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Ashoka Emblem in Rasthrapati Bhawan
The Times of India, Oct 28 2015
Ashoka emblem finally takes place of British crown at Prez house
To the Presidential palace architecture in 2015 was placing of the Ashoka emblem on the sides of the main gate. “The British had placed two crowns on either side of the gate as a symbol of dominance of the Empire. After Independence the crown was removed but the space atop was left empty. We will now add the Ashoka emblem there, Thomas Mathew, additional secretary to the President, said. The emblem will be made from gunmetal based on a mould taken from the National Museum.
Birds in the Rashtrapati Bhawan
From The Times of India 2013/07/01
Changes or renovations
The Pranab Mukherjee years, 2012-17
Prez Estate gets facelift with Pranab's `smart' touch
The colonial era Rashtrapati Bhavan complex has earned a new sobriquet for itself--4H township. The past few years have seen the humane mesh with hi-tech, heritage married to happiness giving this venerable address a modern face-lift.New residential quarters, a “smart“ connected colony , English speaking courses, health and wellness classes, and perhaps the most important -a green transport service within the vast 330 acre area have all contributed to this change.
A string of initiatives undertaken by outgoing President, Pranab Mukherjee, has transformed the life of the inhabitants. A case in point is the e-rickshaw service within the huge compounds of the presidential estate. For the 6,000-odd residents living on the estate, it's a small step that has brought huge relief. Moving within the vast grounds of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, or even getting outside the estate is tough with no connectivity other than motorised vehicles. The e-rickshaw service introduced some months ago has proved a boon, even for moving between the gates of the presidential estate and the nearest metro station or bus stop. The project, say officials, will have the added benefit of providing employment opportunities to the unemployed residents of the estate.
The efforts started in 2014, with preservation of the existing heritage at the Rashtrapati Bhavan being top of the list, along with introduction of recreational and sports facilities, efficient management of security , water, energy and waste disposal systems, improvement of infrastructure, and creation of new facilities like sewage treatment plant, studio apartments, residential blocks, a ceremonial hall and an AYUSH Wellness Centre.
One of the cornerstones of the improved quality of life at the presidential estate is the introduction of an initiative, codenamed 4S. It's four components are: Sanskar, a project for pre-school children; Sparsh, which is designed for specially-abled children; Sanskriti, for children in the 7-14 years' age group and Samaga, targeting senior citizens living in the estate.
That the initiatives found approval from residents was acknowledged by Mukherjee last year, when he himself coined the term “4H“ for the presidential estate. While inau gurating an intelligent operations centre for a `smart' president's estate on May 19, 2016, Mukherjee quipped, “If I were to use a word to describe a human emotion associated with this on-going transformation of quality of life in the township, it will be happiness...Today , recognizing the smiles on the faces of my people, I will like to add one more `H' to our model of 3H, and that is `Happiness'. The smart President's Estate is now a 4H Estate Humane, Hi-tech, Heritage and Happy .“
It's one of the most extensive projects for improvement of quality of life at the Rashtrapati Bhavan complex, with the past five years witnessing large-scale projects within the estate. It wasn't just addition of more residential quarters but also the attention on holistic improvement, through projects like the 4S initiative, modernisation of the Dr Rajendra Prasad Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in the estate.
The Ram Nath Kovind years, 2017-..
At Home on 26 Jan
2018: President reduces guest list from 2,000+ to 724
This Republic Day, it wasn’t the usual ‘At Home’ in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Unlike previous years, the event saw a more intimate gathering, with President Ram Nath Kovind pruning the guest list from 2,000 to 724.
It wasn’t just the guest list that was different. Sources said ‘achievers’ were invited. Like Milind Kamble, an entrepreneur who established the Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), as well as Under-17 football captain Amarjit Singh from Manipur. The family of IAF commando Corporal Jyoti Prakash Nirala, who was awarded the Ashok Chakra posthumously at the Republic Day function in the morning, was also received by the President at the ‘At Home’.
