|The police officer, in blue T-shirt, arrives outside
house number 7 in Nandan Nagar, Guwahati, on Tuesday. Telegraph picture
Guwahati, April 22: The mystery cop who rides up to the old, unpainted gate of house number 7 in Nandan Nagar is dressed to beat the heat — old grey shorts, lived-in blue T-shirt and slippers — as Guwahati sweats it out in a sudden mid-spring 40-plus-degrees heat wave.
“I can’t tell you my name,” he says as he gets off his red Hero Glamour bike — his arrival acknowledged by another policeman, this one in uniform. Wonder what the chief of the Special Protection Group would have thought of Red Riding Hood’s uniform for the day! After all, he is part of the security arrangements at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s house, at least the one Singh has rented ever since he filed his papers for the Rajya Sabha in 1991.
Singh is expected in Guwahati on Thursday and will vote at the Dispur Government High School close to the state secretariat. “But he isn’t coming home,” says Hemo Prova Saikia, wife of former chief minister late Hiteswar Saikia and owner of house number 7. “He hates troubling the neighbours with the security bandobast that accompanies him.” Singh had rented the two-room, first-floor accommodation at the Saikias’ when he filed his nomination papers in 1991.
Twenty-three years and two prime-ministerial stints later, nothing much has changed on the premises. Singh’s rent is still dirt cheap at Rs 700, and has remained untouched by inflation. “He does pay the money for six years at one go at the beginning of every Rajya Sabha term,” Saikia said. That would work out to Rs 50,400 every term. Still cheap. According to neighbours, a similar accommodation — two rooms, two baths and a balcony — would cost Rs 8,000 a month (Rs 96,000 a year) in the Nandan Nagar area at current rates. “But don’t call it rent. What the Singhs pay is just a formality,” Saikia says.
It’s not as if the Singhs can’t stay in their rented Guwahati home if they wished. “There is a double bed, a sofa set, a shelf with books and a dressing table. There are also two of his photographs on the wall. The PM’s home was also painted about four months ago,” says Saikia. “Soon after he became the finance minister in 1991, he and his wife stayed two nights here. They ate with us. He was a non-vegetarian then and he liked the chicken I cooked. But when he came after that, I don’t remember the exact date when, he had become a vegetarian.” The fare that evening included paneer, dal and sabzi, she said. “Beyond that, when he had come to inspect projects sanctioned under his MPLAD funds, he stayed at the circuit house at Panbazar but he used to visit and have tea or breakfast with us sometimes,” Saikia said.
Once his term as Prime Minister is over, the Singhs will go from the majestic 7 Race Course Road to 3 Motilal Nehru Marg — the sprawling bungalow of former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. Reports are that the Prime Minister and his wife have had most of the air conditioners removed from the bungalow.
His Rajya Sabha term, however, ends only in 2019 — till when he has already paid his rent at 7 Nandan Nagar in Guwahati.