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Swapan Dasgupta likely to head Nehru memorial

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Swapan Dasgupta likely to head Nehru memorial

Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma declined to confirm or deny the appointment and said a decision will be taken “shortly”.

 Sheela Bhatt

Official sources said as Director of NMML, Dasgupta will enjoy the status of a Minister of State.

Commentator Swapan Dasgupta is likely to be appointed Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) in New Delhi. He is currently a member of the NMML Society which is presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When Dasgupta was reached for comment, he said: “I don’t know.”
Official sources said as Director of NMML, Dasgupta will enjoy the status of a Minister of State. “The government is in the process of upgrading the status of the Director of NMML as part of its effort to make relevant the life and works of Jawaharlal Nehru,” an official said.
Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma declined to confirm or deny the appointment and said a decision will be taken “shortly”.
Last September, Mahesh Rangarajan, appointed NMML Director by the previous UPA government, stepped down after Sharma called his appointment “unethical and illegal”.
The government accepted his resignation.



NK’s Big Bang

Direly unnerving data, if inadequate, has been advanced to the world; North Korea being North Korea, much also alas has not. Nothing is as yet definite about the “hermit kingdom’s” New Year gift, but Wednesday’s “breaking news” of an underground nuclear test has been profoundly distressing most particularly for China and the US, and generally alarming for the rest of the comity of nations. The reported test of a hydrogen bomb would without question serve to enhance the country’s belligerence; and it would be no exaggeration to suggest that the ultimate objective is a nuclear missile that “could provide it with a defensive weapon against America”, to quote the television broadcast. This is a terrifying prospect, by any reckoning. Indubitably, it marks an intrepid flexing of the muscle by the world’s last Stalinist state; what may yet be open to conjecture for a while is whether a hydrogen bomb has indeed been detonated, more specifically whether there is a link between the H-bomb and the “hermit kingdom”. America has been fairly firm, if guarded, in its reaction, which has been clothed with a warning of “appropriate action in the event of any or all provocations”. The move is as defiant as it is astonishing, and further comment must await confirmation of whether it really signifies a quantum jump in Pyongyang’s essay towards beefing up its nuclear arsenal. Palpable is the sudden ratcheting up of tension on either side of the Atlantic. “Let the world look up to the strong, self-reliant nuclear-armed state,” was Mr Kim Jong-un’s hand-written note of celebration displayed by state television.

For all its cordial equations with Beijing, nuclear antics by the North can threaten China’s economic renaissance, specifically by damaging relations with the US and putting investors off the whole region. Substantial also is the risk of China’s citizens being exposed to radiation. Furthermore, geopolitics has changed over time; while Beijing wants Pyongyang to behave responsibly, it has surprisingly little leverage and relations are worsening. The cancellation of a concert in Beijing by the North Korean pop group, Moranbong-of the Spice Girls variety-has been the latest spat within the Communist world. Yet China can scarcely afford a slide in its relations with President Kim not least because of the possibility of the North Korean leader courting Russia. There is little doubt that the country has upped the ante, and Wednesday’s announcement is an ominous reminder of the “hermit kingdom’s” threat to world peace. Small wonder that 15 members of the Security Council, including China-a potential UN ally-have stoutly condemned the nuclear test as “a clear threat to international peace and security”. Kim though couldn’t care less. 



History rebuilt - Does India need a new Parliament building?

Ashok Sekhar Ganguly

Like many of my fellow citizens, I am alarmed at the proposal of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha for building a new Parliament House. This is an idea that had been raised earlier. In 2008, the then Speaker of the Lok Sabha, had mooted a similar proposal but, thankfully, it did not find many takers and faded away. The danger, this time, is that even though major political parties have differences about important national issues, there seems to be a silent consensus among these parties regarding the need for a new Parliament building, with some notable exceptions.

Although these may be early days, a wedge has already been created with the idea of building a new Parliament building, the logic of which is not at all clear. The argument for a new Parliament building is supposed to be based on the idea that the present premises have become inadequate and that a new and modern edifice will somehow ease the functioning and enhance the efficiency of the members, as appropriate in a digital age.

