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.