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Surprise: Nehru library also has the best collection of RSS’s Hedgewar, Savarkar papers

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Away from the controversial museum, the library and archive features everyone — from Nehru and Indira to S.P. Mookerjee, Hedgewar, Savarkar and JP.

New Delhi: The recent debate over whether a new museum of prime mfinisters at the sprawling Teen Murti Bhavan “dilutes” Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy has largely confirmed two things. For the Congress, it proves that this move is part of the BJP’s sustained campaign to malign Nehru’s name. And for the BJP, it validates the rhetoric that the Congress is, and has always been, a dynastic party riding on the back of past glories.

Amid this bickering stands the non-museum part of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) campus — the library and historical archive — that doesn’t care about partisan politics.

At the NMML photo gallery, for example, an album preserving old photographs of B.R Ambedkar lies right next to one of V.D. Savarkar.

Political leanings no bar

The NMML archive has catalogued and preserved manuscripts of over 1,100 national leaders, ranging from Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee to Hindutva ideologue Savarkar, RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar to Jayaprakash Narayan, whose socialist movement challenged Indira Gandhi and the Congress’s hegemony.

The NMML’s official website says the institution is “dedicated to the objective of promoting advanced research on modern and contemporary India, and that “the NMML Archives, besides the Jawaharlal Nehru family papers, has acquired papers of nationalist leaders of modern India and other eminent Indians who distinguished themselves in any field”.

Priyamvada Shonde, assistant research officer at NMML, who is responsible for overseeing the digitisation of thousands of historical records, said: “A socialist, a Communist, a BJP or a Congress person are all the same to us as archivists. And it’s not just eminent personalities from Delhi; we acquire material from every state, every corner of India.”

The institution, largely perceived to be an elitist pedestal to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, also hosted an event commemorating Mookerjee on 26 June, 2016. At the event, BJP president Amit Shah said no leader had ever “made such a historic blunder” as Nehru, adding that “if Jawaharlalji had not declared a ceasefire at that time (1948), the Kashmir issue would not have existed”.

Albums containing pictures of B.R. Ambedkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

Keeping distance from controversy

For the purpose of unencumbered research, the NMML maintains a safe distance from the controversy surrounding the museum. All the officials ThePrint spoke to said the museum and the archives “are two completely different things”. Director Shakti Sinha went as far as to say that “comparing the two unrelated things is like someone asking what you want for breakfast and you telling them what you’d like for dinner”.

Sinha said the motivation behind building a separate museum for all the Indian PMs is to make the NMML a “one stop shop for any research or information about the prime ministers”. He reiterated that the NMML “was a scholarly institute that had nothing to do with party politics or ideology. It’s purely academic”.

The NMML photo gallery sorts image reference numbers alphabetically. Savarkar’s photos can be found in the SAV drawer

Archive not open to the public

However, while so much work and time goes into maintaining these records, the archive remains exclusively for research purposes, and unlike the museum, is not open to the general public. To register as a member, one must establish academic intent and obtain certain permissions.

The library and archive combined only witness an average of 60 visitors on any given day, while the museum has a footfall of over 3,500. Thus, the museum’s ability to shape the public perception of NMML as being Nehru-centric is in part due to its visibility and accessibility.

Dr Sanjeev Gautam, senior research assistant and archiver, said clicking pictures was not allowed within the archive “because it’s like a lab. Would you, as a scientist, let people take pictures of the chemicals being used in your experiment?”

The NMML library

Staggering numbers

NMML officials say that in the last four years, since the BJP came to power, the collection of manuscripts has not slowed down.

As per a report given to ThePrint, in the period between 1 April, 2013, and 31 March, 2017, the archive has acquired 64 collections, spanning thousands of pages and files. Along with this, approximately 7,284 archival documents were repaired by the NMML preservation unit; 12,92,413 pages from various archival collections were digitised; and the metadata of about 9,82,966 pages has been prepared, while the preparation of 3,09,447 pages is still in progress.

All material is categorised under three broad headings — institution, individual, and miscellaneous. And the library has 290,000 books.

This report has been updated to accurately reflect the number of books in the library.

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