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Some prime ministerial homes are more equal than others

By Aasha Khosa in New Delhi
June 09, 2008 09:47 IST
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Gah village in Pakistan's Punjab province is reaping the benefits of being Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's birthplace at a time when relations between India and Pakistan are more or less on even keel.

Adopted by Islamabad to be developed as a model village, it gets solar electricity due to initiatives by The Energy and Resources Institute, more roads and even an irrigation project.

While much has been made of this goodwill gesture by the Pakistani government, the Indian government's record of taking care of prime ministerial villages leaves much to be desired.

The government has lovingly preserved the Nehru-Gandhi family's ancestral house Anand Bhawan and turned it into a memorial. But a few kilometers away, Lal Bahadur Shastri's birthplace in Ramnagar in Mughalsarai district of Uttar Pradesh remains the humble town it was.

"Nothing has changed in the village - not a brick in the lane," said Rama Shastri, the former prime minister's daughter-in-law. "Only a PowerGrid office has been added to the town's landscape," she added.

Shastri's house - a mud structure at the end of a dusty lane - has been locked ever since the Mulayam Singh government acquired it in 2004 with the intention of turning it into a memorial.

The Uttar Pradesh government even paid distant relatives of the former prime minister who were living there Rs 34 lakh (Rs 3.4 million) as compensation to acquire the place. A Rs 11-crore (Rs 110 million) project was announced to preserve Shastri's memory. But that's as far as it went.

Anil Shastri, member of Parliament and the former prime minister's son, said: "Earlier, we had placed photographs and some personal belongings of Shastriji in the house and lots of visitors including foreigners would come from Varanasi to pay homage."

Former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar's village Ibrahim Patti nearly 70 km from Ballia is yet another example of this neglect. "Pitaji had set up a girls' school and a 100-bed hospital," says Neeraj Shekhar, the late Socialist leader's son who was recently elected to the Lok Sabha from Ballia.

As for three-time Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's ancestral house in Bateshwar near Agra, only a few bricks remain. Distant relatives still live in the village which remains untouched by any industry or factory. Apart from its famous son, the village has one other claim to fame. This is an annual poetry festival that Vajpayee, a poet, used to attend for years until poor health prevented him.

The two southern prime ministers of India were P V Narasimha Rao, whose minority Congress government put India on the road to economic liberalisation, and H D Deve Gowda who headed a coalition known as the United Front.

Rao's village, Vangara in Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, is as it was a few years ago. His son P V Rajeshwar Rao looks after the ancestral land and the family has set up the Andhra Pradesh Residential School for girls and improved the roads in the area.

Rao's death and his political isolation before that, however, have ensured that a police station located in the village has been removed.

In contrast, Deve Gowda's and his family's strong presence in Karnataka politics has meant that his village, Hardanahalli in Hassan district in Karnataka, has received significant funding from all major government projects. Around 90 new houses have been built in the village which has good roads and water supply.

Only time will tell if the improvements at Gah will continue after Manmohan Singh demits office. His predecessors' record is not encouraging. But just as improvements to Pervez Musharraf's ancestral home at Daryaganj in Delhi have been maintained, Gah may well benefit because a foreign government is responsible for it.

Additional reporting from Raghuvir Badrinath in Bangalore, CH Prashanth Reddy in Hyderabad, and Saubhadra Chatterji in Delhi

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Aasha Khosa in New Delhi