Taller than ideologies
The Central Vista would be a grand tribute to the democratic spirit of the nation, subsiding all efforts aimed at subjugating her legacy
In his treatise on Swadeshi and Art, philosopher-historian Ananda Coomaraswamy, spoke of a section of Indians who 'despised and hated everything Indian.' On the eve of India's 75th Independence Day, most of those who oppose the idea of a new Parliament building, suffer from that syndrome or are driven by the ideology of hate and despise everything Indian. They had sneered at the pledge of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' because a self-reliant India or an India intensely aspiring to become self-reliant would break monopolies worldwide, they had jeered and raised motivated questions on India's capacity to manufacture an indigenous vaccine, and in the last seven years, they have opposed Narendra Modi primarily because he has spoken and stood for the narrative of India.
It is therefore natural that they would oppose the construction of a new Parliament building on the eve of the 75th anniversary of India's independence. Their ideological opposition to the project was couched in their concern for the Covid situation, though all that they did during this challenge was to generate vaccine hesitancy, create confusion in the minds of people, obfuscate facts and colour the truth about the Modi government's multi-pronged effort to tackle this challenge. The campaign, both against Modi and his projects that are transformative in nature and essence, has been ideologically driven and hate-filled.
Tribes of intellectual and artistic Taliban are driving a hate-laced movement against Modi and his efforts to drive India towards the status of a recognised and responsible global power. This tribe of intolerant Talibans, many of them affiliated to the Congress and Communist parties and their various ideological and political affiliates and offshoots have a problem when Modi works to create and establish public symbols as an homage to those, other than the Nehru-Gandhi clan, who hugely contributed to India's public life.
Most of them have been patronized by the Congress when in power. Anish Kapoor is one such artistic Taliban. With the Congress in power, he was chief-artist ideologue in the Court of the Nehru-Gandhi and would migrate to Delhi in winters and regurgitate some of the most abominable creations that passed off as l'art chic. We had then fallen on such bad days that the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), near its reception counter, displayed a large framed copy of Sonia Gandhi's quote describing art! It never occurred to these Talibans that we should know instead what Tagore, Coomaraswamy or Nandalal Bose said of art. These Congress affiliated Talibans thought it necessary to educate Indians in the artistic thoughts of Sonia Gandhi and not these stalwarts who had, through an intense tapasya, preserved and re-articulated India's artistic tradition and spirit.
Many who are now passing themselves off as experts of public places, heritage and conservation have never asked the larger questions on why was it that the public buildings conceived of and constructed just after independence never reflected the spirit, the aesthetics or the cultural essence of India or Bharat? Why were monstrosities allowed to come up in the name of independent India's buildings and 'temples'? Why was the need for an actual Parliament building for a Bicameral legislature for a 'full-fledged democracy' such as India's never felt earlier? Why did it not strike the Congress dispensations of the past that in India the 'Temple of Democracy' ought to be a fresh, newly conceived and designed entity that will reflect India's republican and democratic past, her intricate and rich civilisational traditions of governance and her propensity of establishing edicts of good governance and not be a mere left-over relic, reflective of our colonial past?
The entire corpus of civilizational India's construction and architectural tradition was given a go-by while designing free India's first lot of public buildings. The traditional architects, artisans and creators of public buildings in India, lost patronage and fell into neglect in free India. Our inability to re-instate a distinct Indian style in our public building and spaces and our failure to infuse these with a distinctly Indian aesthetic spirit saw us continue to be subjugated either by colonial domination expressed through buildings of that era that we continued to use or by our own inadequate constructions.
Even an untrained eye would discern the uninspiring, drab and unimaginative structure of buildings such as the Shastri Bhavan complex and rows of other structures in the vicinity. In fact, hardly any of the constructions that were initiated in the decade after independence, reflected the essence of India's civilizational identity in the field of architecture. In any case, did Lutyens and Bakers architectural dimensions and expression symbolize the essence of civilizational India? They were clearly buildings, designs and dimensions meant to reinforce the domination and control of India by an Empire that straddle and controlled the globe.
Post-independence we adopted these and when we came up with new ones, we displayed an astounding level of architectural incompetence. In fact, this is the story for all public buildings across the country, except perhaps for the imposing Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore, which reflects the artistic style and temperament of the State. Had the legendary K.Hanumanthaiah not intervened as Chief Minister, the Soudha would have been just another building shorn of any aesthetic character.
On the physical side, it is known that layers of additions and alterations have been in these heritage structures in the past, especially in the Parliament building and the North and South Blocks, without even acknowledging the fact that such additions and alterations, done in an ad-hoc and insensitive manner, has caused severe damage to the buildings' structure. Lack of space, precarious fire safety norms, inability anymore to withstand earthquakes and more, indicate how issues have been allowed to deteriorate over decades. Various aspects of the infrastructure today, nearly a century after it was built, is completely out of date.
The creation of the Central Vista will democratize this zone, throwing the entire area open to people. For those who have visited national museums across the world, the National Museum in Delhi is an extremely inadequate reflection of India's heritage and cultural repository. Therefore the idea of shifting it to the South-North Block area will hugely increase the display space - three times the current area – and enable, with the creation of a central plaza between the two blocks, people to spend time participating in public activities, performances and programs. Along with the National War memorial, this zone, once completed, will allow people to have more choices other than the India Gate.
At least the Goebbelsian propaganda against the construction of a new Parliament building and Central Vista project served to establish the true details of this project. A number of mensonges were being dished and the Supreme Court after hearing the matter for almost 8 months and after 28 hearings, in a 604-page judgment, established that all norms, procedures, systemic requirements, approvals were adhered to and dismissed all cases while giving the go-ahead for the project to be executed. The most recent PIL against the project was also curtly dismissed by the Delhi High Court, which termed the project an 'essential project of national importance.' The petition was dismissed as not genuine and 'motivated.'
A new Parliament building for India on the 75th anniversary of her independence will be a real tribute to her people who have sustained, upheld and preserved her democratic spirit. In the last seven years that he has been at the helm, Modi has tenaciously and persistently sought to further deepen the foundations of that democratic edifice. It is the intellectual and artistic Talibans, who wish to re-subjugate India, who oppose him and his epic effort to give India her unique Parliamentary edifice at last.
The writer is the Director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Views expressed are personal