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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dynasty's ruthless land-grab in Lutyens' Delhi

By Swapan Dasgupta



A few passage from All These Years (Penguin Books, 1991), Raj Thapar’s candid insider account of court life in the age of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi may be relevant in today’s irreverent age when an outsider Prime Minister is questioning the fundamentals of entitlement.


“It was within ten days of Nehru’s death that Indira rang Romesh [Thapar] one morning, sounding desperate. Meher Chand Khanna, the then Housing Minister, had apparently sent his minions to ask her if they could remove the furniture and that she plan to vacate the [Teen Murti] House as soon as possible. She was alarmed. ‘What shall I do?’ she asked, almost in tears. He told her to sit tight, take her time, and he would see that no one dare throw her out…”


“Teen Murti House seemed to have a life quite independent of the occupants. Rumour had it that Shastri’s wife declined to use it as a residence because Nehru’s ghost must haunt the rambling structure since the kriya ceremony had not been performed and his spirit not been released in the way it should have been…No way could Shastri be persuaded to step into a defiled space. It was not a question of contaminating his soul but of putting an uncertainty over his future, his political future.”


“Meanwhile Indira called a meeting of a hundred citizens, from the big industrialists downwards, to form the Nehru Memorial Trust. She co-opted Romesh on to the panel of original trustees…The Fund was created, Teen Murti was dedicated to the nation and the ‘people of India’ and new expansion plans were put into operation…”


What Raj Thapar, with a charming measure of feigned innocence, described in her memoirs was a well-executed and ruthless land-grab operation. First, Indira Gandhi is tearfully outraged that she is asked to vacate a public building that served as Nehru’s official residence for 17 years. Encouraged by her courtiers, she is determined to not lose control of a property she now views as an inheritance.


Therefore, after seeking sympathy that naturally comes to any family after a bereavement, her supporters whisper that the un-refined Lal Bahadur Shastri is not fit to occupy a place that housed the great Nehru. The point of this psychological warfare is two-fold. Shastri must be intimidated into believing that it would be sacrilegious for him to move into Teen Murti. In the process, there is a distinction made between Teen Murti House, the Prime Minister’s official residence, and Teen Murti House, the residence of Nehru. Once Shastri is bullied into not moving into Teen Murti, it loses its undefined status as the PM’s official residence. It comes to be associated solely with Nehru.


The dynasty then moves fast. It sets up the mandataory trust, arm-twists the industrialists it otherwise despises into making handsome contributions and creates the conditions for Teen Murti House to become a family shrine. True, Indira didn’t get to live in Teen Murti House—I guess she didn’t factor the possibility of her becoming PM in less than two years—but at least a principle was established: the dynasty doesn’t relinquish real estate that easily.


A casual look at the map would indicate the extent of land-grab. Teen Murti houses the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library that is nominally under the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India. It was deemed sufficiently important for the Congress dispensation for its tenured Director to be appointed in the interregnum between the last date of polling and the declaration of results in May 2014. The Director is no doubt an eminent historian but the manner of his appointment was distinctly dodgy.


Then there is Indira Gandhi Memorial at the junction of Safdarjung Road and Akbar Road—two Lutyen’s bungalows that also doubled up as the unofficial headquarters of the Congress(T) in the last years of the Narasimha Rao government, before Sonia assumed charge of the party. There is also the single bungalow office of the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Trust on Willingdon Crescent.


The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation is located on Raisina Road, on premises that were initially given to the Congress to use as its permanent headquarters. The Congress remains exactly where it was in a spacious Akbar Road bungalow but the new building has been transferred to the dynasty’s trust. The same fate would have befallen the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts that had proposed Sonia Gandhi for a lifelong role. But with a change of government, this institution can perhaps be salvaged and made to play the role it was set up for.


And this is not to forget the case of Herald House, the prime property on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg that now serves as a Passport Office. The irony of the government paying rent to a family-controlled Trust that secured government land at subsidised rate for the ostensible purpose of bringing out a publication is inescapable.


Maybe someone should do an audit of the value of the real estate in Delhi that is under the direct or indirect control of the Gandhi family. The nation, it would seem, owes this family everything and it has repaid the debt by entrusting prime real estate to institutions set up by them. And this does not include the government-provided residences in Lutyens’ Delhi—some, no doubt, legitimate—to all of Nehru’s remaining heirs.


