The club of the powerful

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The club of the powerful

Elections for the prestigious Delhi Gymkhana Club saw a fierce fight among ex-Armymen and former bureaucrats residing in the city, recently.

A former head of the ultra-secret intelligence agency RAW, an ex-DGP in the Indian Police Service and even a woman senior official with Doordarshan were in the running, raising hopes that Gymkhana Club may finally get a woman president 100 years after it came into existence. Finally, Vijay Chhibber, Secretary in the Transport Ministry, who promised more transparency in its membership system, won the race.

In fact, Gymkhana Club has been prized primarily for its exclusive and really hard to get membership. It has 12,000 members among whom only 5,600 are permanent. Each year, about 100-120 permanent members are taken in to fill in the vacancies created by deaths or resignations. However, it takes nothing less than 37 years, after you apply, to finally become a member of this hallowed institution.

In fact, two years back, a man conned people of lakhs on the false promise of getting them membership in The Club. Such is the craze to get into Gymkhana among many of the rich and powerful in Delhi.

Gymkhana Club, though, has always been selective – a legacy of its original founders – the British. Originally called the ‘Imperial Delhi Gymkhana Club,’ it was founded on July 3, 1913, at Coronation Grounds, Delhi. Its first president was Spencer Harcourt Butler, first governor of the then United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. Britishers and their families used to retreat to the cool precincts of the club when tired of India’s heat and dust, and Indians.

That tradition, to a large extent, persists. Even now the Club strictly follows a certain ‘dress code.’ Sometime back, the club did not allow Bhutan’s second-highest ranking Buddhist monk, who was invited by a member, to dine here because he was wearing the traditional Lama attire. A certain board at the swimming pool of the Club very arrogantly states, “Ayahs, Servants, Gunmen and Security Guards with Members Not Allowed.”

Recently, during the 100th year celebration at The Club, President Pranab Mukherjee said, “Comrades-in-arms, during all our life in the various services we have lived together, worked together, played together in the various battlefields on which our magnificent Armed Forces have fought with the highest degree of fellowship and comradeship. May this spirit continue even after we are
separated.”

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