First Family of India

It would be no exaggeration to say that if a list of all the buildings, roads, airports, stadia, colleges, universities and social welfare programmes across the country named after the Nehru-Gandhi family were to be compiled, it would be thicker than the Delhi telephone directory.

A first time visitor to the capital could be forgiven if he is led to believe that the city belongs to one family. After all, he will land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, be driven past scores of buildings named after Nehru, Indira or Rajiv.

As he scans the papers, he is likely to read stories about Rahul Gandhi spending the night in a Dalit hamlet in Uttar Pradesh or the chairperson of the National Advisory Council, Sonia Gandhi advising cabinet ministers to closely monitor the implementation of centrally sponsored schemes, many of which are named after three generations of prime ministers from one family.

The Indira Awas Yojana, Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water mission,, Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, the Indira Gandhi Canal project, the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, to name just a few. All that may now come to an end.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has issued a fiat to his cabinet ministers to exercise discretion while naming new programmes or schemes in the name of late former prime ministers Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi.

The reason is not because he feels that there already are far too many programmes to honour them, but due to the manner in which these are implemented. Far from honouring them, they are insults to their memories, he thinks.

A letter dated October 6 sent by Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar on behalf of the prime minister states that henceforth the names of leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi should be used very sparingly as the practice has become rather “widespread and indiscriminate.”

It further admits that the purpose of identifying government schemes with national figures is undermined by the fact that many of these do not end up achieving the desired impact.

It is not known how 10 Janpath will react to this latest diktat: will the family concur with the prime minister’s assessment or do Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka believe there is scope for more?

I understand that the Manmohan missive followed periodic reviews of many of the major schemes and the mounting criticism from across the country, including non Congress leaders, to the endless naming of everything in memory of members of one family.

The Prime Minister’s directive may well be an attempt to prevent alliance partners from giving their regional leaders a larger than life image.