Centenary plans for Delhi drift as state govt passes buck to centre
NEW DELHI: Less than six weeks from now, Delhi will complete 100 years as Capital, a position that has made it the most privileged city in the country with everything from maximum security to the best roads and flyovers, fanciest airport and the largest Metro network. Surprisingly, plans to celebrate the centenary have suddenly lost steam. Sources say senior government functionaries are cagey about being labeled 'imperialist' for celebrating an event bearing the Raj imprint. The proclamation about Delhi, after all, was made at the 1911 'Delhi Durbar' of King George V.
So far, the Delhi government has not announced any plans for the centenary. It seems to be waiting for the Union ministry of culture to draw up guidelines on the proposed celebrations. Chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who holds the culture portfolio at the state level, says, "Government of India's ministry of culture has to draw a plan on what to celebrate and how to celebrate. I feel they don't have a clear direction yet."
Dikshit admits there are "concerns" in officialdom about the centenary celebrations : "Exactly, there are concerns . I would not say that there is any debate. But yes, there is ambivalence on what to celebrate and how to celebrate" . While the government is clearly wary of joining the fanfare, Dikshit says groups of residents, schools and associations will be celebrating the occasion on their own.
Top bureaucrats in the state are unwilling to discuss the celebrations, saying they will merely "implement" the Union ministry's plan. Asked about the centenary, a senior Delhi official sought to ingeniously paint it as a national event. "Delhi alone cannot celebrate 100 years as it is the capital of the entire country. To mark any historical milestone , one would have to take note of other related historical developments, such as the shifting of the Capital from Kolkata," he said.
Sources say some officials have opposed the celebration on historical grounds, as Delhi was the capital city under the Tomars and the Chauhans , the Sultanate, and then again for a part of the Mughal rule. They therefore want the centenary to be observed 'cautiously' in a way that is not misinterpreted as a salute to imperialism.
Former INTACH convener and historian OP Jain says, "The centenary is a landmark year, but the government does not want to link it with the Durbar. Yes, there is a controversy and one has to tread carefully. Delhi was always the capital, be it during the reign of Prithviraj Chauhan or the Mughal era and its status was only restored in 1911. The city has a history dating thousands of years and portraying it as capital for a hundred years would be undermining its importance" .
Prof Aditya Mukherjee, a history professor at JNU, says, "Delhi has been the celebrated capital of many dynasties, and to date it as capital only from 1911 seems artificial. If we highlight only the British crowning of Delhi as capital, then we will be focusing only on the colonial choice of Delhi . The earlier history of Delhi as the country's capital needs to be emphasized more."
Another noted historian adds, "2011 marks 100 years of the decision to restore the traditional Tomar-, Chauhan-, Khalji-, Tughlaq- and Mughal capital as the capital of British India. This decision also resulted in the building of New Delhi, which remains a remarkable and much admired architectural ensemble and is more worthy of celebration ."
On December 12, 1911, King George V declared Delhi the new capital of India at Coronation Park. Facelift of this park by DDA and INTACHDelhi Chapter is also behind schedule. While Delhi Tourism's celebratory events started on October 7, in the absence of clear directions the organizers have been using the 'Delhi Celebrates' tag for all events. The same logo was used for the Commonwealth Games events last year.
Talking of the Games, it's surprising that the authorities did not lose sleep over last year's mega event, as the Commonwealth's link with the Raj is even deeper. It is an organization of erstwhile British dominions , headed by the Queen.
A top official of the tourism department says, "The events were planned for centenary celebrations but to ensure this does not become controversial , they were promoted under the Delhi Celebrates logo. Delhi has been the Indian capital from prehistoric times and not just for a hundred years. We planned the events so that they commence on December 11, when Delhi was crowned capital of British India in 1911.