BJP’s declaration to redevelop Delhi’s Central Vista shows their willingness of putting their stamp on built history.

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Highlights

  • After the redevelopment of Varanasi temple precincts, the government is deciding to redevelop Central Vista in New Delhi.
  • Central Vista is an urban space soaked in political symbolism and rituals.
  • Along with Central Vista, the Parliament and Secretariat buildings will also be rebuilt.

After the extensive redevelopment of Varanasi temple precincts last year, the government has decided to refurbish Central Vista in New Delhi. Central Vista is an urban place that is soaked in political symbolism and rituals. Not only Central Vista, but Parliament and Secretariat buildings are also going to be rebuilt.

There is the government’s insatiable desire to inscribe a new political order beneath the functional reasons. Condemning the project only because it neglected the heritage value, though valid, is gruel. Places such as Central Vista that have hyperbolized colonial dominance, are always vulnerable to political re-inscription. The problem is not about refurbishing. But is in answering the question,” what purpose does it serve”?

Constructing new capital cities or redeveloping old ones can be driven by practical reasons. Deyan Sudjic gives many examples across the world to state that such projects often turn into fantasy, even a sickness.” From Nazi rewriting of Berlin to Moscow’s Red Square the story remains the same.

They either foster pernicious ambitions or become an expression of egoism of a person. The proposal in Delhi appears to be on similar lines. After reconfiguration, the space won’t be available to public, thus it is an attempt to generate self serving symbols.

British, who considered themselves as successors of the Mughal dynasty, found Delhi to be the most appropriate place for new capital. Apart from geographical reasons, the city’s unmatchable historical associations had appealed to them. Robert Crewe who was the secretary of state of India had approved the idea of making Delhi as the new capital. He said, ” in the eyes of British, Delhi enshrined an imperial tradition that can be compared to Rome and Constantinopole.”

Indian summer written by Robert Irving had details about King George V’s decision of building a new city and his intentions behind the same. The planners-Lutyens, Baker and Swinton- conceived the city as monumental edifice. King’s Way or Central Vista that connected Raisina Hill and an ancient historic site in east was the jewel in the crown. The path led to Viceroy’s mansion located on top of the hill.

Reflection of class and race

The All India War Memorial that was built in 1931, and a canopy where King George’s statue was placed after his death in 1936. The remaining offices and residences were organized around Central Vista were a mere reflection of inhabitants’ class and race.

After the end of the colonial rule, King’s Way became Rajpath, Viceroy’s House was renamed as Rashtrapati Bhavan, Council House was Parliament and King George’s statue and Central Vista were removed.

Rajpath became the place where country’s military might was showcased through grand parades and the bungalows occupied by the leaders became sacred memorials. Few attempts were made to rebuild New Delhi but were more about commercial agendas. In 1988, conversation took a turn and the New Delhi zone was termed Lutyens Bungalow Zone. The government’s memoir submitted couple of years back to UNESCO for getting the World Heritage Tag, included Shahjanabad or Old Delhi with it. The place had turned it a historical site.

It is in the context that the stentorian BJP government, after consecutive electoral wins, has decided to refurbish the area and building around it. Few weeks ago, consultants were invited to make a blueprint to re-plan Central Vista, that will later serve as blueprint for other areas in Lutyen’s zone. The government wants to redesign Parliament by 2022, on the celebration of 75 years of Independence. Either the existing structure would be restructured or new one will be built adjacent to it.

In a democratic society, architecture and planning projects should not be cheap but modest, self confident but not pompous; diverse but not bombastic. “When real democratic conditions prevail, the architectural styles would also be democratic.”

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