A Capital Century

After 100 years as India’s capital, what forces are shaping the city’s development today?

01 January 2011
The architects of New Delhi drew inspiration from Buddhist religious complexes on the one hand, and Mughal buildings on the other.
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The architects of New Delhi drew inspiration from Buddhist religious complexes on the one hand, and Mughal buildings on the other.
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“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 of Delhi...”

WITH THESE WORDS, King George V delivered a sensational surprise to his subjects in Delhi on 12 December 1911. The significance of the announcement was barely concealed by the pompous royalese in which it was phrased: from that moment, as the new political capital of India, Delhi would gradually displace Calcutta, which had been the nerve centre of the British Empire in Asia since the 18th century.

Over the course of the next 12 months, there will be many commemorations of the centenary of Delhi’s designation as India’s capital—and the monumental process it put into motion. But the significance of the initial decision is today largely taken for granted: many Dilliwallas are surprised to learn that the city has not always been the centre of political power in India.

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    Nayanjot Lahiri is a professor of history at Ashoka University. She is the author of several books, including Finding Forgotten Cities: How the Indus Civilization Was Discovered (2005), Marshalling the Past: Ancient India and its Modern Histories (2012) and Ashoka in Ancient India (2015).

    Keywords: independence architecture Nehru Calcutta New Delhi Nayanjot Lahiri 1911 King George V Lutyens imperialism old Delhi Master Plan DMRC DDA durbar capital
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