The recent decision of the Modi government to withdraw the SPG security has shown that contrary to the false belief that was created over several decades, the Nehru-Gandhi family enjoys no special status. It is neither a premier family, nor the first family of India, notwithstanding whatever status it might enjoy within the Congress.
10 Janpath was allotted to Rajiv Gandhi as an ex-Prime Minister in the year 1990. After his death, Sonia Gandhi has remained in occupation of the residence and now it has almost been three decades since the house was allotted to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Apart from the SPG protection, which attached a belief of superiority with the Nehru-Gandhi family, it was the 10 Janpath residence allotted the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi that has given rise to the illusion that inalienable political power vests within the Nehru-Gandhi family. According to the Central Public Works Department, the luxurious residence allotted to Sonia Gandhi, spread over an area of 15,181 sq metres is larger than the official residence of the Prime Minister of India, viz. 7 Lok Kalyan Marg (formerly known as 7 Race Course Road), which is spread over an area of 14,101 sq metres.
Only the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Vice President’s official residence beat 10 Janpath in terms of size. But there is a stark difference. While the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Vice President’s residence and 7 Lok Kalyan Marg (PM’s official residence) are officials residences, 10 Janpath is specifically allotted to an individual, that is, Sonia Gandhi, irrespective of her status as a Member of Parliament.
Sonia Gandhi is currently a member of the lower house of the Parliament, she is also the President of the Indian National Congress and till only very recently, she was also an SPG protectee. However, none of these positions entitle her to the accommodation which is bigger in size than even the Prime Minister’s official residence.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, one of the Gandhi family members who was given SPG protection was allotted 35 Lodhi Estate, a Type VI bungalow in the year 1997 on the recommendation of SPG, Home Ministry and the Cabinet Secretariat on the basis that an SPG protectee needs an independent bungalow of set specifications to provide security cover. Therefore, an SPG protectee could have been given security cover in a much smaller accommodation than 10 Janpath.
When it comes to the Members of the lower house of Parliament, they are given accommodation according to the process mentioned in the ‘Amenities for Member of Parliament’, by the Accommodation Sub-Committee of the House Committee, Lok Sabha. There are different categories of accommodation available for the central lawmakers. The first time MPs are allotted Type IV, V, VI houses. While bigger house- Type VII and Type VIII bungalows are allotted to senior MPs, that is, those who are elected more than once and Ministers of State. These norms are however not binding and it is the party in power and the head of the House Committee that matter the most. Currently, the House Committee is headed by BJP MP C R Patil, elected from Navsari in Gujarat, who was appointed as its Chairman in June this year.
Rahul Gandhi, for example, was allotted a Type VIII bungalows straightway on getting elected for the first time in the year 2004. It is the category of a senior MP in which Sonia Gandhi would fall. And therefore, she is entitled to a Type VII or Type VIII bungalow at the very best.
Even her position as the INC President doesn’t really entitle Sonia Gandhi to an accommodation bigger than that of the official accommodation of the Prime Minister of India. Even if we were to assume in the wildest of dreams that her position as the INC chief could have entitled her to the luxurious accommodation, the fact remains that she joined active politics only in the year 1997. Till that time, she occupied the massive accommodation as a private citizen without any official status whatsoever. Again, she was not the INC president between December 2017 and August 2019 when her son was made the party president.
Sonia Gandhi, the eldest member of the Nehru-Gandhi family does occupy a special position within the Congress, and that is why the Congress governments in the past felt obligated to retain 10 Janpath as her accommodation. 10 Janpath emerged as a greater power centre than 7 Race Course Road (now 7 Lok Kalyan Marg) during the UPA era.
However, that is no longer the case. 7 Lok Kalyan Marg is now the biggest power centre of India and the repository of the country’s electoral mandate. Therefore, the concerned authorities need not feel obligated to retain 10 Janpath as the residence of Sonia Gandhi any longer. The Congress has become irrelevant on the national political landscape and with that, the false notion of Nehru-Gandhi family is the first family of India has also been dismantled. 10 Janpath is no longer synonymous with political power. And there is absolutely no reason why Sonia Gandhi should not be asked to vacate the bungalow and move into some other accommodation which would be in line with her status as a senior member of the lower house of the Parliament.