“We are pleased to announce to Our People that on the advice of Our Ministers tendered after consultation with Our Governor-General in Council, We have decided upon the transfer of the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient Capital Delhi….” (Quoted in New Delhi Making of a Capital, Malvika Singh and Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Roli Books, 2009)
With that on 12 December 1911, George V sealed Calcutta’s fate as British India’s capital city. Delhi, itself a city of seven (perhaps more) kingdoms became the new political centre of India.
Today, a forgotten, dusty patch of land is all that remains of the Delhi Durbar site; an obelisk marking the spot where George made his speech, Ozymandias like now in its echo. Most Delhi-wallahs know nothing about it, nor the park adjacent which holds statues of Imperial notables and a likeness of the King himself that, until the 1960s, stood beneath a Chhatri next to India Gate.
I first visited the place in 2005 and found, with some difficulty, a silent park off a minor road next to the main highway. Last week, in search of story about New Delhi’s first century as capital I drove out again only to find the place in ruins. Much to my and my taxi driver’s amazement the place was being demolished by hand by day labourers. It seemed to me that some of the statues had gone or were at least moved (although I cannot confirm if this is true or indeed how many) and certainly some of the plinths had been destroyed.
I am by no means a fan or apologist for the Raj – indeed as I’ve written before I hold very little truck with romantic India but I was dismayed that such a crucial piece of India’s history looked so … desolate. I haven’t had chance to ascertain exactly what the plans for this remote graveyard of empire might be but I sincerely hope that they are, as the foreman told me, to restore the place. If true, it is, like the Commonwealth Games building saga, a very furiously last minute – very Indian – job.
It could all of course be a dastardly case for Delhi’s detective extraordinaire, Vish Puri…
The first image was taken in 2005 – the rest are as I found the site last week:
Finally, the Chhatri that originally housed the statue of George V in the shadow of India Gate -