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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 38, September 13, 2014

Preserve Radhakrishnan’s Gift to the Nation

Saturday 13 September 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

September 5 this year marked Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan‘s 126th birth anniversary. Every year September 5 is observed as Teacher’s Day in honour of the second President of our Republic since he was a great teacher. This year too Teacher’s Day was observed throughout the country but the focus was on PM Narendra Modi and not a word was written in the media about the genesis of the Day with reference to Dr Radhakrishnan; in fact Narendra Modi himself only cursorily mentioned, in his interaction with school children (and not with the teachers), about the history of the Day and who Dr Radhakrishnan was. In this background we are carrying the following relevant article by N.C. which appeared in this journal more than 17 years ago.

The news report, about a government move to oust the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) from the Viceregal Lodge at Shimla and convert the mansion back into the summer retreat of the President of India, is bound to come as a shock to the public. This will bring no laurels for those who have initiated the move.

It is important to note that the Cabinet Secretary leading a Committee of Central Government Secretaries initiated the process by which the prestigious IIAS is planned to be ejected from Shimla and the old Viceregal Lodge would revert back to its regal status as the summer retreat of the President of India. Some years ago the Himachal Pradesh Government hit upon a similar move, but it had a more mundane objective in view. It dreamt of turning the Viceregal Lodge into a tourist hotel. However, the outcry against it was raised by a large section of the intellectual community in the country and so the plan was hushed up. This time the Secretaries Committee, led by the Cabinet Secretary, has been more sophisticated: it has made the elegant suggestion that the Viceregal Lodge must revert back to the traditions of the Raj, and let the President of India be provided with the comforts of a summer capital.

This brings one to what President Radha-krishnan did about thirty years ago. Those like the present writer, who knew him as a great teacher, will recall how he found the absurdity of setting up an establishment in the Himalayas as the summer retreat of the President of India. For one thing, there was no provision in the Raj days for air-conditioning in the summer months in New Delhi, and in keeping with the tradition of the Raj the entire Central Government in those days used to migrate to the hills and the Viceroy as the chief executive had to go to Shimla. After the dissolution of the Raj and the emergence of independent India, the practice of summer shifting to the mountains was abandoned and it was possible to carry on the government from New Delhi with installation of air-conditioning not available in the old years.

Besides, the President of India is not the chief executive as was the Viceroy but the government kept up the establishment of the Rashtrapati Bhavan despite the changed authority of its occupant as under the new Constitution. For a little over the first decade after independence, the status quo remained. However, when Radha-krishnan became the President, he at once realised the redundancy of keeping up a duplicate establishment for the Head of the Republic at Shimla, and, true to his fidelity to intellectual pursuits, handed over the Viceregal Lodge at Shimla to the government with the strict mandate that the mansion would house a centre for advanced study for scholars in different disciplines in the blissful Himalayan environment.

This was indeed a Presidential decision for which the country could be proud of. The President of India, himself reared in the traditions of Indian philosophy and scholarship, indeed made a memorable gesture to Indian scholarship. It was a gesture which needs to be preserved as a symbol of our cherished value system in which learning has had the pride of place. This has become all the more imperative today when opulence gets preference in public life to learning and enlightenment.

For nearly thirty years, the IIAS has struggled on, having had its ups and downs, as is to be expected in the case of any institution with a wide compass. Men and women in pursuit of learning from distant corners of India have come and worked at the Institute. Interactions are encouraged and fruitful dissertations follow. No doubt there are critics of the centre as there should be of any vital seat of learning. What, however, is common to all the critics is that they do not want the Institute to be closed down or its activity curtailed, but want it to grow and attain new heights of excellence.

The Cabinet Secretary and his team will, of course, plead that they are not in favour of closing down the Institute but just to shift it down from the Himalayas to the highly-polluted environ of the Capital or its neighbourhood and for this shifting they are reported to have earmarked upto Rs 20 crores. If the government has money to spare, why does it not sanction it for the renovation and expansion of the Institute at its present location in Shimla itself? A modern library will be of great help to the scholars who come to the Institute at Shimla, and expansion of accommodation facilities would be welcome.

This brings one to the question of a separate set-up for the President’s summer resort. The Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi is a huge unwieldy establishment. Leaving aside what Gandhiji was reported to have felt about it, it is legitimate to ask ourselves if the Rashtrapati Bhavan with all its accoutrements is needed in its present shape, size and protocol to house the elected head of democratic India, a country of 900 million where more than half the people are below the poverty line. The imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan structure, with all its customs and ceremonies, is no doubt eye-catching, but a citizen from one of the thousands of our dust-laden villages, how would he react to see how the First Citizen of the Republic is kept in imperial éclat?

As for any other resort for the President, a mansion is earmarked for his regular use at Hyderabad for a fortnight during the monsoon. Of course, any Raj Bhavan in any State capital can comfortably house our President. One wonders how the seasoned civil servants at the Centre entertain the idea of reopening a Himalayan resort for the President, when the government is starved of funds for the social sector.

The United Front Government, as any other government in this country, is committed to certain values. It is amazing how all the paper-work at the secretarial level was carried out without the knowledge of the United Front itself. Has this proposal been mooted and passed at the meeting of the Front’s Steering Committee? Let the Front leaders respond and discuss the matter before Parliament.

One can only expect that better sense would prevail in the government than toying with the idea of a mini-Rashtrapati Bhavan in the Himalayas. Members of Parliament should take up the issue and the intellectual community of the country embracing the entire spectrum, from Dr Abdul Kalam at one end to the village school teacher at the other, must raise their voice asserting that Radhakrishnan’s gift to the nation must not be touched, but preserved. Such a commandment the President of India himself will take up once the strident voice of the nation pierces through the thick red sandstone structure on the Raisina Hill.

Let this be a citizen’s mission in the fiftieth year of our Republic.

(Mainstream, February 8, 1997)

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