NEW DELHI -- Would you mind if Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma moves into former President A.P.J Abdul Kalam's house on 10, Rajaji Marg? It is a by-the book decision on part of the central government, but some people say that it just doesn't feel right.
Over the past few days, over 30,000 people have signed on to the Change.org online petition - Don’t Insult Dr. Abdul Kalam! Make his Delhi home a Knowledge Centre - started by Bhagwan Singh.
While official housing decisions don't generally evoke public interest, the Modi government's move to allot the residence of the "People’s President" to Sharma has become a bone of contention, especially because it comes after his shocking remark that Kalam was a "nationalist despite being a Muslim."
Sharma's characterisation of the Dadri lynching as an "unfortunate accident" was also regarded as deeply insensitive.
Kalam, who passed away from a massive cardiac arrest this summer, led India's efforts to develop nuclear weapons. For the country, he leaves behind a legacy of innovation, tolerance and celebrating the spirit of young Indians.
"Dream, dream, dream," he once said.
Last month, the Aam Aadmi Party-government in Delhi, which took the controversial step of renaming Aurangzeb Road after Kalam, also called for his house to be converted into a "Knowledge Centre." Delhi Culture Minister Kapil Mishra said that his government would build a memorial for Kalam if the central government does not have the "resources and space."
Delhi deserves a memorial of Dr. Kalam, he belongs to all of us. His memorial she be in Delhi as well as in Rameshwaram. 6/n
— Kapil Mishra (@KapilMishraAAP) October 28, 2015
The central government has clarified that Sharma was issued the house under Rule 3 of the Minister’s Residence Rules, 1962, which says “Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State shall be allotted Type VIII accommodation subject to availability and in that order."
Further, a government of India decision imposes "a total ban on conversion of government bungalows into memorials of the departed leaders," and the Centre has already decided to build a memorial for Kalam at his birthplace in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu.
The petition argues that the work of India's "Missile Man" should be celebrated in Delhi, not just his hometown tucked away near the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu.
"Moving Dr. Kalam’s work to the small town of Rameswaram is one of the biggest insults to the legacy of one of our greatest Presidents, who spent his last years inspiring the youth to contribute for the good of society," it says.
Dr. Kalam…my mind is filled with so many memories, so many interactions with him. Always marvelled at his intellect, learnt so much from him
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 27, 2015
The two-storey bungalow on Rajaji Marg was also home to Edwin Lutyens, the British architect, who designed "Lutyen's Delhi," a sprawling area of broad roads lined with trees and huge houses, occupied by ministers, politicians, defence personnel and bureaucrats.
In August, The Indian Express reported on how the staff at the Rajaji Marg bungalow spoke of Kalam in the present tense.
His executive secretary, H Sheridon, said, “He is never like a boss. He never commands… always says ‘will you do this for me’. When we travel, he tells the restaurant staff, ‘this man is non-vegetarian, do you have something for him?’ When my food does not arrive, he asks, “why hasn’t your funny stuff arrived’,” he recalled.
The Express carried a moving account of his home: "A small stack of books in front of an austere metal chair, the way he left them the last time he was in this room, the silhouette of a veena covered with a green cloth, unassuming like the man himself, and bookshelves lining the four walls — there is nothing about the room that suggests it will never be used again."
NDTV reported that Kalam had torn up documents for a 12 lakh renovation project of the house because he did not feel it was was right to spend so much on a house for a former president. Instead, he planted Chinese orange trees and some lemon trees brought specially from Hyderabad.
A few months on, Kalam's books and belongings have been packed up and sent to his house in Rameswaram.
"These books and other belongings of Kalam have been sent to his ancestral house in Rameswaram down south, where his family does not have enough space even to stack up those boxes and friendly neighbours helped by accommodating a few," writes Singh in the petition.
"I’m shocked and appalled at this dishonor done to Kalam and the millions of right-thinking Indians by rejecting the appeal for setting up a Knowledge Centre at Kalam's residence," he writes.
Responding to criticism over the allotment of the house, Sharma said, "I have a lot of respect for him. The walls of the house will keep his memories and ideals alive for me."
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