The Rashtrapati Bhavan opened in 1929 by British in colonised India as the grand Viceroy's House. It commemorated the shifting of His Majesty’s Capital from Calcutta to the city that had served as the capital to various dynasties, including of Qutub-ud-din Aibak, Balban, the Lodhis and Mughals.
Spread over an area of 320 acres with 340 rooms, it was designed as an imposing symbol of England's imperial power. In the world, it is second in size and scale only to the residence of the head of state of Turkey.
Nirupama Sekhri asked some Delhizens what they thought of independent India’s head of state living in such a colonial icon; representing as he is a country where 70 percent of its 1.2 billion people live in villages with one in three rural families being landless. Here are some responses.
There is no need for our president to occupy such a sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan and waste public money. A simple home plus office complex similar to the PM’s should be enough! The existing building should be used as a convention centre and a place for public discourse.
Dr. Rajiv Seth, Paediatrician
I believe that besides the Rashtrapati Bhawan there are thousands of properties and estates owned by the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India), which are crumbling because of sheer neglect by the authorities. Even heritage government buildings like Patiala house, Ashoka hotel, the Income Tax office, etc. have been completely ruined by government apathy. Before the President’s Estate is used for something else, the existing buildings should be restored and preserved properly. At least this way the stunning President’s Palace is being preserved well.
Rohit Sethi, Chartered Accountant
Yes, I think the President should reside in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Even though it was designed by the British, it was constructed by Indians. Moreover, the President does not reside there alone, his key officials and various members of his staff have their residences on the estate as well. It is an appropriate place to host various heads of state who come calling on the President. Symbolically, it is appropriate for the President to stay in a large self contained compound.
Gagan Sinha, Businessman
No, the Indian President should not be living in that huge residence. It should be made into a museum. And, it is not just the President’s house, even the huge bungalows lived in by politicians and bureaucrats are a huge waste. Why can’t they be made into homes for more people? And it’s not just the space, the amount of personnel and resources used for security and upkeep is also a waste.
Naresh Chauhan, Driver
No, I do not think it is an appropriate residence for the Indian President. For one it is a building that reminds us of the colonial rule that regressed the progress of India by a couple of hundred years. Secondly, we are a developing nation and while the president's residence should reflect his position and that of the country it should not be such an extravagance. It should become a museum dedicated to the freedom struggle of India.
Chandna Singh, Consultant
No. I think the days of the Raj are over, and we don't need state guests to be entertained in such a grand and lavish manner. I think the place should be used for two things that need the most urgent attention in the country - education and housing. It should be converted into an educational institution and an orphanage. This will reflect the values and priorities of free India.
Shalini Khanna, Manager, Health Centre
I don’t think it matters whether the Indian President lives there or not, but much of the huge area around should have much easier public access. The Imperial Palace in Tokyo houses the Japanese royalty, and the Forbidden City in Beijing is no longer a private residence, yet both the vast complexes allow people to visit the parks, gardens and museums in an easy and leisurely manner. On the other hand here, you are herded like cattle through the Mughal Gardens when they are open, and the museum is not easy to get to. Such a large area belongs to the people of India and we should be made to feel like that.
Anuradha Agarwal, Mandarin translator and tutor
No, I don’t think that the building should be occupied by anyone. Instead, it should be made into a library – one of the biggest in the world – housing one of the finest collections of ancient to contemporary texts. It should be supported by state-of-the-art IT department to e-catalogue, convert and archive the rich, diverse writings from all over India which can be made accessible for public consumption online.
A journalist on condition of anonymity