Others making it to the guest list included ‘young achievers’ like toppers of CBSE, ISC and UPSC exams along with the Phogat sisters. “Inviting the four young girls from Haryana, who are medal winners, was a powerful message,” said a source involved with the process.
The other message was also clear: broadbase the list, move away from Lutyens zone and south Delhi, a source said. “The President made it a point not to invite even his immediate family. Only the First Lady was present at the event,” the source added.
The list, however, had the mandatory invitees, such as Members of Parliament, former chief justices, heads of the defence forces, high commissioners and ambassadors as well as constitutional figures.
Press secretary to the President Ashok Malik said, “This year, the guest list had 724 names. In previous years, the list was three times longer.” According to sources, the reason for the cropped list was Kovind’s desire for a more exclusive gathering, without the crush of a large number of guests. In previous years, the long list — which had 2,347 names in 2016 and 2,015 in 2017 — had led to separate enclosures for the more “important” guests, as well as measures like keeping cell phones away from the event. This year, sources said, mobile phones were allowed, with guests not being subjected to the intense frisking that was the norm earlier.
The Guest Suite
The Hindu, February 28, 2016
“I shall be happy to stay with you while in Delhi,” reads the telegram, which, in ordinary course, should mean little more than a customary acceptance of an invitation of hospitality. But this is a piece of precious history: a handwritten note dated March 1950 sent by the Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan to President Dr. Rajendra Prasad, not two years after the deadly riots of Partition that left about a million Indians and Pakistanis dead.
The ‘stay’ it speaks of is at the 29-room, three-storey ‘guest wing’ or north-west wing of Rashtrapati Bhavan, where Heads of State and government officials stayed for decades after India’s independence. The practice of hosting foreign dignitaries waned during the 1970s and the guest wing saw few visitors until a large-scale renovation brought them back in 2014. Each visit — and there were 52 by 32 world leaders between 1947 and 1967 — has been painstakingly documented with photographs in a new volume called Abode Under the Dome, recently released by Rashtrapati Bhavan.
While the pomp and protocol of the Indian presidential palace has been written about in the past, rarely have the visits by leaders of the two countries that India has been to war with been so elaborately detailed. As a result, six visits by Pakistan’s Presidents and Prime Ministers and four visits by Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai make for astonishing reading and for an insightful window into the 1950s.
Take, for example, the tour programme for Pakistani leaders. It was customary for Nehru to greet each one of them at the airport, and masses of crowds to throng the way cheering the visiting leader, regardless of the obvious animosity and tension between the two newly cleaved countries. When Pakistan Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra landed on August 16, 1953, a congregation of 20,000 gathered at Palam airport, and proved difficult to control. Realising the police personnel’s problem, Prime Ministers Nehru and Bogra and Mrs. Bogra got into an open jeep rather than their limousine, and drove past the crowds waving on their way to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Pakistani premiers would get the 21-gun salute on their departure and, according to the daily agendas set out in the book, spent practically every waking hour in meetings with Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, the then President, in attending formal banquets at Rashtrapati Bhavan and cultural performances at the National Stadium together.
Another stop on every Pakistani leader’s tour was to see the condition of refugees who had fled the violence in Pakistan during Partition. In January 1955, when Governor-General (the earlier term for the Pakistani President) Malik Ghulam Mohammed arrived as the chief guest of the Republic Day parade, he brought with him Dr. Khan Sahib. Dr. Khan Sahib (Abdul Jabbar Khan, the Chief Minister of the North-West Frontier Provinces until 1947) and his brother, the ‘Frontier Gandhi’ Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were popular in India, with many refugees crediting their lives to their efforts at having helped them escape the violence (Khan Market and Ghaffar Market in Delhi were named after them). The cavalcade on that visit was thronged by crowds.
Another interesting story not covered in the book for reasons that will be revealed is that of the two visits of Bogra: in August 1953 and May 1955. On both occasions, he was accompanied by a different wife, as the photographs show, but the text doesn’t refer to it. Mohammad Ali Bogra was a colourful character, a bow tie-wearing bon vivant through his days as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. from where he was brought to replace Khwaja Nazimuddin, the premier who had been summarily dismissed.
