Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birthday has resulted in the Congress, the BJP and the other parties locked in a battle to redefine and appropriate Congress stalwart and the country’s first PM. But an exhibition on Nehru’s first Cabinet outside Teen Murti Auditorium speaks eloquently about him, and his political Catholicism that allowed for his idea of India to be embedded through his choice of ministers.
Taking office at a time when independent India was just born, could not have been easy. It was after a bloody Partition that killed at least 10 million, with refugees streaming in, and the Constitution still not agreed upon. Nehru was firm on not taking the path to a Hindu rashtra, analogous to a homeland for Muslims that Pakistan came to signify. The Congress had overwhelming strength then, but Nehru chose at least five such ministers who went on to start major political parties — BR Ambedkar established the Republican Party; Syama Prasad Mukherjee founded the Jan Sangh; Shanmukham Chetty, the Justice Party; C
Rajagopalachari, the Swatantra Party; and Rafi A Kidwai, the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party. These stalwarts, with firm and distinct ideologies, allowed for many Indias to speak to him.
The exhibition, “Nehru’s First Cabinet”, has panels for each minister (interestingly, there are two for Sardar Patel, the Deputy Home Minister until his death in 1950) with interesting vignettes, letters and facts. Their courtesy and forthrightness, some addressing him as ‘My Dear Jawaharlal’, is truly a blast from the past. A letter by CD Deshmukh, Finance Minister from 1950-56, firmly tells of how a steel plant Nehru is planning may not be feasible and he would have to “see” if it is possible at all. Labour Minister Jagjivan Ram in a speech advises “Capitalists” to shun ostentation and look after their workers. Maulana Azad in 1948 writes about the dismal state of schools and the need for uniform schooling in India.
The ongoing exhibition is a treat for all those who savour political history and for those who look to it for leads into how it could offer solutions for the present — and of course, the future.
The ongoing exhibition, ‘Nehru’s First Cabinet’ outside Teen Murti Auditorium, is open on all weekdays from 10am to 5pm.
Entry is free