Resurgent and dynamic, a young nation, old in history and culture is finally coming to terms with the painful legacy of slavery, colonialism and the pain of partition
It was a moment rich in symbolism and history. At a time when the longest reigning monarch in English history, Queen Elizabeth II, was slipping away at the age of 96, India, the erstwhile jewel in the monarch’s crown, was turning a new page in her history.
The significance was appropriately summarized by one of India’s most charismatic prime ministers. His speech said it all. Noting India’s 75 years of independence at the time of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, PM Narendra Modi said: “Today, we are filling the picture of tomorrow with new colours, leaving behind the past. Today this new aura is visible everywhere, it is the aura of confidence of New India. Kingsway i.e. Rajpath, the symbol of slavery, has become a matter of history from today and has been erased forever. Today a new history has been created in the form of Kartavya Path”.
Modi added: “At the time of slavery, there was a statue of the representative of the British Raj. Today the country has also brought to life a modern, strong India by establishing the statue of Netaji at the same place. Today the statue of Netaji has replaced the mark of the statue of George V, but this is neither the first nor the last example of the abandonment of slavery mentality. It is a continuous journey of determination till the goal of freedom of mind and spirit is achieved”.
The statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, placed under the same imperial canopy used for George V’s statue, replaced the hologram statue of his unveiled by Modi on 23 January, the birthday of the Indian nationalist leader who led his Indian National Army (INA) against British rule.
Shaking off the colonial yoke
Crafted by Arun Yogiraj, the main sculptor, the 28 feet tall statue has been carved from a monolithic granite stone and weighs 65 metric tonnes. A grateful nation would now pay homage to one of her greatest leaders, misunderstood, misinterpreted and moved into obscurity for so many decades.
Who moved India’s capital and built imperial Delhi? What was Kingsway and why is it synonymous of servitude and slavery? Going back into history, the British had long decided that Bengal was a troublesome province, best divided and partitioned on religious lines. With the visit to India of King George V during the Delhi Durbar of 191, the capital of the British Raj was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
The broad avenue connecting the then Viceroy’s residence, now Rashtrapati Bhavan, at the top of Raisina Hill to the All India War Memorial, now India Gate, was named Kingsway to honour King George V. After 1947, it was renamed Rajpath. Although it was not a literal translation it was uneasily reminiscent of the British Raj and the 180 plus years under the colonial yoke.
British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869–1944), led a group of architects to develop the central part of Delhi with Kingsway at the central axis. Over time, it came to be called Lutyen’s Delhi. It became the symbol of imperial power.
After independence, India was slow to dismantle colonial baggage, including colonial names, terminology etc. Some states were slower than others. Thus, you have in the heart of Kolkata the Victoria Memorial with a piano of the Empress Victoria but no Partition museum! Things started changing rapidly after the BJP-led NDA came to power under PM Modi.
It was decided to redevelop and revamp Central Vista and Rajpath. Its responsibility was entrusted to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development under its dynamic minister, ex diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri. On 7 September, a day before its inauguration, the New Delhi Municipal Council in a special meeting adopted a resolution for renaming Rajpath and Central Vista lawns as “Kartavya Path” (Path of Duty) stating: “In exercise of the powers conferred under clause (a) of sub-section (1) of Section 231 of NDMC Act, the Chairperson, with the sanction of the council, has approved the renaming of the existing Rajpath and Central Vista lawns as Kartavya Path”.
Crafting India's growth story
An outstanding student of history, speaking after the inauguration, Minister Puri underlined: “The project of national importance which was not even envisioned by the Governments in the past 70 years has come true today. The Kartavya Path is the heart of the national capital. We are going to write the history of India's growth story. We should not let any bit of slavery in ourselves and should respect our culture and heritage. The decision to rename Rajpath will also remind us that we are duty-bound to the people of the country. The path can also be called as 'Of the people, by the people and for the people' ".
At a gala evening the next day, with cultural pageantry and joy, the people came to see the new symbol of nationalism from far and wide. Kartavya Path exhibits beautified landscapes, lawns with walkways, added green spaces, refurbished canals, new amenity blocks and vending kiosks. This is in addition to new pedestrian underpasses, improved parking spaces and new exhibition panels and upgraded night lighting.
There are a number of sustainability features like solid waste management, stormwater management, recycling of used water, rainwater harvesting, water conservation and energy-efficient lighting systems.
Both actions, in the 75th year of independence, demonstrate that India and her people have come of age. E.H. Carr in his book ‘What is History’ had concluded: ‘History is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.’
Turning the page
Resurgent and dynamic, a young nation, old in history and culture is finally coming to terms with the painful legacy of slavery, colonialism and the pain of partition. Along with Gandhi, India needed many more such icons notably Sardar Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose and Shyama Prasad Mookherjee. But they became victims of the politics of the day.
We, the people of India, became victims to a vicious plot to loot, plunder and divide us for all time. On Thursday 8 September, which coincidentally marked the end of the Elizabethan era, a new India turned an important page in her history. Kartavya Path would take India forward to a destiny that can no longer be denied to her.
(The author is a retired Indian ambassador. Views are personal)