Mr. Bogra brought back from Washington his Lebanese stenographer, Aliya, who he married after becoming premier. But while a second marriage was legal in Pakistan, it was considered a no-no in high society, particularly since his wife Begum Hameeda made her displeasure known. This started a “social boycott” of all functions where Begum Aliya was brought and of all her public engagements, as recorded by author Rafia Zakaria in her book, The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan.
As a result, the visit to India was a welcome break from the stern silences that Begum Aliya suffered in Karachi society (then still the Pakistani capital), and the photographs show her smiling and chatting with Rajendra Prasad and others. Not three months later, however, Bogra too had to resign, one of a string of Prime Ministers manipulated by Pakistan’s military generals, who frequently imposed martial law during that time even as they plotted war with India.
While Pakistan’s leadership faced turbulence, China’s didn’t change through the 1950s, and Premier Chou En-Lai made as many as four visits — in 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1960 — his last visit, not two years before the India-China war, left a lasting scar on relations.
Some of those tensions were visible even then, according to the records of his last visit. He held a combative press conference inside Rashtrapati Bhavan that lasted over two hours, where he called for India to show flexibility on the Western sector (Ladakh) in exchange for Chinese flexibility on the Eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh). In Parliament the next day, Nehru said flatly, “This is not some barter.” There was another reason for the tensions at the time. In 1959, the Dalai Lama had sought and received asylum in India. Interestingly, just a few years before that, Chou En Lai had met the Dalai Lama at Rashtrapati Bhavan, when both had been on a visit to India at the same time.
This strain contrasted with Chou’s first visit in 1954, when the welcome he received was nothing short of effusive. Much like Narendra Modi’s recent Lahore visit, Chou’s first visit to Delhi was kept a secret until he was about to land. India even sent its own plane (a four-engine Air India International Constellation, the ‘Maratha Princess’) to Geneva, to pick up Chou En Lai and bring him to Delhi. Thousands or people greeted Chou at various places, including at the refugee camps, and hundreds attended his dinner reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Unlike 1960, Chou and Nehru addressed a joint press conference, answering dozens of (pre-screened) questions from the media together. When he left India, he had a surprise organised by Nehru on the flight. The Air India staff served him the best mangoes of the season on board the flight to Beijing (then Peking), which Chou famously called a “taste of paradise”. The focus on food was to remain. When he returned in 1956, an MEA advisory told Rashtrapati Bhavan staff about his preference for “Crabs, Lobsters, Oysters, Prawns, Sea Slugs etc.” and Chinese, not Indian tea.
Under the Dome brings these and many other interesting anecdotes to light, along with photographs that have been chosen from an in-house collection of tens of thousands of official photos. According to author Thomas Mathew, at least 3,000 days of newspapers were scanned in order to give the political context to incidents that had been recorded mainly through letters received from the leaders, tour programmes, menus, and housekeeping instructions
Seedy stationery/ 2019
If you happen to be on the President of India’s guest list for the next function he hosts at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, hang on to that monogrammed paper invite you received. You can plant it and watch it bloom into a marigold.
In continuation of the many green initiatives undertaken since President Ram Nath Kovind assumed office, the Rashtrapati Bhavan has decided to switch to using seed paper, a type of handmade paper that has seeds embedded in it, and which can germinate if planted under a thin layer of soil and watered, adequately. The first batch of seed paper invites has been readied and the next event that President Kovind hosts, sources said, will be sent out on this format.
In order to accomplish this green mission, to begin with Rashtrapati Bhavan commissioned an external agency to recycle nearly 1,700 kilos of waste paper and convert it into seed paper.
After a toss up between embedding tomato or marigold seeds, the Rashtrapati Bhavan chose marigold seeds. In addition to producing seed paper from waste, the recycling project is also exploring the options of producing pencils, pen stands and stationary.