Lutyen’s Delhi

By Sunil Kumar

In the narrow course of our existence; there’s nothing constant except death and taxes.  So said a wise philosopher whose name I recall sometimes. Today’s blog is going to be about Lutyen’s Delhi. The name is synonymous with power and the VIP culture of the political elite of the country; so expect something on lal batti, bandobust and bungalows. Also the old practice of naming a part of the city after a long-dead architect still reeks of colonial kowtowing and lack of imagination on the part of the ruling power elite. This along with the country’s political culture, needs a rethink.

In a time long ago; in fact sixty-five years back; somebody ruled our country. All the readers can figure that out; they’re smart enough. An architect thrust on the masses by the imperial rulers with a direct connection to the crown designed a city supposed to reflect power. Covering 2400 hectares in the heart of the national capital next to the old city of the Red Fort; New Delhi is an exercise in extravagance; a symbolic display of power in what was “The Jewel in the Crown“.

So after independence; these 567 bungalows with 5 acres of land pass on to the new rulers of the country; the elected parliamentarians. An aspirational statement; they are the perquisites offered to our noble representatives; overtly adorned in Gandhian attire. Apparently, 100 crores was spent last year on the maintenance of these decrepit and decaying strucures; from the national exchequer. nearly 3000 crores( more than half a billion dollars) will be spent on reconstructing them. Given incremental escalation in every city from Mumbai to Kolkata, Delhi to Chennai; the final figure would definitely be higher.

In a fascinating discussion yesterday that was a typical mix of loud posturing, long winding statements and no firm conclusion in typical television debate style; the fate of Lutyen’s Delhi was discussed on a national channel yesterday. Pavan Verma; a former diplomat revealed how Herbert Baker Lutyens was a dead closet racist; as indeed some people could be to the present day. Contrast this with a time when a bleak island had control over one of the biggest countries on the planet; obvious in’it mates?

Mark Tully; an Indian Englishman; or the Englishman in India; was of the opinion that heritage should be preserved; an easily ascertainable hypothesis given his English roots. But the real interesting angle here was presented by the Aam Aadmi party and the journalist from the Business Standard, who believed the structures should be brought down. Rising to the defence of aesthetics; some of the panelists criticized the fact that modern Indian architecture; something in ample display in our cities; would actually be commensurate in erasing the heritage fabric of the city; and at the same time impacting the Ridge; the green heart of the National Capital.

In my opinion, both of the sides had some valid points; given the fact that the decaying structures are wasteful with only 1200 pampered political leaders live in such a vast area. Coupled with the fact that most of our lives; the Aam Aadmi (everybody; middle class et al) slaves, braves buffoons and contributes to the national exchequer via a variety of different levies. The wise neta meanwhile lives with 4 people in a 9 bedroom bungalow that covers 5 acres of prime real estate; and in the damp and cramped servant’s quarters; some forty odd civilians are jostling for existence. The Viceregal Lodge(Rashtrapati Bhavan) is also a massive structure; a large proportion of which is unused. If the government had the vision to use all of this for tourism; some of the burden on the normal taxpayer could be reduced.

Kudos to the media for enlightening us on this facet of the nation’s existence; another example of its duplicity and inequity. But even if diplomats, journalists and well-meaning politicians debate all of this; what could be done in the end? Don’t know, time will tell. Until then; the sage counsel that creative solutions would work rings true.


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