Does India need a ‘Museum of Prime Ministers’?

The central government is said to have given ‘in principle’ clearance to set up a museum of Prime Ministers in the national capital, which will be the first such museum in the world

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
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NH National Bureau

A proposal to set up a museum to ‘showcase the lives and legacies of all Prime Ministers of India’, and not just the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is under the active consideration of the central government. A committee set up by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library has even zeroed in on two sites within Delhi’s Teen Murti Bhavan for the new museum, said this report in the Indian Express on Sunday.


This certainly will be the first museum of its kind. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom have museums dedicated to their elected Presidents or Prime Ministers. Indeed it is highly unlikely that such a museum has even been contemplated anywhere else in the world.

India and Indians do need more museums. But even existing museums have been gasping for funds and trained, competent manpower. Not just exceptional private museums but also government-run museums have consistently suffered from inadequate infusion of funds, trained curators, conservators and directors.


Earlier this year the central government had announced its intention to set up a museum on Ramayana at Ayodhya. And it had pledged ₹150 crore for the purpose. But going by the government’s logic behind the museum on all Prime Ministers, namely that Nehru alone had not contributed to the freedom struggle and all other PMs are also presumed to have contributed as much, if not more, the museum on Ramayana could as easily be extended to a museum of epics, classics or at least both Mahabharata and Ramayana perhaps.


India and Indians do need more museums. But even existing museums have been gasping for funds and trained, competent manpower. Not just exceptional private museums but also government-run museums have consistently suffered from inadequate infusion of funds, trained curators, conservators and directors.

As India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi moves towards a cashless economy, a museum of the Indian Rupee and its cash economy would perhaps have been more appropriate.


A Parliamentary Committee report in 2012 had recorded that only 10% of the exhibits were being put on display in the existing museums and the exhibits were rarely being rotated. A Unesco report on eight large museums in India had also painted a dismal picture and mentioned about poor lighting and maintenance, inadequate signages and poor preservation.


Yet, there are fascinating new possibilities that the central government could have explored. To set up a museum on Indian tribes, for example. There are several thousand Indian tribes who constitute 8% of India’s population. While some of the tribes are rapidly getting higher education and carving a niche in professions and cultural fields, there are also primitive tribes and tribes on the verge of extinction. A central museum on tribes from across the country would have helped Indians develop a better understanding of tribes, their languages and culture.


Similarly, the central government could have thought of setting up a museum on mental health and psychiatry in India. There is almost complete ignorance about mental health in the country and an almost universal tendency in this country to treat it as an unpleasant subject that is better left alone.

Will the legacies of Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, VP Singh and Morarji Desai be treated equally with the legacy of Nehru, whose 17 years in office followed 27 years of struggle including nine in jail?


But the plan to set up a museum on Prime Ministers, possibly the first such museum contemplated anywhere in the world, raises interesting questions. As the BJP never tires of saying, three of India’s Prime Ministers have come from one family; and their combined tenure in office straddles over 33 of the 70 years of Independence. Will the new museum devote proportional space and exhibits to all PMs or will they all be treated equally ?


Will the legacies of Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, VP Singh and Morarji Desai be treated equally with the legacy of Nehru, whose 17 years in office followed 27 years of struggle including nine in jail?


Even more importantly, does India need a museum of Prime Ministers? As India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi moves towards a cashless economy, a museum of the Indian Rupee and its cash economy would perhaps have been more appropriate.

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