NPR Talk: In India, A Battle Brews Over A Museum Honoring A Revered Leader

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 Jawaharlal Nehru towered over 20th century India — a thinker, a statesman, the heir to Mahatma Gandhi. As one of the founding fathers of modern India, Nehru oversaw his country’s transition from a British colony to a democracy, and announced the birth in 1947 of a free India.
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Nehru delivered his famous “tryst with destiny” speech on Aug. 14, 1947, in New Delhi. “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps,” Nehru told an enthralled nation on the eve of independence, “India will awake to life and freedom.”

In the capital, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library honors the man’s legacy. Depending on where you stand, new plans by the government to modernize the museum fall somewhere between an apostasy that dilutes the great struggle for Indian independence and a facelift of a faded but once glorious building.

The plans of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to recast the museum as a “Museum of Governance” highlighting some of Modi’s own initiatives have inevitably stirred passions. Critics accuse Modi of attempting to diminish the legacy of one of India’s greatest statesmen and threatening to undermine Nehru’s secular vision.

The museum covers Indian history up to 1964, the year Nehru died. But the chairman of the museum’s executive council says it should showcase contemporary India — including Modi’s initiatives, such as Smart Cities.

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