorship imposed during the Emergency. A small newspaper clipping has the headline “The son also rises”, Sanjay Gandhi’s photograph on the wall has a caption “Extra Constitutional Authority”. A photograph of Jayaprakash Narayan with his bio data and the many letters he had written from jail stand out.

The PMO said the museum has been guided by PM Modi’s vision to honour the contribution of all the prime ministers of India towards nation building. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

Rajiv too gets fair presence. A screen shows he structured governance around five principal decisions — using science and technology to improve the living standards of the poor, economic reform through a graded whittling of the protective licensing system and gradual privatisation, a radical overhaul of the government by extending real administrative powers to panchayats at the base of the administrative pyramid, a radical consumer protection law and institutional reforms in the polity like banning defection in the legislatures and lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.

On Rao, there is a special enclosure on the economic reforms his government initiated, passage of the Panchayati Raj and Nagarpalika Acts, opening up a new era in Indian television and the rapid strides India’s missile programme made during his term. There is mention of the stock exchange scam and the JMM bribery case too. Giving details of the Harshad Mehta scam, it concludes “this controversy became a blot on the Rao government.” Apart from Ayodhya, a screen lists the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai as a challenge he faced.

V P Singh and the Mandal Commission find prominent mention, as also the passage of the Prasar Bharati Bill and the National Commission for Women Act by his government.

There is glowing praise for Manmohan Singh. A huge screen announces the end of India’s three decades of nuclear apartheid and the Indo-US civil nuclear deal under Singh. There is mention of expansion of airports and military strides.

The museum showcases the Aadhaar initiative, setting up of the UIDAI and the policy of Special Economic Zones by Singh. It mentions citizen welfare programmes without naming specific schemes or right-based initiatives of his government. There is also mention of the POTA repeal law — it scrapped the Vajpayee era anti-terror law.

The Gujral doctrine of I K Gujral, H D Deve Gowda’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Morarji Desai setting up the Shah Commission, the introduction of Lokpal Bill and the passage of the 44th Amendment too find place.

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