It has been an eventful fortnight. The Prime Minister of India has unleashed his wrath on self-declared gau rakshaks (cow protectors) in the harshest of terms in two public addresses, and the issue of Dalit atrocities is taking centre-stage both inside and outside Parliament. To take such a stand publicly requires courage and political will. Meanwhile, another rebellion was brewing in the hallowed corridors of the Nehru Memorial Museum Library (NMML).
This confrontation is more ideological than logical in nature.
An open letter of resignation to the administration of the NMML was issued by a so-called public intellectual, in protest against a particular appointment. In case you need reminding, Mr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a member of the executive committee of the NMML, has time and again questioned the integrity of the mandate given to the present central government and sided with forces inimical to our national interests. His latest action is nothing but a display of intellectual opportunism and unqualified arrogance. The mere act of publishing an open letter against an institution of national importance reflects Mehta's elitism and lack of respect for institutional discipline.
In the present case, an interview was being conducted by NMML in accordance with rules and regulations for the appointment of a director. Nowhere in the entire process was any procedural requirement ignored or bypassed by the concerned authorities. The candidate in question, whose intellectual capabilities have been questioned by Mehta, is Mr. Shakti Sinha. The track record of this bureaucrat is impressive: he served as a private secretary to the former Prime Minister of India Sh. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and also had a stint as a secretary in the government of NCT of Delhi. Apart from his impeccable administrative experience, he also brings to the table a formidable body of work on a diverse range of subjects, from security and strategy to economy and social sciences. As someone who has contributed chapters and edited various books and has served in the World Bank as well, Mr Sinha has unquestionable credentials as both a scholar and an administrator.
When Mridula Mukherjee was appointed director of NMML (overlooking Ramachandra Guha), the selection committee was composed of erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Natwar Singh and Suman Dubey. Needless to mention, there was little scope for dissent. The present government appointed Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the executive committee of NMML and also made him a member of the selection committee. But a committee has to work democratically and no member can claim veto powers as has been clearly done in the present case.
This letter of condescension is a great disservice to the makers of our Constitution...
As I see it, this confrontation is more ideological than logical in nature. The fact that the present central government has taken strict actions against some NGOs, self-help groups and voluntary organizations that have been flourishing with the help of questionable sources of foreign funding is causing a lot of discomfiture to our elite class of public intellectuals. The evening conversations at India International Centre and Gymkhana Club have been focused on dealing with this menace. The narrative-builders and discourse-setters have joined hands in manufacturing propaganda to stall the trajectory of the central government. To them, the PM is an outsider and if he cannot fit into their rarefied circles, what business does he have running the nation?
As a political observer, it is not difficult to discern a pattern in the belligerences of our public intellectuals. This particular incident of Mr. Mehta writing and demeaning a public institution is representative of the deep-seated antagonism of an establishment that flowered under the status-quo. It is high time that we realise that intellectualism cannot be restricted to a class of thinkers residing in Lutyens' Delhi. Ideas are a product of the vision and imagination of an individual. This letter of condescension is a great disservice to the makers of our Constitution who envisioned an India where ideas and individuals could flourish regardless of their caste, creed, gender and affiliations. Mr Mehta should offer a public apology for disrespecting a public institution at the earliest. Period.