As houses go, this one has a tale to tell.
President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit Mukherjee is the new resident of 13 Talkatora Road in New Delhi.
This is not as mundane as it seems. There are layers here that could worry us about the outlook of our First Citizen and the Congress party, and how public assets are treated.
The house, 13 Talkatora Road, is a Type 7 bungalow – the second-largest accommodation available to public servants [government officials, judges, ministers and whoever else fulfills the criteria].
The son, Abhijit Mukherjee, is a first-time Lok Sabha member and, thus, not entitled to such a large house.
Abhijit Mukherjee is also the man who embarrassed the nation by describing women protestors at India Gate [after the bestial Delhi bus gangrape in December 2012] as ‘dented and painted’.
The character or a person, however, is of no consequence in government housing matters.
He or she has to merely fulfill a set of criteria to be eligible.
The father, Pranab Mukherjee, is the President. It is the highest office in India, one which ought to be a repository of ethics, wisdom and good precedents.
Ideally, the President should be an appropriate adult, which means nothing about him or her should make anyone uneasy.
More than Cleopatra, the President of India needs to be virtuous and be seen as such.
But Pranab Mukherjee has been tending to his son rather strangely.
He let Abhijit replace him as the Congress candidate for the Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal.
Pranab Mukherjee was moving to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and he could have asked the Congress to pick anyone else – his son was an MLA anyway.
He didn’t. Abhijit barely won the bypoll with a margin of 2536 votes.
And now he gets to live in a house previously occupied by his father for nearly two decades, although he is not eligible to do so.
How did this happen?
It was understood that the House Committee of the Lok Sabha allotted the house to Abhijit Mukherjee.
If so, this wouldn’t be the first time it has happened. Many elected representatives in India have been given houses they don’t qualify for – mostly on grounds of security.
The Lok Sabha House Committee has a maximum of 12 members appointed by the Speaker for a term of one year. [The members may be renominated.]
The panel’s role is advisory. Its functions are: i) to deal with all issues relating to residential accommodation of Lok Sabha members, and ii) to supervise facilities for accommodation, food, medical and other amenities in residences and hostels of Lok Sabha members.
The Speaker has the final word on anything suggested by the committee although everything is worked out in advance and there are barely any surprises.
The current committee is headed by Congressman Jai Prakash Agarwal, a veteran from Chandni Chowk area in old Delhi.
This is what some of the panel members, and Agarwal, told me when I asked them how Abhijit Mukherjee got his father’s house.Rayapati Sambasiva Rao [Congress]:
The President's son got the same bungalow, is it? I am a member [of the House Committee] but I am not concerned with it. It did not come up in the last meeting that I attended. Please ask the chairman.MB Rajesh [CPM]:
I resigned from the committee last week because I have been appointed in another committee. Somebody else from my party will be appointed [on the House Committee]. My name is still on the list but I am no longer a member.Harin Pathak [BJP]:
If a house falls in the general pool, the urban development minister can allot it. From the states, a person who has been cabinet minister or chief minister may be allotted a Type 7 bungalow.Brijbhushan Sharan Singh [Samajwadi Party]:
This is never brought on the agenda. Members [of the House Committee] are not aware of this at all. The chairman allots such houses to whoever they wish to. People who have never stepped out of Delhi get fancy houses out of turn.Jai Prakash Agarwal, chairman [Congress]:
I cannot do anything in this case. It is not in the Lok Sabha pool. The house is under the authority of the urban development ministry, which is with Kamal Nath.
The Directorate of Estates looks after housing allotment in the urban development ministry.
When I checked with the ministry, they said the Lok Sabha House Committee allotted the house to Abhijit.
We now have a situation no one is willing to own up to.
The House Committee has members who don’t know what’s happening. The committee chairman claims he did nothing. And the urban development ministry says it was a committee decision.
Both sides suggested that it happened out of deference to the First Citizen.
But why would the President of India want this? What’s the big deal if Abhijit, 53, has to find himself a house?
Some friends in the polity told me this is a minor issue compared to happenings in the presidency of Pratibha Patil – Mukherjee’s predecessor.
That is neither here nor there.
Only days ago, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi spoke of how he is committed to ending the culture of the high command in his party.
Rahul traced the beginnings of a high command in the Congress to his grandmother Indira Gandhi.
Pranab Mukherjee has been around from the time of Indira. He would know exactly what it means.
Abhijit Mukherjee in 13 Talkatora Road is an instance of the loathed high command culture.
It’s not that Abhijit has stolen public money. It’s just that he appears to be unfit for everything that he is bestowed with merely because of his father.
It is unsettling that a Lok Sabha committee can be so opaque and subjective in its work.
It is upsetting that Congress seniors seem to think it fine to set poor examples. It is curious that the Congress party can ignore what Rahul Gandhi says.
It is disturbing that the President appears to be fine with sycophancy.
It is improper that Abhijit Mukherjee thinks it appropriate to grab something that could have gone to a worthier person.
It seems they don’t understand accountability.
It’s the sort of thing we can’t defend.
There is another strand to the story, a trifle puzzling.
Apparently, the President’s family considers 13 Talkatora Road lucky for them. They may be keen that good luck pass on to the son now.
If so, this is bizarre.
Why would the President want good fortune only for his family? Why would he wish to be seen as selfish?
Zsa Zsa Gabor, the actor who married nine times, had her take on houses. She said [of one of her husbands]: He taught me housekeeping; when I divorce I keep the house.
Wonder what the Mukherjees think.
Also by the author:The boxer, the drug dealer, and the yarnRahul Gandhi and the singletons in Indian politicsTo hang a man: How to read Afzal Guru's death
10 great reasons to leave India
Alcohol, rape and the Supreme Court
Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.