Every time Union Minister Manohar Singh Gill puts on his sports shoes to take a walk in the lawns of what he terms as “the house of history”, images of Mrs Indira Gandhi flash across his mind. Sometimes he shudders at the thought; at other times chuckles at Fate: after all it chose him to stay in a house which was once occupied by the Gandhis: Mrs Indira Gandhi, Sonia and Rajiv.
Rechristened as Mother Teresa Crescent, 12 Willingdon Crescent was damned in 1977. Mrs Indira Gandhi had lost the election and was forced to move out of the Prime Minister’s house on Safdarjang Road. She moved in to the modest Willingdon Crescent bungalow, sharing the government accommodation with her family. Gill will of course tell you which room Mrs Sonia Gandhi slept in. For several months after he occupied the erstwhile Gandhi home, Congressmen took him on a guided tour in his own home to educate him on its importance.
Having almost nothing to do with politics, Gill lives on mountain adventures. Trained under Tenzing Norgay, Gill was perhaps the only one in his IAS batch to ask for a posting in Darjeeling.
As District Commissioner in Leh, Gill used mules more than jeeps, given that there were hardly any roads there then. He rode one happily and would put the D C’s flag to let the locals know he was on official duty. During his tenure in the Election Commission, Gill was keen to see a northeastern representation: “He has a soft spot for the Northeast and has fought for its cause. His heart lies there,” said Birendra Prasad Baishya, Rajya Sabha MP.
Despite being a middle level farmer, Gill’s father insisted on educating his children. Gill made it as an IAS officer, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and now a Union Minister: the last two having generated controversies.
In 1993, he was appointed by the then government through a constitutional amendment to share power with the Chief Election Commissioner. Gill and G V G Krishnamurthy were seen as “government men” sent to reign in T N Seshan, then CEC.
When Gill made a political debut first as Rajya Sabha MP and then as a minister, questions were raised about the propriety of a constitutional functionary taking up a political office. “He is not a politician. He cannot lie or say anything contrary to the truth. Politicians do the opposite,” said Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, former MLA from Gurdaspur, Punjab.
Gill follows his instincts. He is also the only one who will step aside during dinner hosted by the President of India to salute British architect Edwin Lutyens, who created New Delhi. “I revere him and cannot leave Rashtrapati Bhawan till I do not bow before his statue,” he said.