Atal Behari Vajpayee was India’s first prime minister to shift from the grand old Hindustan Ambassador to a luxurious, BMW 7-Series Security Edition saloon. PM Vajpayee made this shift in the middle of his tenure after the Special Protection Group (SPG) – the force that guards India’s VVIPs – recommended that he opt for high-end, heavily armored BMW saloons for security reasons. Prior to this, most of India’s prime ministers used the Hindustan Ambassador that was bullet proofed suitably.
What prompted this sudden change?
Terrorists attacked India’s greatest edifice of democracy – the Parliament house in New Delhi. This alarmed politicians, and those in charge of their security. An order for four heavily fortified BMW luxury saloons were placed. These BMW 740 Li variants, with V8 petrol motors were deployed to ferry the prime minister. While one car was kept as a standby vehicle, the two other BMWs were used as decoys, which is the general practice when ferrying very important persons and state heads, such as the prime minister and president.
But had any other PM before Vajpayee used luxury cars?
Well, yes. Rajiv Gandhi, India’s prime minister between 1984 and 1989, used a range of cars including the Maruti 1000 sedan, a Mercedes Benz 500 SEL and a Range Rover. The Mercedes and the Range Rover were gifted to Rajiv Gandhi by the King of Jordan. Rajiv Gandhi, who liked to drive by himself rather than be driven, preferred these cars to the Hindustan Ambassador. Incidentally, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv’s mother and a two-time prime minister preceding him, used the Hindustan Ambassador as well. After Rajiv Gandhi, multiple prime ministers of the country continued to use the Hindustan Ambassador until Vajpayee shifted to the BMW.
A funny incident!
When PM Vajpayee demitted office in 2004, he got back to using a a Hindustan Ambassador. On one such occasion, the octagenarian ex-prime minister found himself stuck in the Ambassador after the doors of the vehicle jammed. Mr. Vajpayee had to squeeze through the small gap between the front bucket seats of the Ambassador, and exit through the front door. The Manmohan Singh-led UPA government sent across one of the four BMWs that had fallen into disuse after Mr. Vajpayee’s tenure, to the former PM.