Modi rejigs Nehru panel

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 19.10.14
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New Delhi, Oct. 18: The Narendra Modi government has shuffled the official panel set up to commemorate Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary, dropping many UPA picks but retaining Suman Dubey, a former journalist and family friend of the Nehru-Gandhis.

Sonia Gandhi had resigned from the panel, set up last year with “Left liberal” luminaries and known admirers of Nehru and the Congress, after the change of government in May.

As Prime Minister, Modi is ex officio head of the reconstituted 30-member panel, which will oversee yearlong celebrations starting next month.

It includes six ministers (home, finance, external affairs, human resource development, culture, and information and broadcasting) as ex officio members as well as Opposition leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge.

Apart from Dubey, those re-nominated include Madhavan Palat, editor of Nehru’s selected works and chief editor of the Nehru Memorial Trust; Rajya Sabha member Karan Singh; Nasir Tyabji, economic historian and former Nehru Trust Fellow; and Chandrashekhar Dasgupta of The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi.

Among those dropped are Mahesh Rangarajan, director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library; historian and author Ramachandra Guha; former Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi; Tapati Guha Thakurta of Calcutta’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences; and Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, former chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

The new entrants include former diplomat C.R. Gharekhan; former army chief V.P. Malik; Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a member of Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research; journalists Rajat Sharma and Swapan Dasgupta; and Maulana Mahmoood Madani, a former Rajya Sabha member.

Asked what yardsticks were used to drop and include members, a political source from the BJP merely said: “This is an official project to pay respect to India’s first Prime Minister. There are no hidden political messages.”

The BJP has an avowed antipathy for Nehru and his descendants, and continues to publicly blame him for the debacle in the 1962 China war and for yoking the economy to a socialist model. It, however, secretly admires Indira Gandhi as India’s “Iron Lady”.

Dubey and Palat refused comment on why they may have been retained.

“I do not usually react to developments. I’m at a forest resort and, therefore, out of touch,” said Dubey, who quit the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library shortly after the change of government. He continues to be secretary of the Nehru Memorial Fund, a private trust.

A former panel member said the Modi government retaining Dubey and Palat was “no big deal” because they were not members of any political party and had not criticised Modi publicly.

Those claiming to know Palat “well” said he would have no problem co-existing in a mechanism perhaps more ideologically varied than its predecessor.

“Palat’s point would be that the objective is to commemorate a Nehru milestone and not to split hairs over the Nehruvian legacy,” a source said.

There’s a view that when, early this month, Modi earmarked a window between the birth anniversaries of Nehru and Indira for promoting his Clean India campaign, he was trying to foster a consensus-building agenda that Prime Ministers usually adopt, barring exceptions such as Indira.

“We have to make a distinction between Nehru and Nehruvians. The point is that Nehru should be seen purely in historical terms,” a BJP ideologue stressed.

To the commemoration committee has been appended an implementation committee that, in a former commemoration panel member’s opinion, will be “more weighty because it would be involved in micro-planning and implementation”.

The implementation committee, chaired by home minister Rajnath Singh, has 11 members, including Swapan Dasgupta and Subhash C. Kashyap, an honorary professor at the Centre for Policy Research.

Kashyap, a former Lok Sabha secretary-general, has authored and edited books on the Constitution and Parliament. He was closely associated with the Vajpayee government as a member of the national commission formed to review the working of the Constitution.

Kashyap, who has written a book on Nehru and his contributions to parliamentary democracy and nation-building, refused to comment on the suggestion that the BJP’s negative notions of Nehru might influence the celebrations.

“It is not my concern as to which party is in power. I approach subjects like Nehru like a student,” he said.

The revised panel will have its first meeting after Diwali.