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Wanted, a house fit for Caesar’s wife
Stung, Arvind says a flat ‘no’

New Delhi, Jan. 4: India’s most-watched house hunt has sprung back to life after Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal decided to turn “Caesar’s wife” and declined two duplex flats to fend off accusations of reneging on his pledge to renounce the perks of power.

“Many of my well-wishers, friends and supporters have called me,” Kejriwal said this morning. “They felt I should not take up this accommodation. So I have decided to forgo it.”

The chief minister has now asked his officials to find a more “modest” accommodation for him but within his New Delhi constituency so he can live close to his voters, sources said. Till then, he will continue to live in his wife’s Indian Revenue Service quarters at Kaushambi in Ghaziabad.

Later in the day, Kejriwal tweeted: “But friends, I would need to have two adjacent houses, one of them as an office. Else I would become ineffective.”

Opposition BJP members had yesterday pilloried Kejriwal in the Assembly, saying his acceptance of the two flats made a mockery of his promise to end “VIP culture”.

Asked about this today, Kejriwal was quoted by PTI as saying: “It is actually important. We have come to cleanse dirty politics. Like Caesar’s wife, we have to be above suspicion and we have to subject ourselves to scrutiny.”

The “Caesar’s wife” adage is one that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too is fond of quoting, as he did three years ago while expressing willingness to be questioned by a parliamentary panel on the 2G controversy.

Kaushambi, though part of the National Capital Region, is administered by the government of Uttar Pradesh where, technically, a Delhi chief minister cannot reside.

He may have to for some time, though, unless government house-hunters are as good as the capital’s street-savvy property dealers who can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo.

“We have to look for a corner flat to avoid disturbing neighbours,” a government official outlined the challenge, “and find two such adjacent flats within a particular constituency.”

Kejriwal has already refused a Type 7 bungalow, but the two Bhagwan Das Road duplex flats together have a built-up area of 6,000sqft, matching some of the Type 8 bungalows allotted to Union ministers, which are between 5,000sqft and 15,000sqft.

The chief minister had yesterday said he would use one of the two flats as his office and wondered what the fuss was about since he was merely upgrading from his four-bedroom Ghaziabad flat to a five-bedroom home.

He had also compared the flat allotted to him with the Type 8 central government bungalow — one of the larger ones — his Congress predecessor Sheila Dikshit has lived in since 2003 and is yet to vacate.

Dikshit’s 3 Moti Lal Nehru Marg home was built under the personal supervision of Sir Edwin Lutyens. Like all “original” Lutyens Type 8s, it has just three — but huge —bedrooms, with attached dressing rooms and bathrooms, a sprawling two-acre-plus garden, separate servants’ quarters, and an office block.

Kejriwal’s party colleague Shazia Ilmi jumped to his support. She tweeted that Dikshit’s bungalow is worth at least Rs 1,100 crore.

Only one of Kejriwal’s six ministers, Manish Sisodia, has accepted government accommodation: a three-bedroom flat.

Public works department sources said the Delhi government had never framed any rules of entitlement relating to bungalow size or renovation budget, usually preferring to follow the central government norms for its ministers.

“Every Union minister gets a onetime payment of Rs 2.5 lakh for furnishings during allotment and a fixed annual maintenance fund after that. Since the Delhi government has no rules, both its ministers and bureaucrats misuse these privileges,” a senior official said.

This time, accommodation has become an issue because of the stress on symbolism such as riding the Metro to the swearing-in.

Advice of substance was tweeted by Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah: “I don’t think anyone voted against Sheila Dikshit because of her residence, so best to focus on what really matters rather than the fluff.”

 


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