From Dehli to New Delhi, it wasn’t 1911

Amidst the cacophony of celebrating 100 years of Delhi, several details seem to have escaped the attention of our ever vigilant media, both print and electronic. This post is to draw your attention to a few of these ‘details’ in an attempt to place the celebrations in what appears to this author to be the correct perspective.

The 12th of December, 2011, can not by any stretch of imagination be described the centenary of Delhi, because there were at least 7 Dehlis before New Delhi came up, in fact 9 Dehlis if one were to add Kilokhri and Kotla Mubarakpurpur, Dehlis in their own right, to the generally accepted list of Qila Rai Pithora, Siri, Tughlaqabad, Jahan Panah, Firozeshah Kotla, Din Panah or Sher Garh or Purana Qila and Shahjahanabad. All of these came up at different times from the  11th century to the 17th century and all of these were more than a 100 years ago.

All that the 12th of December 2011 can claim to be the centenary of, therefore, is New Delhi. Let us look at even that claim a little more closely. What exactly transpired on the 12th of December 1911 that is causing so much excitement a 100 years later?

The British Monarch and his queen consort had arrived in Delhi a day earlier and the Monarch had been re-crowned in Delhi on 11 December 1911. He had been crowned earlier upon the death of his father in May 1911, so the pantomime that took place at Delhi was action replay of an event that had occurred at London 7 months prior to its repetition in Delhi.

A day after this farce of a coronation, the Monarch, with much fanfare and flourish announced the decision to shift the capital back to Delhi; one must give him credit for not saying that Delhi was being made Capital, for he would have been laughed out of India, had he even thought of using such an expression. He knew as did a whole lot of policy makers at the time that the capital was only returning to where it belonged and the sojourn at Calcutta was not such a clever idea if you wanted to be recognised as the emperor of India. This is a detail that our media forgets when it begins to celebrate 100 years of the Capital at Delhi.

The foundation stones for the new Capital were laid at the site of the Coronation Durbar at Burari on the 15 December. The capital was still at Calcutta. The capital was shifted to Delhi only in 1912, and only a basic structure was shifted, many departments continued to function from Calcutta, till all the offices and accommodation were ready. The parts of the capital that did shift, did not shift at the site of the coronation Durbar, and neither they did they shift to the present location of New Delhi, because that location had not even been decided.

The Viceroy functioned out of a hastily erected structure, known as the Viceregal Lodge, the current office of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi, and the government functioned out of the Old Secretariat at Mall Road. Work on the new site of the capital began in real earnest only in the 20s, the name New Delhi was finalised only in 1927, and New Delhi was formally inaugurated only in 1931.

So the question that comes to my mind is what in heaven’s name are we celebrating?

The decision to shift the Imperial capital from Calcutta to Delhi?

The decision to build a city for bureaucrats, Nominees of the Imperialists and their sub -ordinates?

The decision to uproot scores of villages?

The decision to level large tracts of land and to use it only for cultivating grass?

The decision to create a city without any resident population of ordinary people, without any crafts persons and traders, no manufacture and no commerce?

So what is it precisely that we are celebrating? It could only be a pronouncement by the king of those who had enslaved us that they will now exploit you from Delhi instead of doing it from faraway Calcutta.

I am surprised that no one in the media has tried to point out that 11.12.11 was no great shakes and neither is  11.12. 11,  a hundred years later.

I am also surprised that Team Anna has also not commented on this lapse.

19 thoughts on “From Dehli to New Delhi, it wasn’t 1911”

  1. It’s really irritating to hear people talk about “Delhi at 100.” Granted most people are not very fond of history any more, but really, just walk around any part of Delhi – even “New” Delhi – and you can see a hundred years is just a blip in Delhi’s history.

    The only thing that’s roughly a hundred years old – actually 98 or 99 years old, as you point out – is Lutyen’s New Delhi. How can CNN-IBN show Mark Tully walking around Nizamuddin in a story about “New Delhi @ 100”!! What stupidity.


  2. “that the capital was only returning to where it belonged”…Do I sense a feeling that Delhi is the _natural_ capital of India? Why not Ujjain, or Patliputra, or Pune or Agra, which have all been capitals of subcontinent-wide empires in the past? Not trying to fuel regionalism here – just pointing out that there is nothing natural about choosing Delhi as the capital.


    1. Guess it’s the geographical location. Agra wasn’t quite big enough, and the other places you mention are not as centrally located. Also given the number of invaders who came over the north west, it made sense for Delhi as a base for any North Indian empire.


