A capital idea
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Move government out of Delhi to disperse its political, business and cultural wealth
The idea to shift the capital out of Delhi to a faraway place strikes a chord with those who feel that the place is now so tainted by power and corruption that the only solution is its transfer to an inaccessible village. Every day is a grim reminder of the sheer ugliness of India's capital, the monumental scale of its nefarious operations — political backlash, class wars, battles for utilities — and all the expected clashes brought on by sheer numbers and densities of people, closely packed and defined by greed.
The dissolution of the capital is a serious idea whose time has come.
When the British set up Calcutta as India's first city, it was for mercantile reasons. The city's accessibility through a large port and across the sea allowed goods to be transported to consumers in England. The convenience of an urban centre to lend administrative credibility to a massive trade operation was both a necessity and a burden, but Calcutta performed the function admirably. Later, when the Empire altered its commercial roots to acquire a larger political stake in India, the shift of the capital to Delhi took on a different hue. The grand vision of the subjugation of a people was realised in monumentalism, domed and classical architecture and grand axial symmetries in planning layouts.
Almost a century after the Great Durbar and the grandiose colonial vision, the pantomime of greatness and excessive power has become a sad satirical reality. Except for Russia and its East European satellites, nowhere does government makes its presence more physically felt than in the Indian capital. Rashtrapati Bhawan, the prime minister's cordoned residence, the diplomatic enclave, ministers' bungalows, bureaucrats flats, ministry offices, foreign service apartments, naval staff quarters, services headquarters, not to mention the mile-upon-mile of public housing, chipped, peeling and smudged — bureaucratic citadels, wasteful and degraded — that are the visible public face of India. Everything about the Delhi skyline is a reminder of the eternal presence of the government.
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