Prime Ministers (PM) of India used to be driven around in Hindustan Ambassador sedans, also known as the Relic of the Raj. The Hindustan Ambassador is now dead and Prime Minister Vajpayee, the visionary that he was, saw it coming. So, he promptly got his official Ambassador scrapped and got himself a swanky BMW 7-Series luxury saloon, bullet proofed and all. Ever since, India’s PMs are being driven about in BMW luxury saloons. Maybe the Ambassador would’ve never died if the PMs of India were still ferried in them. Jokes apart, here are the half dozen Prime Ministers that India has had in the last 25 years, and their official rides.
P.V. Narasimha Rao
P.V. Narasimha Rao was India’s Prime Minister between 1991 and 1996, the man under whose watch economic liberalization happened. He didn’t really get to enjoy the fruits of liberalization though, at least not in terms of the car he was driven in. Well, as India moved from socialist to socio-capitalist, Prime Minister Rao continued to favour the back seat of the grand old lady of the Indian automotive scene – the Hindustan Ambassador.
Inder Kumar Gujral
A suave diplomat turned prime minister of a shaky alliance, Inder Kumar Gujral lasted for under 2 years in India’s top office. Since he wasn’t around for too long, he simply settled for what former PM Rao handed down to him, a white Hindustan Ambassador.
[Image courtesy IndiaToday]
The second half of the 90s saw immense political turmoil with Prime Ministers coming and going out of office. H.D. Deve Gowda was in and out of the hot seat in under a year, too less a time for him to commission something flashy and opulent. While he concentrated his energies on getting the Vaastu of the Pradhan Mantri Bhavan right, he preferred a simple set of wheels acclaimed for its sofa-like back seat. Yes, we’re talking about the Hindustan Ambassador, the official ride of Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee
One of India’s longest serving parliamentarians and a now ailing nonagenarian, Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee headed the National Democratic Alliance and served as the country’s Prime Minister for a full five year term. The Indian tiger began roaring, on the economy front that is.
And Prime Minister Vajpayee, who assumed office in an Ambassador, chose to upgrade to a BMW 7-Series. On a serious note, the ride of the Prime Minister is decided by the Special Protection Group, India’s equivalent of the US Secret Service. Prime Minister Vajpayee got a heavily fortified BMW 7-Series luxury saloon, and this was to begin India’s tryst with Brand BMW.
What prompted this sudden change? Well, terrorists attacked one of India’s greatest edifices, the Parliament house in New Delhi. This got the politicians, and those protecting them, alarmed. An order for four heavily fortified BMW luxury saloons were placed. These BMW 740 Li cars, with V8 petrol motors, were to ferry the prime minister.
The deputy prime minister, in this case Lal Krishna Advani, and an Ambassador loyalist, also dumped the Amby in favour of a bullet and grenade proofed Tata Safari. Now, to a funny incident. Once, the doors of the Hindustan Ambassador, which used to ferry Mr. Vajpayee, got jammed. Mr. Vajpayee had to squeeze through the small gap between the front bucket seats of the Ambassador, and exit through the front door. By then Mr. Vajpayee had remitted office. The Manmohan Singh led government sent across one of the four BMWs that had fallen into disuse after Mr. Vajpayee’s tenure, to the former PM.
Things weren’t always like this. The Ambassador was a chosen ride of scores of Indian prime ministers, from Indira Gandhi to Chandrashekar. There was one exception though.
Rajiv Gandhi is perhaps India’s only car nut prime minister. A pilot by training, pitchforked into the rough and tumble of Indian polity after his mother, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Rajiv Gandhi liked his cars fast. The ancient Hindustan Ambassador obviously didn’t pass muster.
The King of Jordan gifted Rajiv a Range Rover Vogue. And a year earlier, the monarch gifted Rajiv Gandhi a Mercedes Benz 500 SEL. So, you now know why Rajiv Gandhi never really had to sit in an Ambassador. The former prime minister, now dead, liked to drive himself. To watch Rajiv Gandhi driving, check this video out from 21:44 to 21:50 and 36:39 to 37:20.
He used to tour the country with his wife Sonia, in a maroon, modified Jeep CJ7 SWB,not too dissimilar from the Mahindra Thar of this day and age. And he used to drive to the Parliament in this Range Rover.
Manmohan Singh took over the gauntlet of running India from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and survived two terms. Given the precarious security condition in and around the country, the fleet of BMWs that the SPG had commissioned for Prime Minister Vajpayee was replaced with new BMW 7-Series saloons, and also BMW X5 SUVs, which formed a cordon around Dr. Manmohan Singh’s official ride.
Here’s how the Indian PM rolls.
A Tata Safari, with radio wave jamming equipment also formed a part of the PM’s motorcade, while a Mercedes Sprinter ambulance made up for the rear of the motorcade.
Last year, Narendra Modi assumed office as the new Prime Minister of India. As a Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Modi used a bullet proof Mahindra Scorpio SUV, which was anticipated to be his ride to Raisina Hill as well.
Even as Anand Mahindra was on the verge of pulling off a PR coup, the SPG jumped in and said, ‘Look the Prime Minister of India will ride in the vehicle we choose for him’. Mr. Modi left his security to the experts.
He is now driven in a heavily fortified, petrol powered BMW 7-Series 760 Li luxury saloon, commissioned specially for him.
Meanwhile, here’s Prime Minister Modi sharing a ride with Barack Obama, in the Cadillac One.