New Delhi, Nov 13 (IANS) Surender Singh, 54, has been tending the expansive lawns of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library for nearly four decades now. Ask him who Jawaharlal Nehru was, he answers with a shrug in Hindi: “Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister).
When pressed to say what he knew about the legendary first Prime Minister of India, in whose former residence he was working, he shrugs and says that “such questions need to be posed to students rather than a gardener.”
Today, the gardener is not alone in his ignorance about the man who, along with Mahatma Gandhi and other independence movement leaders, fought and earned the country’s freedom in 1947, ruled India for the first 17 years after independence and died in 1964 after laying the foundations of a modern India.
About a dozen people that IANS spoke to at the museum seem to know little about Nehru, or his contributions to the country, with many saying that they had come to the museum out of sheer curiosity or because the place happened to be on their sightseeing list.
Ahead of the 125th birth anniversary of Nehru on Nov 14, youngsters and commoners at the museum had shockingly scant knowledge about the legacy of Nehru who has carved a place in the pantheon of the world’s greats.
The museum is full ofl personal belongings of Nehru, which take you back into his time, from his portraits with his father to the black coloured gown he wore when he was awarded the honorary degree in Columbia University. A cigarette case from former US president John F. Kennedy and souvenirs from heads of foreign countries are also in the museum.
It’s his bedroom, where an ailing Nehru breathed his last, which most people want to have a look at. The spacious room has one single bed next to which lay a table. Besides, the room has around hundreds of books that reflects how voracious a reader and a prolific writer he was.
“All I know is that he was the first prime minister of India, he had a house in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh,” said Suresh Gadgi who had come from Kolhapur in Maharashtra.
Soni, who is pursuing Ph.d in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, says she knows a “little” about Nehru who is the only prime minister to have won three successive elections hands down.
“He was a secular person who laid the foundation of a strong India,” Soni told IANS.
When asked to share more about the leader, she said: “He was secular and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (independent India’s first home minister) was communal.” Though Nehru and Patel shared common freedom goals, they were known to be at odds on various issues.
Rajkumar, 23, who is preparing for civil services, said “I don’t know much about Nehru.”
“What I do know is that today’s generation puts him in bad light because of Kashmir,” he added. Nehru has been criticised by many for taking the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan to the United Nations.
For Vijay Ramadas, junior fellow at the museum, Nehru was all for development. “He gave us the Planning Commission (which now stands defunct), he gave us dams, steel plants and other infrastructural projects,” he told IANS.
But “he failed miserably” when it comes to external affairs, Ramadas said.
Shekhar, who claims that he frequently visits the library, talks about Nehru passionately. “He was a great statesman and an administrator. He was the one who laid the foundation of planned development.
“Though socialism in India has been replaced by liberalisation, his policies and principles like equity of justice are still relevant,” Shekhar added.
Pawan Kumar, 40, who is a gallery attendant at the museum, said: “All I have heard about Nehruji is from my father that he was a great leader.”
Dhiraj Kumar Mite, professor at Ambedkar University, said that much more needed to be done to remember Nehru than marking his birth anniversary.
“The man has been reduced to mere Chacha Nehru,” Mite said wryly. “He was a great leader indeed. But the sceptics try to punch loopholes in his past decisions. Anyone can make mistake.”
“The present generation does not know much about Nehru, not because he was not a great leader, it’s because it’s easy to denigrate him,” Mite added.