By Amulya Ganguli
A hundred years later, will another new parliament be built? The arguments which are now being advanced to justify the construction of a triangular building to house the MPs whose number may go up from the present 545 to more than 700 can be made again.
These include the dilapidated nature of the existing circular structure whose foundation stone was laid in 1921, the damp patches on the walls and the possibility of portions of the ceiling falling down on the heads of the parliamentarians.
In contrast, the new triangular building will be a state-of-the-art edifice which will be far more spacious and comfortable than the present structure. But since the state-of-the-art of the 21st century may seem outmoded in the 22nd, will voices be raised for another parliament while converting the triangular building into a museum like the circular one will be? And will its shape be hexagonal, for the sake of variety, to accommodate an even larger number of honorable representatives of the people?
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new”, wrote Lord Tennyson, “And God fulfils himself in many ways”. How will the gods of the 22nd century like to fulfil their ambitions?
In the early decades of the 20th century, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker must have expected their creations to house the British raj for at least a hundred years. But it lasted for a mere 20 – from the inauguration of the central legislature on January 18, 1927, by the viceroy, Lord Irwin, to August 15, 1947, when prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru made his “tryst with destiny” speech.
In retrospect, the 20-year interregnum can seem ridiculously short – from 1927 when the sun did not set in the British empire to 1947 when the crown lost its most resplendent jewel, setting off the unravelling of the entire British colonial enterprise.
Considering how time flies, the transition from the celebrations of the 75th year of Indian independence in 2022 when the new parliament and the surrounding remodelled central vista will be decked out in all their glory, to the centenary year of freedom in 2047 may not seem too long a period to those living through it.
But, as the 21st century nears its end, the sense of gotterdammerung or the twilight of the gods may begin to prevail as at present when the curtains are being rung down on the Delhi of the colonial era in order to mark a new beginning.
Dotted as Delhi’s landscape is with the ruins of medieval palaces and the heritage sites of tombs and forts, the city, which has been the home of several empires, has an air of proud insouciance.
It seems to tell all comers that it can take both glory and devastation in its stride.
For the long memory of the “city of djinns”, as Delhi has been called, the architectural innovations of its various rulers, who come and go, are par for the course. The city is likely to accept the present changes, therefore, as well as those which might be made in the future with the same chutzpah as it did the earlier.
What will be ironical, however, is the possibility that the pomp and pageantry of the present-day rulers may begin to fade even as their dream projects are inaugurated. Unlike in the time of Lutyens and Baker, elections now determined the longevity of the high and mighty. Moreover, the electors are known to be notoriously fickle, changing their representatives at the drop of a hat.
What if they decide to put their faith in a new group of rulers? It is not only at the national level that such a change can affect the fortunes of a dominant party. Setbacks in the provinces, too, can be dispiriting, not only by casting a shadow on the prospects of a contest later at the all-India level, but also by raising the spectre of being mocked for initiating major architectural transformations when the time for the initiators to reap the harvest of the changes is expiring.
True, the opposite can happen, making the planners and architects of the new edifices rejoice over their achievement. For them, the foundation would have been laid for a new beginning. Even then, the question will remain about the beneficiaries. Will they be those who planned the constructions or will they be their successors in the political game of musical chairs?
Buildings are not just bricks and mortar. They embody a certain vision. The new parliament is known to be an expression of the ideas of the present-day rulers. Will they stand the rest of time? Or will their rivals come up with other ideas a hundred years later? (IPA Service)