It is an old trick that many of our political worthies have perfected. No sooner has a neta of repute, say, a prime minister, passed away than a clamour is set up to convert his or her residence into a memorial. The latest to try and grab a Lutyens’ bungalow in the name of his father is Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal and rushing to his support is the Samajwadi Party, which is supporting this ludicrous claim, obviously with an eye on political gains in Uttar Pradesh. Mr Singh has been dragged, kicking and screaming, from the bungalow where he has been squatting for years while fighting to convert it into a memorial. The question must be asked as to why public land and property must be made over to house a memorial for Chaudhary Charan Singh after all these years. But Mr Singh is not alone in this quest for trying to usurp public property for a memorial. Many politicians have done so, arguing that this is the best way to remember the contributions of the dear departed to the nation.
If they feel so strongly about the public needing a memorial to remember the late leader, then why don’t political parties pay for land where a befitting edifice can be erected? But then, all political parties are guilty of this. Indira Gandhi’s house was converted into a memorial for her. Prime land has been given over for memorials to several leaders. So, many see no reason why other leaders should not get the same privilege. This practice must end right now. The State is in no way obliged to hand over prime pieces of property to house the relatives of dead leaders under guise that they are looking after the memorial. But the tenacity with which Mr Singh tried to hang on to the house and then politicise the issue shows how much of a sense of entitlement our netas have when it comes to public property.
It is only in India that former prime ministers get government housing. In the US and Britain, for example, once political leaders demit office, they have to fend for themselves. Here, politics is seen as a gravy train in perpetuity.
It would be a great service to the public and the taxpayer if the new government were to do away with this penchant for memorials to departed leaders, which are really nothing more than a cover to grab prime land and housing.