Delhi | A bungalow of one’s own: Welcome to 20 Akbar Road

- July 6, 2024

The coveted address, which is one of the only two double-storeyed bungalows in Lutyens’ zone, has been home to Lok Sabha speakers; Om Birla is now the only speaker after Balram Jakhar to occupy the house for two terms

ICONIC ROAD: A poster displaying Maharana Pratap Road was pasted over the signboard of Akbar Road by miscreants in May, 2018. It was, however, removed quickly

Delhi: Om Birla, who has been elected as the Speaker of Lok Sabha for a second term, will continue to occupy the 20 Akbar Road bungalow in the Capital as his official residence. Ever since the formation of the first Lok Sabha in 1952, the double-storeyed bungalow, adorned with Imli and Amaltas trees, has been inextricably linked to India’s lower house of Parliament. This connection remains unbroken.

In 1952, Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar of the Congress was allocated the same huge bungalow after he was elected unopposed as the Lok Sabha Speaker. After Mavalankar’s death in 1956, his successor, MA Ayyangar of the Congress, and every Lok Sabha Speaker thereafter, including Birla, have made 20 Akbar Road their home.

Double-storeyed bungalow

This is one of the two double-storeyed bungalows in the Lutyens’ zone. It was built by 1925, making it almost a century old. It is worth mentioning that 10 Rajaji Marg (formerly Hastings Road) is also a double-storey bungalow. Two former presidents, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee, besides Edwin Lutyens resided there.

The 20 Akbar Road has also been home to distinguished personalities like Sardar Hukam Singh, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, Balram Jakhar, Rabi Ray, Shivraj Patil, PA Sangma, GMC Balayogi, Meira Kumar, and Sumitra Mahajan. All of them have graced the Speaker’s chair. Balayogi, the Speaker of the 12th Lok Sabha, died while residing at the bungalow. He was the first Dalit to hold the position of Lok Sabha Speaker.

 SPECIAL GUEST: Writer Raj Shekhar Vyas (right) used to be a regular visitor at 20 Akbar Road during the tenures of Meira Kumar and Sumitra Mahajan
SPECIAL GUEST: Writer Raj Shekhar Vyas (right) used to be a regular visitor at 20 Akbar Road during the tenures of Meira
Kumar and Sumitra Mahajan

The residence has witnessed significant changes over the years. For example, a lift was installed in 1978 during the tenure of KA Hegde. The bedrooms are on the first floor of this house. The lift was installed keeping in mind his health. This eight-bedroom bungalow is perhaps the first one in Lutyens’ Delhi to have a lift and is surrounded by expansive gardens with diverse plants and flowers. The rear part of the bungalow also houses servants’ quarters.

From Balram Jakhar to Om Birla

 Former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram

Balram Jakhar was elected as the Speaker of the Seventh Lok Sabha on January 22, 1980. Although he had no prior experience as a presiding officer, he rose to the occasion with great responsibility. 

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“Jakhar’s conduct of the house proceedings during the seventh Lok Sabha was widely appreciated. He was epitome of knowledge and grace. When he was residing at 20 Akbar Road, he used to invite writers, poets and scholars on regular basis,” recalls Trilok Deep, a noted author and journalist. 

After his re-election to the Lok Sabha from Sikar constituency in Rajasthan in the 1984 general elections, Jakhar became the natural choice to preside over the new house. 

On January 16, 1985, he was once again unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Eighth Lok Sabha. When Jakhar resigned from the Speaker’s post at the end of the Eighth Lok Sabha in December 1989, he achieved the unique distinction of being the only Speaker in independent India to have served two full terms of the Lok Sabha. This period, from January 22, 1980 to December 18, 1989, spanned almost a decade. Now, Birla has become the second politician after Jakhar to be elected as the Lok Sabha Speaker for a second consecutive term.

Sumitra Mahajan’s Feasts

Sumitra Mahajan hosted numerous feasts while residing at 20 Akbar Road. Her guests enjoyed a variety of delicacies, including Mango Rabdi, Rabdi Malpua, Shrikhand, Sabudana Khichdi, Moong Dal Kachori, Thandai among other delicacies. 

“Sumitra Mahajan ji often hosted special interactions with young MPs to provide them with detailed information about parliamentary proceedings. She was a very generous host. We had organised many get-togethers of Malwa Mitra Mandal at her 20 Akbar Road house,” informs Dr Harish Bhalla of Malwa Mitra Mandal.

Home to bigwigs

Akbar Road has been home to some of the most powerful and influential figures since independence. The road begins at India Gate and ends at the Race Course. This approximately 2.75 km long road boasts 26 government bungalows on either side. It also houses some private bungalows. In the evenings, peacocks can be seen roaming on the rooftops of these bungalows. Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, the younger sister of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, resided at 12 Akbar Road.

Coincidentally, 24 Akbar Road has housed the Congress headquarters since 1978. This bungalow was once called ‘Burma House’. It was the residence of the Burmese (Myanmar) ambassador to India. She was the mother of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s top leader. When her mother was the envoy of her country in Delhi, Aung San Suu Kyi was studying at Lady Shri Ram College. 

Meanwhile, the Dalmia family owns 27, Akbar Road. Ram Krishan Dalmia lived here for many years. 

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother resided at 24 Akbar Road, now Congress headquarters, when she was her country’s envoy to India
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s
mother resided at 24 Akbar Road,
now Congress headquarters, when
she was her country’s envoy to India

“My husband had many houses in Lutyens’ Delhi. He even purchased the 10 Aurangzeb Road (now APJ Kalam Road) mansion of MA Jinnah. Both were friends,” Dinesh Nandni Dalmia once told this writer in late 1990s. 

Post independence, almost all the residents at Akbar Road were either descendants of royalty or senior bureaucrats and politicians. However, things have changed over the last couple of decades as the newly rich are also buying properties here.

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You might recall that a few years ago, there were unsuccessful attempts to rename Akbar Road to Maharana Pratap Road. Some people even pasted posters of Maharana Pratap Road on the Akbar Road signboards. However, for now, the name Akbar Road is not likely to change. Similarly, it is certain that 20 Akbar Road will continue to be the official residence of the Lok Sabha Speaker.

Veteran writer Raj Shekhar Vyas, also former Additional Director of Doordarshan, visited 20 Akbar Road when Meira Kumar was the Speaker. 

“During Diwali, Holi and other festivals, Meira ji used to invite her friends and well-wishers. I have presented my books to her at 20 Akbar Road during such programmes. It is a grand house,” says Vyas.