By Utpal Borpujari
A no-holds-barred tussle between two groups of leading intellectuals of the country for the control of the historic Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) in Delhi is heading towards a finale with everyone waiting with bated breath to see if incumbent director Mridula Mukherjee gets an extension or not.
Mukherjee, whose term ends on July 31, is at the focus of a massive row between the two groups represented by equally-eminent intellectuals fighting to gain control over NMML, with both accusing the other of misdemeanour leading to decline of the august institution.
With letters and petitions flying thick and fast from the two groups to the Prime Minister, who heads the NMML Society, the government is believed to have found itself in a tricky situation as to how it would bring peace between the feuding groups.
The task has become even more difficult with those opposing Mukherjee’s way of functioning including names like Ramachandra Guha, Mukul Kesavan, Nayanjot Lahiri, Partha Chatterjee, Sumit Sarkar, Mushirul Hasan, Geeta Kapur and Sunil Khilnani, while those speaking for her include Arjun Dev, Madhu Kishwar, Shantha Sinha and Madan Gopal Singh.
Mukherjee, who is said to be keen on an extension and oversee the Rs 20 crore modernisation programme of NMML, which is a public body under the Ministry of Culture, which is currently handled by Prime Minster Dr Manmohan Singh himself.
The anti-Mukherjee group has gone hammer and tongs against her in a communication to the Prime Minister, signed by 57 intellectuals, alleging that during her tenure, NMML’s core areas of excellence have been severely compromised with.
According to them, NMML has stopped its excellent publication programme, nearly put a complete stop to acquisition of rare manuscripts and oral histories, and going completely against its scholarly mandate, opened its doors to political groups aligned with Congress for meetings and events.
They have also demanded that the appointment of the NMML director should be done in a “transparent” manner as it is done in the appointment of directors of institutions like IITs and IIMs.
On the other hand, the pro-Mukherjee group has alleged that the other group had gone into the protest mode to protect Guha, who was a member of the fellowship selection committee under the previous NMML dispensation, about which the Lok Sabha Petitions Committee had found serious irregularities.
It has alleged that the role of the committee in selecting fellows who had not even applied for fellowships had been questioned by the Petitions Committee as well as a fact-finding committee set up by NMML executive council vice-chairman Dr Karan Singh.
This group has even alleged that Guha and some others are keen to see Mukherjee removed so that the inquiry process could be subverted. The pro-Guha group, however, has refuted the allegations, saying that selection process had been honest and fair and those selected included several world-class scholars.
The end-game of this sordid intellectual drama is expected to reach its end when the NMML society, which has Sonia Gandhi as a member, meets in the near future, but the question in the minds of those concerned is whether this bitter fight would besmirch an excellent academic organisation’s reputation for good.