Thursday, 21 February 2013

How Delhi came to be India's capital

By the beginning of the twentieth century, almost the entire India was under British rule. Calcutta had emerged as their military and trading hub and it remained as the capital of undivided India.
However, the British had never been comfortable with Calcutta. The hot and sultry weather did not suit them. Nor did the rising  fervor of the nationalists in Calcutta and Bengal endear the city to the British.
The proverbial last straw to shift the capital from Calcutta came when Lord Curzon came up with an idea in 1905 to partition Bengal.
The partition hived away Assam and the Muslim-dominated East Bengal from the Bengal Province and merged them into a new state. The act lead to severe political unrest in Calcutta which kept on boiling year after year. The protests forced then to reverse the partition. An angry British were looking for revenge.
The British by then had decided that Calcutta had served their initial purpose of  mastering India. They decided to abandon the city and go for a new capital. The rising pollution in Calcutta was another worry for them.
The British first decided to shift the capital to a place central to India. This idea was soon abandoned as they realized that the new city would have to be built from they scratch and it had to have road and rail links, sufficient space to house 43 departments and also to build a new residential township. Several cities, including Nagpur, were considered but discarded.
Soon, the British decided to make Delhi the capital and showcase their Indian dream from the capital of the Mughals. They then held a Delhi Durbar attended by the English Royals and Indian Maharajas where King George V in 1911 announced the shifting of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi.
The foundation stone of the new capital was laid at Kingsway Camp and the British sate up a working camp in north Delhi, beyond Kashmere Gate. It was here that the British lived and worked on the new capital.
The new city was expected to come up beyond Kashmere Gate but an expert committee comprising architects like Edwin Lutyens, however, decided the site was not all that favorable. They found the site unsuitable, swampy and low lying, making it vulnerable to flooding from the Yamuna. Lutyens  described it to be too “flat and boring”.
The committee hen chose the area near Raisina hills for the city which they called New Delhi. The undulating terrain meant that buildings like the Government house, the earlier name of Rashtrapati Bhavan,  and the Secretariat would be situated at a height, making them look imposing.
The area was also ideal as it was largely uninhabited except for the village of Malcha. Thus began the journey of Delhi as India’s capital.
When the construction began, the Imperial Delhi Committee was constituted to monitor the progress. This committee had an absolute say over the construction and administration of the area.
When complaints began pouring in about the lavish manner in which money was being spent on building the new capital, the British stepped back from the grandiose plans of making Delhi one of the finest cities in the world.
The Viceroy himself stayed in a modest circuit house and this was to show to the world that the money was not being wasted unnecessarily.
In the two decades that it took the new Delhi to come up, the  Imperial Government of India functioned from buildings in areas known as Temporary Delhi.
The old Secretariat, constructed in 1912, is from where the government machinery functioned. The adjacent Council Chamber (now Delhi Vidhan Sabha) is where the Legislative Council was held, before construction of Council House (now Parliament House) in 1927.
Over the next few years, Imperial Delhi or the Delhi Enclave expanded to 1,290 sq miles, comprising the present day national capital territory.
The land east of Yamuna was acquired from United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) to be developed as a garden city and become the lungs of New Delhi. There were plans to house government employees on the site of what is now Shahdara.
The British also planned to dam Yamuna and create lakes on either side, lined by wide boulevards. Alas, this plan failed to take off. But the rest of the plan went off well and within years a new Delhi had sprung up.
Henry Vaughan Lanchester, an architect, wanted the Yamuna to be an integral part of New Delhi. His report said the river should be linked to New Delhi through a ceremonial avenue.
He also wanted Shahjehanabad to be integrated with the new capital. This too did not fruitfy.

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