British Indian artist Anish Kapoor accused the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of pushing through a propagandistic strategy amid the COVID-19 crisis to redevelop the historic buildings of Delhi’s Central Vista, including the Indian Parliament. (Cascone 2020)
Every term a ruling party serving on pure majority gets a chance to leave their mark on the national- social fabric. The Modi-Manifesto directed similar means to the end. A second term with puritan power and fuelled fanaticism, the vision of the Indian government today is empowered to etch its transient time in office. The Archaeological Society of India today salvages buildings to their restored glory and reinitiates the monetization process till all hunger is mellow. The Indian parliament and Lutyens National complex is the semblance of a colonial past that has braved empty corridors to bombs and threats. Modi Government 2.0 envisions constructing a new Parliament adjacent to the existing one, a common Central Secretariat for all ministries along the central vista. The existing parliament building will be structurally rehabilitated and renovated and used for other subsidiary activities. The controversial 922 crore rupees New Parliament building received a green nod from the environment ministries’ Expert appraisal committee. Much to the woe of the civil society organizations and opposition parties, the Central Vista committee also approved the new plan.
Post this the project was faced by massive public outrage and the internet was brewing with tension. Eminent architects, urban designers, conservationists raised their voices against this massive facelift of the state’s power. The idea of politics in architecture isn’t new. Every day an architect fails his creative prowess to negotiate red-tapism, guidelines, and government corridors. Therefore the architecture of politics is a political agenda falling prey to the imagery of power and self constructed beliefs of an ideological group. The fear lies in losing the heritage quotient of this historical precinct and causing irrevocable damage. There are two petitions filed against the legality of change in land use for the benefit of this project. The project fails to provide clear insights into the studies for its necessity in the fields of administration, heritage, environment, and technical parameters. The decisions escaped parliamentary debate before decision making. Similar to substantive studies the redevelopment plans also fall short. There is a questioning of the credibility of the selection process for the design and rushed fast racking of parliamentary processes amidst a pandemic. Professional bodies such as the Council of Architecture, Indian Institute of Architects, INTACH, Institute of Urban Designers, and Indian society of landscape architects have addressed numerous letters with advice on various design aspects and demanding redesign of the plan but failed to make a mark.
Architect and urban planner A.G.K. Menon, convenor of INTACH’s New Delhi chapter concedes to the fact that some redevelopment was required, but was puzzled that no heritage or environment impact analysis had been carried out. Another architect Narayan Moorthy reached out to a small group of his colleagues and friends on social media about the redevelopment. Within a month, a group calling themselves “LokPATH” grew into a highly motivated unit of more than 300 urban professionals, architects, designers, RWA members, conservationists, intent on bringing public scrutiny to the issue. This amorphous collective conducted ‘tree mappings’ of the Central Vista, generating acerbic cartoons for social media mobilization, and drummed up a petition campaign to ‘save Rajpath, save Delhi’ by putting the redevelopment plan on hold. (Friese 2020)
Protests and campaigns aren’t new to this nation. But behind lock doors in the middle of a global health crisis, these citizens felt riled up by how this boisterous law was being forced down the system. The period of lockdown saw many fallen heroes and also institutions that were at the mercy of a design approved not by democracy but by democratic power. Balbir Verma, a former president of the Indian Institute of Architects says, “A project like designing a new Parliament building for India, which happens maybe once in a century, is being rushed and not being given its due.” (Friese 2020)
As a responsible citizen, one should keep his/her biases aside and with an objective eye weigh the pros and cons of such a project on democracy. No doubt the need to free oneself from the reigns of metaphorical colonialism trauma takes years of reconfiguring societal norms. However, there is no excuse to suffice for the loss of faith due to the opaque processes of taking the contentious plan ahead. The country churns out many specialists whose expertise could be tapped into to seek proper studies to support the claim of the Government. The average Indian today fears that an already choking Delhi air will slip further into the worst post the blatant butchering of the lungs of a city on life support. An environmental impact so unfathomable has seemed to clear the scanner and make way into end laps. Today I do not write like an architect. I write as a citizen that power doesn’t come with the projection of it. Power is attained by the faith of your citizens. The air will not clear over this project and its possibilities till the thirst for power is not reined in.
Cascone, Sarah. Artnet. May 21, 2020. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/anish-kapoor-narendra-modi-central-vista-1867323 (accessed 2020).
Friese, Kai. IndiaToday. May 24, 2020. https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/interview/story/20200601-modifying-lutyens-1680798-2020-05-23 (accessed 2020).