Lutyens' Delhi, the headquarters of the British raj, is one of India's architectural and iconic wonders, whose planning and construction commenced in 1921. The building of the present Parliament House was completed in 1927, alongside the rest of Lutyens' structures on Raisina Hill. The surrounding premises of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, North and South Block, all stand today as a symbol of the majesty of the Indian democracy. The other surrounding buildings of the Parliament library and the annexe in the Parliament House complex were built in later years. Well-known structures such as the Lodhi Gardens, Humayun's Tomb, the Qutab Minar, Jama Masjid and several other historical structures and minarets are strewn across Delhi and, like Raisina Hill, bear witness to the legacy of more than a thousand years of history of former rulers and builders of this great Indian city.

Indians naturally feel resentful about foreign invaders, but the facts of history, sadly, cannot be denied. Although the recent destruction of the historically famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban and the ravages of the Islamic State obliterating the museums and historical monuments in Iraq and Syria are not exactly in the same category, they are contemporary events of vandalism, of the obliteration of history in hate and haste.

The Archaeological Survey of India is a premier institution, established in the 19th century. It deserves a mention here for its excellent record of work and its contemporary role as preserver of the icons of India's rich history. This, in spite of constraints on its resources, maintaining and guarding India's ancient structures and artefacts from the predatory spread of our exploding population, is indeed a huge task.

Be that as it may, the proposal to build a new Parliament House will not solve the genuine problems beleaguering the present premises, because the appropriate solution is not creating more space, but making significantly better and more effective use of the space and facilities of the existing Parliament building.

There are numerous and visible challenges with respect to the poor repairs, maintenance and upkeep, and utilization of space of the present Parliament House, which may, in fact, be no different than the state of upkeep of the rest of Lutyens' Delhi and other government buildings in and around it. The issue of the maintenance and upkeep of public structures and spaces is not peculiar to Delhi, but is a malaise across the government premises in the states as well. Returning to the subject at hand, the poor state of upkeep, maintenance and services in the existing Parliament House and its surroundings is, to put it mildly, primarily owing to the inadequate accountability, management, supervision, planning and systematic maintenance.

The principal service providers in Delhi, the public works and associated departments are manned by dedicated, qualified and a committed group of professionals and service employees. The state of disrepair of the Parliament House is a mute testimony to inadequate utilization of funds, human resources, management and accountability, which cannot be remedied by building another edifice. The visibly poor state of service lines, civil structures and fire safety is yet to be paid attention to.

In contrast, the secretariat of the Parliament provides services to the members, both in the House as well as outside, in a highly professional and dependable manner. In other words, if there is appropriate organizational focus and accountability, there is no reason why the repairs, maintenance and upkeep of the physical and related service structures of the present Parliament House cannot be of the same high standard and quality. That the premises need modernization in phases, as well, cannot be denied.

During the periods when the Parliament is in session, services to members in the central hall of Parliament House, the dining room, the reading room and security services are also of very high standard and are uniformly reliable and dependable. Similarly, the surrounding grounds and the cleanliness and upkeep of the washrooms in Parliament House, for example, are indeed of a very high and consistent standard. The parliamentary offices and committee rooms around the circumference of the two floors of the Parliament building would significantly benefit from improved maintenance, upkeep and modernization.

It may be worthwhile for the Parliament administration to consider enlisting the services of professional architects, engineers and management consultants to modernize, upgrade and significantly raise the maintenance standard and level of safety in the existing Parliament building in a cost-effective and appropriate way. This would be the best way to ensure a modern working environment for all the members as well as for those who manage and administer this great Indian institution.

Providing more computer facilities, moving into a paperless working environment and more space to members can be effectively achieved in the existing Parliament building with the professional services of experts and, in all probability, at no excess expenditure.

Modernizing the structure, appearance and functioning of the existing Parliament House to levels of 21st-century standards is a unique opportunity for the elected representatives of our people to demonstrate how to preserve and upgrade the iconic Parliament House, as a symbol of India's history and heritage. I would not have been able to express my views as forthrightly as I have tried to do, if I did not have the unique privilege of having personally seen and experienced what I have narrated, as a member of the Rajya Sabha, for the last six years.

In frequent bouts of populism, our country discards the old and historically important to seek something new. Renaming cities and streets, instead of finding ways to improve the lives of our citizens is a malaise across India and needs to be discouraged. Re-crafting historic edifices, instead of caring for and preserving them, would amount to erasing important parts of our rich heritage and substituting them with something that may look more modern - but to what end?



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