From PMO to oblivion: A peep into three former PM's lives

From PMO to oblivion: A peep into three former PM

From PMO to Oblivion: A Peep into Three Former PM-'s Lives. When you stop being prime minister it-'s a very disorienting experience, because you go in...

Given the rich and vast experience in public life of these former Prime Ministers, no effort is paid to draw upon their knowledge and expertise. They are given large bungalows and enough freebies to lead a comfortable life, but are mostly left to lead secluded lives, far removed from the administration

Former PM's

When you stop being prime minister it's a very disorienting experience, because you go in such a short period of time from having everything arranged for you to being on your own," says Lord Powell, who was Margaret Thatcher's right-hand man for seven years when she was prime minister. He cannot be more right. "I remember being rung up by Margaret Thatcher a week or two after she left 10-Downing Street and being told on a Sunday she had a plumbing problem. And I said 'oh dear, better get a plumber in'. And a long silence. 'How do I do that?' 'Well', I said, 'try the Yellow Pages'. And that's the way we had to go. I ended up ringing the plumber,” he shares.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets   Dr Manmohan Singh and his wife at their new residence

When Narendra Modi-led BJP won the elections in May and was all set to take over as the 16th prime minister of India, the man of few words, known for his discipline and principles, outgoing PM Manmohan Singh promptly vacated the official residence on 7, Race Course Road. He shifted to 3, Motilal Nehru Place, which falls on Janpath, a stone’s throw away from the Congress President’s 10, Janpath residence. It is a different story altogether that Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi hardly meet.

That way Indian government irrespective of parties is quite generous with former heads of state. The residence occupied by Singh was earlier the official residence of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, which has in-built security arrangements. The official staff is also adequately provided to ensure a trouble free day-to-day maintenance of the residence. The current bungalow where he is staying is spread over a sprawling 2.5 acres land. He is entitled to 14 personal staff and he will pay Rs 1,200 per month towards rent. (Source: IE)

However, it is not just about moving from one piece of prime real estate to the other; it is also in terms of a shift from being the centre of attention in the most coveted of the offices and the most privileged of the positions, with every service and facility being available at the beck and call of the man in power. Take the case of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his forlorn isolation after he relinquished office in 2004. Except for a few official visits on and off, Atalji mostly led a lonely life.

In the time and age when the political leaders do not mind overusing the official sanctions (some refusing to vacate the official residence for a long time) Vajpayee had played by the book. Even as the election results indicated he was on his way out, he stopped using the BMW which is part of the prime minister’s cavalcade and switched to a custom-made Ambassador.

He moved into 8, Krishna Menon Marg, but since it was said to be jinxed, he got it re-numbered as 6-A, Krishna Menon Marg, as 6, Krishna Menon Marg is Jagjivan Ram Memorial. Earlier it was occupied by DMK leader Murasoli Maran, who was Commerce and Industry Minister in Vajpayee government. He suddenly took ill, languished in bed and died after a long and painful battle for life.

Manmohan Singh regularly met Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his tenure as prime minister

Today, the voice of Vajpayee, whose oratory and poetry moved the people, can no longer be heard. Since the time he suffered a stroke, he has remained largely confined to the bed or the wheel-chair. According to Vajpayee’s lifelong associate N M Ghatate, after the stroke Vajpayee has developed a difficulty in both writing and speaking. He spends his time sitting in front of the TV news channels, although he cannot react.

Among his regular visitors are his life-long associate N M Ghatate and his political associate for over six decades, L K Advani. It is not known whether he manages to recognise them or understands what they tell him. There is a blank look on Vajpayee’s face. No one can understand the agony inside him.

K R Pandey, who spent long years working under him, has fond memories of him. During his Jan Sangh days, when Vajpayee was the face of the saffron party, he used to lie down and dictate to him the Economic Resolution for the party conclave. During his stint in P V Narasimha Rao’s PMO, when Vajpayee used to see Pandey, he would fondly walk up to him and ask him, “Kaise ho Maharaj?” He feels sad that Vajpayee has been reduced to such a pathetic state now.