    2. Completely agree. Just whose capital are you talking about here, Sohail? Marathas would have picked Poona, South Indians might have looked to former centers of power such as Mysore or even Hampi. And the whole idea that to rule Delhi is to rule India is a Mughal conceit that our current policy-makers are yet to jettison. How strange (indeed, comical) to find a person with no political power mindlessly echoing this odd formulation. Delusions of grandeur?


      1. The British were constantly trying to present themselves as the inheritors of the Mughal empire, look at the many British agents and British Residents of Delhi Like Ochterlony and Metcalf and others who tried to live in a style that they thought was Mughal, only later were they asked, especially after 1857 to live like British gentlemen to create a distance from the natives. Even the speech of George V talks of returning to the ancient capital. And Delhi was capital much before the Mughals arrived, the Pals and the tomars ruled from here, before the central Asians and Turks set up the Sultanate. So the British were trying to present themselves as the inheritors of this legacy. The present rulers of Delhi unfortunately present themselves only as inheritors of the legacy of colonialism


      2. The terminology of capital pre-supposes a pre-existing nation. Or does that not apply when you write? And capital of what exactly Sohail? The Mughals never ruled Vijayanagara or the farthest south or Assam in the east – neither did any of the dynasties you name here. So, exactly how was the capital returning to Delhi in any sense?


  3. Sohail, Awesome,Indeed! I agree with all you have said. Celebrating this silly idea of a change of name is as silly as celebrating the change of a diaper.The real Delhi is 5000 years old or more, when Pandavas laid the Panch Shila.


    1. I do not know about 5000 years but we certainly have historical, archaeological evidence for the last thousand years and more and then evidence of stone age settlements along the Arravali slopes near badar pur and where JNU is now located.


  4. There was or is a belief that no dynasty ruling from Delhi as capital would survive for long. So in shifting to Delhi from Calcutta, the British were not very happy and they were amply warned. When Viceroy Lord Hardinge entered Delhi in 1912 in a procession on an elephant, a bomb was thrown on him and he survived by hair’s breadth, being seriously injured. That was considered an ill omen and shook up the British rulers. And within 3 1/2 decades thereafter they had to quit India altogether. This ‘indigenous’ government with Delhi as capital is prolonging its agonized life and I think India should consider some other city as capital before it collapses.


  5. Ask them what are they celebrating.. Delhi as capital? In that case, it’s been the capital before even the Mughal kings. If it is India’s capital tell them, so far we thought India was created in 1947… but please tell me whose idea was it? And who paid for it?


    1. The decision to Shift the capital was an idea of those who ruled at that time, i do not think too many Indians were consulted and it has been said that just about half a dozen people were privy to the decision.

      Off course the Indian people paid for the capital through taxes imposed on them, the poor always pay for the extravaganzas of the rich and powerful as they continue to do today. Many reformers of the time like Dadabhai Nauroji and others, i have been told, Initially welcomed the idea of the shifting of the capital but later became critical because of the stupendous costs

      just as an aside, someone has recently written in a paper published from Calcutta that shifting the capital was good for Bengal and Calcutta and as evidence the author states that within two years of the decision to shift the capital Tagore was awarded the Nobel !!!!

      Cause and Effect LOL


  6. I cannot see the name of the author of this article, others say it is Suhail.. Around 1890 the British authority thought of dividing Bengal into parts. The landlords in Calcutta (such as R. N. Tagore’s family) who used to control their huge land from Calcutta became very suspicious about the move, as they thought the Muslim landless labourers would not pay the revenue to the Zaminders if it belonged to a separate administratif zone.. Therefore the first wave of Bengali national movement started. But soon it became violent and a good number of British officers were killed. So the decision of transfer of capital was taken around 1905… Please tell me if this explanation has flaws.. You are more historical than me in any ..


    1. @ Tato

      The Name of the Author is Sohail, it normally appears on the top left hand corner of just under the title of the piece and the date of the post.

      I do not know if the decision to shift was taken after the Bengal partition in 1905, because when the capital was shifted in 1911, after the decision to reverse the partition and from your logic, the anger of the big feudal lords should have subsided and temperatures in Calcutta would have climbed down somewhat


  7. Delhi was NOT the capital of India, during the British era, before 1911, capital of India was Calcutta…before that India was a loose confederation under Marathas, for much of 18th century, Marathas were based in Pune and before that, Mughals had their capital mainly in Agra…it was only in 1911 that Delhi(New Delhi) became the capital of India…we like it or not but we do have a British legacy, even our parliament was built by the Britishers, India has been the land of invaders, from Turks to Mughals to Britishers, we have embraced(or forced to embrace) everyone…such extremist reaction towards a long part of our history is not really what defines our nationalism and identity…even the ‘English language’ is a symbol of our ex “imperial masters”, should we stop using it?


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