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Controversy dogs India's premier library

Many scholars have raised their voices against the functioning of the prestigious Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in Delhi

New Delhi: A controversy over the functioning of the prestigious Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in the capital has reached the Prime Minister Office (PMO) and is making waves among top Indian scholars.

A group of 57 scholars including Rajmohan Gandhi, Sunil Khilnani, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Ramachandra Guha, Nayanjot Lahiri, Sumit Sarkar, Krishna Kumar, Partha Chatterjee, Sugata Bose, Joya Chatterji, Nivedita Menon, Rukun Advani, Mahesh Rangarajan and Mushirul Hasan, in an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urged him to set in motion steps necessary to revive the NMML.

"Until 1990, the NMML was a world class centre of scholarship and research and a worthy memorial to Jawaharlal Nehru, the great democrat and scholar after whom it was named. In recent years, however, the institution has been trapped in a culture of apathy and mediocrity," the scholars said in their letter sent in June, reports IANS.

They said the library has discontinued its publication programme, acquisition of rare manuscripts and oral histories have come to a standstill and it has "abandoned its principled non-partisanship by opening its door to political use and misuse".

In their letter the scholars urged the Prime Minister to "end the nepotistic tenure of consultants, induct into the Executive Council of NMML three or four respected scholars, encourage the Executive Council to restore the NMML to its position as India's pre-eminent centre of dispassionate scholarship in humanities and social sciences".

They demanded that "once the present Director Mridula Mukherjee's term ends in August, her successor must be chosen through an open, transparent process".

However, some other scholars who refused to be named alleged that the petition was an effort to "remove eminent historian Mridula Mukherjee", a former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, from her post as Director and was "an attempt to cover up certain serious irregularities in the NMML under the previous bosses in 2004-05".

NMML, a repository of the personal memorabilia of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was founded at the initiative of the government under the Ministry of Culture in 1964 after Nehru's death. Housed at Teen Murti Bhavan where Nehru lived, it also serves as an advanced research centre.

It has been allocated Rs 26.50 crore in the budget by the Culture Ministry for modernisation, a senior official of NMML said.

In a statement on the website of the museum, Director Mridula Mukherjee said: "The entire activities of the library will be automated through computerisation, thereby reducing paper work."

Mukherjee  said that the digitisation work has two objectives - preservation and to make the contents available to the world.

The digitisation committee, which met in January 2009 to approve the bids for it, shortlisted 10 vendors in May. The terms of reference to the shortlisted vendors have been issued in June.

Citing new projects initiated by the library, an official said the Director has been reaching out to rural, marginalised and challenged children across the country with the message and values of Mahatma Gandhi and the secular and scientific ideals of Nehru through interactive programmes based on music, painting, dance and theatre.

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