Selection Bias

The Modi government’s efforts to curate a revisionist history

The new Museum of Prime Ministers is scheduled to come up on the Teen Murti grounds, in the NMML’s backyard. PIB
31 January, 2021

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library put out a call for applications for the position of curator early last year. Founded in 1964, the NMML is set in the midst of the lush-green 25 acres of the Teen Murti Bhavan complex in Delhi. Teen Murti was the official residence of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first and longest-serving prime minister, from 1947 to 1964. Apart from the library, the building currently houses the Nehru Museum, the Center for Contemporary Studies and a planetarium. In the five decades since its inception, NMML has been the country’s premier research library for modern history and the social sciences. When I was a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, from 2007 to 2009, visits to the NMML were a rite of passage. Assuming that the position advertised was to be at the Nehru Memorial Museum, I immediately applied.

After being shortlisted, I was invited for a video “interaction.” The technology department at the NMML appeared anxious to keep the process glitch-free—it conducted two rehearsal video meetings to ensure my connection was up to the task. Despite this, on the final day, the line was shaky. My interviewers—six sexagenarian men and one young woman—included Swapan Dasgupta, a right-wing journalist; Adwaitam Gadanayak, the director general of the National Gallery of Modern Art; and the NMML’s director, Raghavendra Singh.

They looked uncomfortable in their tiny windows on my screen as they took turns to quiz me. Every now and then someone would go offline, prompting an IT assistant to help them log back on. A good many of their questions had to do with technology. Museums needed technology, I was told, and did I know how to deal with it? Would I be able to ensure the museum’s “Indian” character? Did I know enough about India’s contemporary history—specifically the parts of it to do with Pakistan, Kashmir, Ayodhya and Gujarat—or would I need help from specialists to understand it?

The general thrust of the questions did not surprise me. The job listing had mentioned the salary for the position to be around Rs 2 lakh per month, but had not specified any requisite academic qualifications or experience. Given the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s efforts at whitewashing history in line with its Hindutva worldview, I imagined that the questions on Pakistan, the Babri Masjid, the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 and the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution—all pain points for the BJP—were an unsurprising means of sorting through the variety of candidates the listing must have attracted. What did catch me by surprise, however, was the realisation that the interview was for a post at the upcoming Museum of Prime Ministers, and not at the Nehru Memorial Museum as I had supposed. That the two were not to be related became increasingly apparent over my interview.