The more things change in India, the more they remain — stubbornly— the same. There have been plenty of developments in the recent past to warrant such pessimism, the latest being the Congress-led UPA government’s decision to not only waive a rent bill of Rs 1.98 crore, but also allow Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to hold on to an official bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi for the next 25 years.
The sprawling bungalow in question is located at 6, Krishna Menon Marg. It was the residence of Ms Kumar’s father and former deputy prime minister Babu Jagjivan Ram and Ms Kumar was living at the house until she moved to the official Speaker’s residence at 20, Akbar Road. Despite getting an official accommodation, she never really moved out of her original home.
The prime property has now been given to the Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation that was operational from the house. Consider this development against Delhi chief minister-designate Arvind Kejriwal’s decision not to occupy an official accommodation and you get the drift: despite the recent developments and the public mood, make no mistake, the politics of privilege is alive and thriving in India.
The decision to grant such a high-value property to Ms Kumar for 25 years looks all the more odd because the Union government has been asked by the Supreme Court (SC) to deal with other VIP squatters with a firm hand. In July, the SC gave a 20-point list of suggestions to the government on dealing with unauthorised occupation in future. “The government is at a loss on the one hand in not being able to accommodate those persons who are in need and on the other is unable to effectively deal with the persons who continue to occupy unauthorisedly beyond the period prescribed,” the Bench had then observed. In fact, addressing this controversy over the Jagjivan Ram’s residence, it said that no government bungalows can be converted into memorials. The law says that a person has to surrender government housing in case of transfer within a maximum period of eight months. A minister, on ceasing to be a minister, is required to vacate the accommodation within one month.
It is well known that the elite and powerful have a ferocious sense of entitlement. Sadly, even the daughter of one of India’s leading politicians who fought for social justice and against privileges is not untouched by that old disease.