Dilli being Delhi, it is awash with rumours. It is believed that the erstwhile residence of the hardworking Sheila Dikshit that sits on the edge of Motilal Nehru Place, christened the official residence of the chief minister of Delhi, is the one that Manmohan Singh would like to have allocated to him as his new residence as former prime minister. The 10-year long ‘walk’ through the bhool bhulaiyas of Indian politics seems to have changed Singh’s personality. When he had become prime minister, he had wanted none of the extravagances or privileges that are offered to the holders of supreme positions in this poor country. Such privileges inevitably ruin men of stature, reducing them to an average politician. When he was made the prime minister by Sonia Gandhi, he had said that he did not want to travel in a fleet of BMWs. But he quickly succumbed to pressure, like they all do, using security concerns as the reason for doing so.
He demits office amidst allegations of scams and ineffective governance, the many salutary interventions in the form of long-term policy initiatives notwithstanding. Singh has disappointed those who believed he was poles apart from the rest of his colleagues in politics. Instead of voluntarily relinquishing the posh post-retirement perk of a sprawling Lutyens bungalow in central Delhi, with gardens, non-stop electricity and running water, he seems to have fallen into the trap of craving the benefits he once abhorred.
He could have set a new standard for ‘retirement and retreat’, back to his personal property, thereby standing tall among leaders on account of his supreme dignity and integrity. But by not refusing the unnecessary government accommodation and its support system, Singh is doing what the others have done in spite of the public anger against such privileges that are paid for by the State.
Nowhere in the world do prime ministers hang on to such perks as homes and other freebies once they lose elections or retire from a post. Government homes come with a post and not a person. Rahul Gandhi needs to end this system and free up prime property in New Delhi. When will our leaders, past and present, stop exploiting the system for their personal gain? Frankly, all government-sponsored perks must be revoked if we are to become a modern nation state with clean politics. Singh, as a professional economist, understands this truth far better than most. This is why many are pained to see him lower the bar of credibility by accepting free residence for the rest of his life. As he exits Race Course Road, he should refuse such a privilege. By doing so, his twilight years would resound with praise.
Morality and good practice have plunged to new depths. One can only hope and pray that the buds of a new beginning will sprout from this mire to enrich the future lives of young Indians as they struggle to deal with the mess that surrounds their professional and personal lives. The old system, with its insular, aged members laden with undue privileges, is under threat. Being in denial about the truth will only make the imminent blow much harder to deal with as the accusations get shriller.
In the case of earlier dispensations, when one government demitted office and another took hold of the reins, there was some element of ‘give and take’ that protected those leaving the gaddis. Revenge was shunned and alleged misdemeanours were not sent for investigation. That unwritten law is no longer operative. The new government will, most definitely, try and reveal the hidden horrors of the one that is leaving office. Is the United Progressive Alliance aware of that change in attitude?