A few weeks ago, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi announced a plan to “modernise” the country’s antiquated antiquities collection, which includes priceless manuscripts and art.
In a speech to a packed auditorium, Modi said India would “reclaim the heritage of our people”, and that the government would not be “bowing to any outside pressure”.
The move was widely criticised as a “mocking” gesture by some in India, but not all were happy with it.
A lot of the criticism focused on the fact that Modi’s government would be giving up control of the countrys antiquities to private owners.
However, as Al Jazeera’s Kavita Krishnan reports from New Delhi, some historians argue that the move is a far cry from a “modernisation” of the collection.
“I do not think we have a government who is willing to take the step of modernising its antiquities,” says Manish Sankar, the curator of the India Ancient Collection.
Sanker is part of a team that will be tasked with re-architecting the country s antiquities. “
The idea of modernisation is not that we can use the ancient for the purposes of modernity but for preserving its value as it has a lot of historical value and it has an historical value, a great value.”
Sanker is part of a team that will be tasked with re-architecting the country s antiquities.
His team will work with Indian government officials, museums and libraries to make the work more sustainable and “properly” preserved.
The team will also focus on developing a digital portal to share historical material and images.
“This will be the biggest challenge of the project,” Sankara tells Krishnan.
“We will also be making sure that our collection will not be lost.”
“Modernisation” has become a hot-button issue in India.
Last month, Modi signed a law which gave him the power to re-classify all antiquities that were deemed antiquities in the past.
Under the new law, all existing “cultural and historical materials” can be reclassified, and museums and heritage sites are expected to have their information and photographs digitised.
It is also hoped that this will reduce the need for expensive and sometimes time-consuming conservation and restoration efforts.
However many of the ancient objects that will come under this new regime have a lot more value.
A study from the Heritage Foundation found that nearly 60% of the items on display at museums and museums in India are worth more than $100,000.
“Many of these are priceless works of art and it is important to preserve them for our future generations,” Seshan Chakraborty, the head of the Heritage foundation, told Krishnan last month.
“It is a great honour for us to be able to work with the Prime Minister to help us preserve these treasures.”
Seshar’s team hopes to be successful in getting the items back to the curators, but there are still some questions that need to be answered before the new government is able to make a proper assessment of their value.
“If we have any doubt about what our work is going to bring back to India, we need to answer those questions before we can move forward,” Sushara says.
What are their provenance? “
What are the value of the objects?
What are their provenance?
What kind of preservation are they going to provide?
And what is the current status of these objects?”
There is an underlying historical context. “
They are not just a collection of artefacts.
There is an underlying historical context.
We need to take into account the importance of these artefacts.”
The new government, led by Modi, is expected to tackle a range of issues including re-opening some of the monuments, modernising the national museum, and introducing more incentives for conservation.
It will also look to boost the number of museums in the country, as well as establish new national museums to further showcase the country.
Sushar and other experts believe that the Modi government will be able “to make a real difference” to the country and the world.
“In the long run, Modi will be remembered for what he has done for the country,” Sishara says, “because of what he did for India, for the people.”
This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera and was translated by Katharine Graham