In what is going to enrage the liberal elites in India who have failed to come out of the colonial hangover more than 70 years after independence, the Modi government is going ahead with its plans of modifying and virtually redefining the Lutyens’ Delhi. In the month of September, it was reported that the Modi government has launched a massive plan for re-planning and redevelopment of New Delhi’s Central Vista, that is, the stretch from the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate that was designed by Edwin Lutyens, the architect who had designed New Delhi after the British shifted India’s capital from Kolkata to New Delhi. Lutyens had also designed the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Parliament building.
Though India attained independence and the British rule came to an end, the physical structures have survived as remnants of the British rule and so has the colonial hangover which is intrinsically attached to these buildings.
Central Public Works Department (CPWD) had invited bids to prepare a new Master Plan for the Central Vista that “represents the values and aspirations of a New India — good governance, efficiency, transparency, accountability, and equity, and is rooted in Indian culture and social milieu.” The plans of the Modi government also include constructing a new Parliament building or modifying the existing one, constructing a common Central Secretariat and upgrading the Central Vista into a major tourist attraction. The Parliament may get a new building given that the original building might not have adequate space to accommodate all the Members of Parliament when fresh delimitation of constituencies is carried out and there is an increase in the number of constituencies, and members representing them across the country. The deadline for this project is 2024. Therefore, by the end of its present term, the Modi government would have erased the British legacy and its hangover.
Now, it seems that Modi government might take its plans beyond the Central Vista and conclusively revamp Lutyens’ Delhi. While the Central Vista is spread over an area of 4 square kilometres, the CPWD is considering razing old bungalows situated in the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (LBZ), and redeveloping Lutyens’ Delhi. As per a recent report the bungalows housing ministers, top officers of armed forces, senior-most judges and government officials could be demolished. The Edwardian architecture that characterises Lutyens’ Delhi will also be eradicated in the process of demolition of the British-era bungalows, which will be replaced by energy-and-space efficient modern houses. CPWD Director General Prabhakar Singh told ET, “All bungalows have outlived their lives. They have seepage and termite problems. The world over houses built by the British have been demolished because they are considered unsafe. We must give credit to CPWD for maintaining these bungalows so well.”
It must be noted that a redevelopment plan for the LBZ has been in the offing since 1998. But it has been kept in abeyance all this while. Now with the Modi government’s plans to redevelop the Central Vista, the LBZ redevelopment plan which has been pending since 1998 might get a much-needed boost. A senior official said, “When we are opening up the area for such massive construction, the most obvious thing is to build new homes for top bureaucrats and ministers. We will save space and maintenance cost and there will be better houses.”
The Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone consists of buildings that were constructed at least around nine decades ago. This obviously means larger spending in terms of maintenance cost. Apart from this, the unproportionate large size of these bungalows only aggravates the issue of maintenance cost and space management. Moreover, the Britishers had obviously constructed this zone for an elitist class, and therefore the city of Delhi bears an imprint of the kind of inequality that the Raj had fostered between itself and its subjects. While the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone consists of spacious bungalows, cramped up dwellings and residential societies define a substantial part of the rest of Delhi. This kind of discriminatory city planning cannot be tolerated any longer. All Indian citizens enjoy equal status, and elected representatives and government servants cannot be expected to occupy the same power structure that was once occupied by rulers and elites.
Apart from resolving the issue of physical maintenance and imprudent space management that defines Lutyens’ Delhi, the redevelopment of the Central Vista and probably, even the LBZ is going to materially alter the prevalent power structure in New Delhi. After independence, the successive Congress governments never bothered to redefine the unequal power structure that the British had created right in the heart of the National Capital, rather it inherited the same power structure and gave rise to a colonial hangover that we have been carrying for decades. Nehru himself came to occupy Teen Murti Bhavan, a lavish building that was constructed in 1930 to house the Commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army.
The Lutyens’ zone today represents a feudal set-up that houses an oligopoly of powerful businessmen, politicians and top bureaucrats. Lutyens’ Delhi is no longer just the remnant of the British rule. It has taken the shape of a set of individuals who continue to look towards themselves as superior beings, a way of thinking that continues to define the Lutyens’ zone. For decades, these individuals have not only enjoyed bungalow living but have also held considerable political power, also giving rise to the false belief that they have the right to determine India’s destiny.
Now, if the Modi government were to revamp the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (LBZ), in a manner that will demolish both the physical remnants of the British-era city planning and the mental hangover that it carries, then it will send across a very powerful message. Occupying lavish and extra-spacious residences right at the centre of the city might become a thing of the past. This is going to be a painful process for those who have reaped the benefits of the Lutyens’ zone for decades and therefore continue to romanticise Lutyens’ Delhi. But the fact remains that this feudal structure had lost relevance in 2014 itself when the Modi government came to power. It is a different matter that due to the basic structure of the Lutyens’ zone, those romanticising it never realised that it has lost its political power, and along with it whatever relevance it still enjoyed. The incumbent regime has a humongous mandate to work with and it is most likely that by the end of its tenure, the present dispensation would have removed the legacy of the Lutyens’ zone from the face of Delhi.