WE are all aware of the project to dismantle, disaggregate, and relocate the National Museum in New Delhi as part of the Central Vista plan. It is part of this government’s muscular imagination that seeks to upend everything that preceded its advent in a bid to create anew a national character that is aggressively brassy.
Yet, the dangers of this could be offset if it meant the National Museum, and indeed all the country’s state-run museums, would get the much-needed injection of funding, training, infrastructure, and autonomy that would indicate that we care about preserving the past as much as we like boasting of it.
But one doubts very much that this will transpire. Seventy-five years after independence, we treat our museums as nothing better than ill-run warehouses. Our joy lies in the atavistic act of possession, not in the loving study, preservation, and display of national treasures.
While we continue to approach our museums with a lack of imagination, with age-old obsessions and narrow-minded ideas, the rest of the world is working on futuristic museums of tomorrow, recognising local heritage as part of the global commons.
We asked leading thinkers and practitioners from the field of museology—Jyotindra Jain, Naman Ahuja, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, and Tasneem Mehta—to discuss the idea of the museum and what it does and can mean for India. And, for the fun of it, our reporters also picked a few museums that stand out from the crowd.
With so much of the past up for grabs now, I believe this issue of Frontline offers a valuable look at what the future could hold.