Is it any wonder that Ajit Singh, the son of Charan Singh, believes he is being short-changed by a government that views government buildings as a hotel—where you check in but must also check out? The Modi government is being pilloried because it doesn’t view the state as private property. 

Sunday Pioneer, September 21, 2014



sk said...

must read this ,how indira and down the dynasty ,how the family grabbed lutyens govt properties

Anonymous said...

Only in India and this sort of thing go on unchecked and unquestioned! I do hope in the world of 24 hr new transmission and SM this blind idolatry does not hold!! Ppl need to question and noone can claim govt. property or usurp public largesse!!!

Anonymous said...

if any wrong is done cant we correct it?why not GOI change rules to shift all these monuments to far off places and all these costly buildings be vacated to rehabilitate old people orphans and chidlrens.we hope these buildings be made available to all destitute orphan and old aged people.

papaba said...

Rescind all properties palmed away to anyone since independence however legitimate it may be, does BJP walk the talk?

Shivangni said...

Can all this be undone? Perhaps by nationalising these trusts & making them truly public & ensuring common management appointed in a transparent manner.

Anonymous said...

A simple solution is to EVICT all except those who are serving ministers/officials. This includes MMS as well. When governments for seven decades have been dishing out idea of 500 sq feet "affordable" housing for commoners, it is high time MINISTERS (more so ex-ministers) were made living examples of the recommended austerity.

And this should be the urgent immediate measure. In medium term construct high rise apartment complexes for babus and ministers. Free space for gardens for common people.

Make Rashtrapri Bhavan etc. Libraries, museusm, etc. Force the Gandhi-preachers to lead the "Gandhian" life.

Om Prakash Sudrania said...

First of all, I admire Swapan Da for his free voice and exposing this corrupt dynasty which is worse than our colonial looters. I must admit, I have no good words for them. If I'm permitted my freedom of speech, it also gives me opportunity to express my displeasure on Gandhiji also. Had not Gandhiji asked Patel to step down from his legitimate first PM job, things would hv been different but Nehru is believed to hv threatened Gandhiji to scuttle the entire freedom process if he wasn't made first PM. Where do we stand then regarding both Nehru as Gandhiji? These brute truths couldn't be known to average Indian who is majority Hindu who is least bothered with such political nuances unlike the Muslims and Christians.

Nehru being fully aware of post partition religion based sentiments and his distance from Hindus, he must discover a stratagem to denounce Hindu sentiments. He did it successfully. Simultaneously, he then shamefully but successfully again created his dynasty by promoting scandalous daughter Indira. This succession has kept percolating till date.

It has also given them a leverage to convert the nation into their fiefdom and loot or use anything as they wish. Unfortunately the loot game has been so vicious that now Sonia has master minded it to perfection. No wonder, all these costly properties in Lutyens' area have been looted with impunity. Because the last post independence era has seen the ppl in India become used to congress in such style that it is being taken for granted as natural heirs of India. Is it then any surprise that all these costly priceless properties in Delhi has been transferred in the dynasty's name. Hence the anger of Sonia against Hindus is a must for power that meant money for her.

Anonymous said...

What is BJP modus operandi to keep supporters folk together .Swapan Das Gupta should elaborate to enable readers to distinguish between the parties strategies in this regard

Anonymous said...

What is BJP modus operandi to keep supporters folk together .Swapan Das Gupta should elaborate to enable readers to distinguish between the parties strategies in this regard

Dr.Ranga said...

1It is time now to move the National Capital away from Delhi. A country wide referendum could be taken along with the next Lok Sabha Elections. There could be several options viz. Puducherry (Pondicherry), Mysore, in south, Gandhinagar, Navi Mumbai in the west, Greater Noida or beyond, or Varanasi in the North, Jamshedpur, or somewhere in Odhisha, or Vizag in the east, Nagpur or somewhere in MP in Central. Or one of the 100 New Cities that are being planned. That way Lutyen's special status would dramatically reduce and we could have a completely fresh start. In any case in the 21st century we can make a suitable capital all modern technology in tact right from conception that can help all of India.

Anonymous said...

Pass a law to create a single Memorial for all so called tall leaders. Take back all occupied properties and put them to good use...

Cool Guy said...

Lutyen (7000 acres) must be razed to ground, every brick of it- & make way for universities, hospitals & hostels. All MP's, Executive & judges must be given rent allowance & all special privileges withdrawn. Only the Prez be extended the symbolic VIP status & even the PM only during foreign visiting dignitaries. That's if we truly wish to be a democracy & no longer an oligarchy.