Coming back to the topic of generosity of Indian government, there are as many six former prime ministers, two former presidents and one presidential widow who enjoy a lifetime cost-free perk of sprawling bungalows in Delhi. And this is excluding the two bungalows occupied by Sonia Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Vadra. The Congress president’s three acre estate at 10-Janpath surpasses the residences of cabinet ministers (three-four bedroomed bungalows with beautifully manicured lawns) and almost rivals the prime minister’s official residence on Race Course Road. Security is said to be the prime reason for allotting such elaborate facilities to the former state heads.

Another former Indian PM, H D Deve Gowda maintains a very strict, disciplined regime. He left office in 1997 and now occupies 5, Safdarjung Lane residence. He gets up early in the morning, does exercise and has Raagi Mudde, considered very nutritious. A strict vegetarian, he is a 24x7 politician and has no other vocation except for politics.

He starts receiving visitors from 8.30 am onwards and prefers to have his breakfast with his political friends including the ones from his own party and the Left parties. Over the years, the number of visitors has come down.

Interestingly, Gowda’s involvement in politics has grown over the years. It is now much more than when he was in the PMO, when he was known as the back-bencher in the Lok Sabha. After tasting power and through the years, Gowda became much more vocal in Parliament and took up issues particularly relating to agriculture.

Passionately attached to farmers issues and especially the issue of Cauvery River water-sharing with Tamil Nadu, he spends time discussing them with activists. Since his candidature as prime minister was supported by the Left in the United Front experiment of 1996, Gowda continues to be close to the Left leaders, who visit him regularly.

In the first session of the 16th Lok Sabha, although Deve Gowda was not well and was running temperature, he made it a point to attend the joint sitting of Parliament, which was addressed by President Pranab Mukherjee. Unlike his son, the former Prime Minister is more interactive and friendly. An astute politician, Gowda managed to win his seat despite the Modi wave that swept Karnataka.

Manmohan Singh is also known for his inexhaustible energy levels. Despite his two heart surgeries, the 78-year-old ex-prime minister is amazingly active and famous for his disciplined and balanced lifestyle. While he was the prime minister his day would begin quite early with a morning walk on the lawns, a routine he follows till date. Sometimes during breakfast, he would meet old associates to discuss ideas. This is also the time he would read newspapers.

The schedule has more or less remained the same even after forfeiting the PMO. Considered a workaholic, given to long hours of working and with the reputation of never having taken a holiday during his 10 years as Prime Minister, he keeps himself busy even to this day. Except that there are no travels or official meetings, nothing else has changed, a staffer said. The only relaxation is that instead of 10 am, the day now starts at 11 am and he is up and going until 8 pm, just like the old times, when he used to retire maximum by 8 pm unless an official engagement or Congress Core Group meeting kept him back.

Although not many Congress leaders visit him now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the earliest to call on Manmohan Singh. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who worked for over six years as Minister of State in Manmohan Singh’s PMO, also visited him during his recent visit to the Capital. Singh's other former Cabinet colleagues have no time to meet their previous boss as they feel it was due to his incompetence that they have lost power. However, many corporate and business leaders are said to be meeting him drawing on his vast experience as an accomplished economist.

Given the rich and vast experience in public life of these former Prime Ministers, no effort is paid to draw upon their knowledge and expertise. They are given large bungalows and enough freebies to lead a comfortable life, but are mostly left to lead secluded lives, far removed from the administration.

In fact, when Manmohan Singh succeeded Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, he always made it a point to call on Vajpayee. At the height of the controversy over the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, when the BJP stoutly opposed it, he invoked Vajpayee. Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary in Vajpayee PMO Brajesh Mishra came on board, but his own party disregarded him. The BJP, which never fails to use the photo of Vajpayee for its political advantage, did not fall in line and opposed the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, tooth and nail.

Similarly Dr Manmohan Singh, who steered the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the Nuclear Liability Law, can be consulted on how India should negotiate with the Nuclear Powers to start nuclear commerce and several other issues plaguing our economy. But Modi and his colleagues would prefer to chalk-out their own course rather than be seen to be taking advice from the so-called "failed" Prime Minister, who on the other hand led the country for 10 crucial years.

(Inputs from Venkat Parsa)

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