The office of the prime minister is more important than the individuals who occupy it. But in India, often the opposite is the case. One indicator of this is the fact that the houses in which at least two past prime ministers lived have become monuments to their memory. Teen Murti House, which was the official residence of the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, now houses the Nehru Museum, complete with a sound and light show. Similarly, Indira Gandhi’s residence on Safdarjung Road is now a museum. It is only very recently that successive prime ministers have been occupying 7 Race Course Road. The special protection group which is responsible for the security of the prime minister has recommended that the Race Course Road property is no longer safe for Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the present incumbent in the country’s top job. Its grounds are easily visible from the top of Ashoka Hotel which thus provides a good vantage point for a sniper. The house also has a common boundary wall with the Delhi Gymkhana. The latter, because it is a very popular club, is impossible to make completely secure. Mr Vajpayee’s residence is thus a high-risk area from the point of view of his personal security.
This has raised the demand for a permanent residence for the prime minister in a more secure property. Teen Murti House has been suggested as the most suitable building. In India, there is a propensity to attack a problem from the wrong end, to take the right decision for the wrong reasons. Mr Vajpayee, or whoever is the prime minister, should live in Teen Murti House, not because it is more secure that 7 Race Course Road or any other bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi, but because Teen Murti House is the best house for the leader of the country. The most spacious and spectacular house in the capital is Rashtrapati Bhavan where the head of the state, the president, lives. After that, Teen Murti House is the best available mansion with lovely grounds. It is fitting that such a building becomes the prime minister’s residence. It will add dignity and pomp to the august office. Lord Mountbatten, who originally suggested to Nehru that the latter should live there, had a sense of ceremony and dignity. Nehru, despite the Gandhian ambience of the times, welcomed the suggestion.
The idea of a permanent residence for the prime minister was never mooted after Nehru’s death. Deference to his memory and the spirit of sycophancy that occasionally grips the Congress ensured that Teen Murti House became a museum dedicated to Nehru and part of the grounds became a library named after him. The man thus became more important than the office. There are good reasons to believe that Nehru with his commitment to and respect for democratic values would not have approved of the move. There is an opportunity now to redeem a past wrong. The Nehru Museum, without showing disrespect to the first prime minister of India, can be housed elsewhere and Teen Murti House can be made into the permanent residence of the prime minister, the Indian equivalent of 10 Downing Street.