In 1911, our imperial overlords, the British, organised an event of such scale and grandeur that had few parallels in history. The event was the Delhi Durbar and was presided over by the reigning British monarch, King George V, and was attended by every ruling prince and nobleman in India, along with thousands of landed gentry and other persons of note.
The goal of the Durbar was twofold — to commemorate the shift of British India’s capital from the port town of Calcutta to Delhi and to present the British as the rightful and true successors of the Mughal rule in India. Therefore, it would not be wrong to extrapolate that the Durbar’s true motivations were more symbolic than strategic.
This symbolism wasn’t lost on the new capital’s architects, Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker, who made sure that the entire city reflected the opulence and might of the British empire. Many Indian historians later wrote that the Durbar was perhaps one of the finer examples of “an exercise in vanity”, even as the rest of the subcontinent suffered miserably under the oppressive British Raj.
While such an act of largesse using public money may have gone unquestioned under an imperial government, it’s nothing short of absurd that the same thing is happening again under a democratically-elected government in independent India.
The Central Vista Project aims to redevelop and redesign the entire ‘power corridor’ of Lutyens Delhi with an estimated budget of Rs 20,000 crore. The project is slated to be completed by 2024 and will act as a fitting tribute to the nation, a marker for the ‘New India’ in the new century. This type of shallow symbolism is reminiscent of the Durbar and just displays the misplaced priorities of the government.
Such a staggering amount of money is being spent at a time when economists from both ends of the spectrum have been begging the government to offset the damages of a raging pandemic that, according to a report published by the United Nations, has reversed decades of progress in poverty, healthcare and education.
More pressing issues in national capital need attention
The government has argued that the project once completed will save the exchequer an annual rent expenditure of Rs 1,000 crore, with additional savings coming in through better planning and efficient use of resources. While all this is true, it must also be kept in mind that the implementation of this project is taking precedence over a range of other serious issues that the capital faces on a daily basis — unbreathable air, fast depleting water table and the ever-increasing crime rate.
These are the issues that have disproportionately high consequences for citizens and will end up costing the exchequer infinitely more than whatever little the government plans to achieve by revamping the Central Vista.
In an election rally in 2016, the honourable Prime Minister remarked, “… arey hum toh fakeer aadmi hai, jhola leke nikal lenge” (We are poor men who will take a satchel and move). The remark, alluding to his humble background, was an instant hit with the masses who took great pride in his journey from a common chaiwala (tea seller) to the Prime Minister.
Today, when the masses are struggling with an unprecedented crisis that has left them lurching for survival, the Prime Minister would be well-advised to remember his ‘fakiri’ and delay, if not entirely cancel, the Central Vista project in order to help the people.
Adarsh Singh is a student of Hindu College, Delhi