What's this brouhaha about Kejriwal's bungalow?

The ongoing brouhaha over the bungalow for Delhi’s new chief minister Arvind Kejriwal  is being magnified  and here is how – he is being allocated a Central government owned duplex to live in and an identical one next door for what is called a camp office.

His two bungalows put together do not make for huge real estate and is not being provided so that the  leader of the aam aadmi  could live in  luxury. He currently lives in a four-bedroom housing allocated to his wife, an Indian Revenue Service official. His upgrade is by just one bedroom.

The other is for his work . Such additional workplaces are standard provision and practice as it cuts down on time and adds to the efficiency of the entire outfit Kejriwal leads. Of course, a camp office means the officials have to flit around from the secretariat to the CMO to the camp office.

 Whats this brouhaha about Kejriwals bungalow?

Reuters

The bungalow that was Sheila Dikshit’s home for 15 years has both the residence and the camp office within one. Here, they are separate blocks and that’s just about it. Their functions blur the home-workplace division and nothing could better illustrate that than what  Anjaiah, Andhra Chief Minister had once lamented about.

They were less security-sensitive days and people had free access to the leaders. He is the person who was insulted by Rajiv Gandhi leading to Telugu Desam’s emergence. One day, a person seeking a job had knocked on his bathroom door, interrupting his shower. “Even my toilet is my office”, he had told me.

Before we chide Kejriwal – which I have no inclination to –one has to only ignore the huge Lutyen’s Delhi and look at the residences of the district magistrates or district collectors. They are huge enough to keep some rooms locked. A chief minister’s job requires him to summon meetings, call officials, at all and any hour of the day or night depending on the exigencies of the circumstances.

Despite governments seen as slow-moving, tangled in red tape, time a flexible concept, the CM’s office – and home – is a place that hums. This is why they have big offices, extensive staff, and at  the very place they live in, and it is called a camp office. A CM’s work follows him home and I have seen many reading files in their cars. Those who don’t are slackers, which is worse than red tape.

A camp office, as the word could suggest, is not a tent or merely a room or a simple study. For this elected person, the office at home is a virtual replication of his actual office.  A conference table to seat the cabinet with departmental officials is required. Their personal assistants and drivers work in shifts.

This brouhaha, lamenting that Kejriwal was quickly drifting away from the aama admi type of life style, betrays a misunderstanding of a chief minister’s functions. They are not limited to making speeches and cutting ribbons and providing bytes to the by now ubiquitous television cameras. They have things to do which are not seen from outside. Even if he is leading a government of a party avowedly of the common man, he cannot be expected to do that from a smaller apartment in which we mango people are settled in. By moving him to a smaller place,  officials and politicians are  depriving his family of their deserved privacy. As it is, they would get fewer quality hours from a CM.

Refusing the official residence which Dikshit had occupied was a gesture to the people, even a tokenism, that he was downsizing the privileges the chief minister was entitled to. It does not mean that he moved to  government quarters elsewhere where the callers can’t have a place to park in.

These gestures are not empty. Like deciding not to have beacons on the cars used by the ministers is not. It drives home a point that the leader is sensitive to the discomfort caused to the ordinary persons. That does not mean they should not have government cars. They need to travel in their official duties.

So once it is understood that his upgrade is not as big as is being made out on the misunderstanding that Kejriwal was getting two bungalows, of which the second one was only a facilitator for his work, the grumbles should cease. Just because he is now a chief minister is no reason why he should be put to discomfort.

Updated Date: Jan 05, 2014 08:48:57 IST