Culture minister Mahesh Sharma, who made headlines for saying former President A P J Abdul Kalam was a “nationalist” despite being a Muslim, has been allotted the bungalow where the “missile man” lived in the national capital.
Kalam, who died in July 2015, lived in the 11,776 sq ft bungalow at 10 Rajaji Marg after his term as President ended in 2007.
“I have been allocated 10 Rajaji Marg by the urban development ministry and I have accepted the offer,” Sharma, who has been living in his own residence in Sector 15 of Noida, told PTI.
After the “despite being a Muslim” comment sparked controversy, Sharma clarified that he was actually trying to say, that “Kalam was the ideal nationalist Muslim and not Aurangzeb”.
Kalam’s official residence has to be vacated by his staff by October 31 and his belongings, including numerous books and his veena, have been shifted to his ancestral home at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.
Sections of civil society have voiced their opposition to the move and a senior journalist from Tamil Nadu, Bhagwan Singh, has filed a petition on an online platform asking the government to turn Kalam’s home into a “knowledge centre”.
“Thousands of Dr Kalam’s books and documents that he worked on through his life, the veena that he often played, are being boxed up, so that culture minister Mahesh Sharma, who has been in the news recently for his sexist and discriminatory comments, can move in,” Singh wrote in his petition.
He added: “Moving Dr Kalam’s work to the small town of Rameswaram is one of the biggest insults to the legacy of one of our greatest Presidents, who spent his last years inspiring the youth to contribute for the good of society.”
Asked about the demand by friends and supporters of Kalam to convert the bungalow into a memorial, Sharma said, “It is the government’s policy not to convert any Lutyen’s bungalow into a memorial. RLD leader Ajit Singh had also demanded converting the Tughlaq Road residence of his late father Charan Singh into a memorial but the demand was not accepted.”
He added: “I am getting an official accommodation after 11 months. Earlier I was allotted 7 Tyagraj Marg but I could not move there as it was not vacated by the earlier occupant.”
A media report quoted an unnamed senior CPWD official as saying that “a few rules were bent to dole” out the bungalow to Sharma.
A Type VIII bungalow of the size of the one at 10 Rajaji Marg is allotted only to cabinet ministers or those with cabinet rank and Sharma, as a minister of state and a first-time MP, is not entitled to it, the official said.
The list of controversial comments by Sharma is growing. After 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq was lynched by a mob at Bisada in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that he had eaten beef, Sharma described the incident as an “accident” and said no “communal colour” should be given to it.
Later, when more than 40 writers returned their Sahitya Akademi awards to protest against the government’s silence on growing intolerance in the country, Sharma said in an interview, “If they say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing. We will then see.”
Sharma had also said that “night out for girls” was not a part of Indian culture.
(With PTI inputs)