Business Standard

Under President Pranab, Rashtrapati Bhavan transforms itself

Five months after Pranab Mukherjee took over as President, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence, has been transformed due to his efforts

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President Mukherjee’s attempts have been to opening larger sections of the majestic heritage building to the public and grant them easier access, say members of the President’s House staff.

Consequently, Mukherjee first dispensed with honorifics and titles. He then made more areas of accessible to all Indians.

Rashtrapati Bhavan has opened up to the public like never before, not only allowing access to sections such as the refurbished library, Durbar Hall and official drawing rooms but also having a presence on social media through and YouTube.

“The President’s thrust has also been on the restoration of things to their original glory,” Venu Rajamony, press secretary to Mukherjee told Business Standard. Therefore, areas like the library, with its prized collection of 2,000 rare books and the Durbar Hall which had fallen into disuse have been revamped to their original state as conceived by British architect Edwin Lutyens. Impressed with the library’s collection of rare books dating back to the 1800s, Mukherjee, a voracious reader has, according to sources, decided to focus his reading on the history of the transfer of power during British rule. He has also stressed on expediting the process of digitisation of rare books and All India Radio recordings of important speeches. The former finance minister is reportedly keen on perusing the first Budget, presented in November 1947.

The refurbished Durbar Hall, where the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was sworn in on August 15, 1947, is slated to replace the Ashoka Hall, as the venue for all future swearing-in ceremonies of the council of ministers.

The last swearing-in ceremony was the cabinet reshuffle in October last year, which took place under the ornately-painted ceiling of the Ashoka Hall. But gradually, all important official functions will shift to the Durbar Hall, originally designated as the ‘Throne Room’.

President Mukherjee, like his predecessor, is an academic and like him, attaches great importance to his role as the ‘Visitor’ of Central Universities. The Vice- Chancellors’ Conference, slated for early February, will be held in the refurbished Long Drawing Room after a decade. Kalam was the last President to hold it within Rashtrapati Bhavan premises. Mukherjee’s insistence on utilising existing facilities and causing minimum inconvenience to the public will also see the Governors’ Conference being held at the same venue.

The President’s staff, in their bid to make the President’s house popular with the public, has been busy working on new souvenir scarves, mugs etc. that would carry the Rashtrapati Bhavan insignia; much like its counterpart, the White House.

The dark and damp interiors of the Rashtrapati Bhavan have given way to brightly-lit corridors, seeming to reflect the upbeat and open outlook of its new incumbent.

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