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Delhi: December 12, 1911

Delhi: December 12, 1911
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1970-01-01T05:30:00+0530


From the Narrative of the visit to India of their majesties, King George V. and Queen Mary, and of the coronation durbar held at Delhi, 12th December, 1911 by Sir John William Fortescue

 

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...

--King George V, December 12, 1911

From the Narrative of the visit to India of their majesties, King George V. and Queen Mary, and of the coronation durbar held at Delhi, 12th December, 1911 by Sir John William Fortescue

For it was not mere chance which made that famous city the capital of Hindostan. Broad though the entrance to the plains of India may appear on the map when once the passes of Afghanistan are traversed, it is none the less narrowed at one point to a breadth of little more than one hundred miles between the mountains on the north and the desert on the south. Almost in the centre of that hundred miles stands Delhi; and it is there or within a radius of some fifty miles to north and south of it — between Panipat and Aligarh — that countless battles have been fought for the supremacy of India. It is in fact the key of the country ; and it can hardly be taken in rear but by a nation which has command of the sea...

... There the trumpeters sounded another fanfare, and then to the general surprise, for the official programme gave no hint of such a thing, His Majesty rose, holding a paper in his hand. With clear voice and just emphasis he announced that the capital of India would be transferred from Calcutta to Delhi, and that a Governorship would be created for the Presidency of Bengal, a new Lieutenant-Governorship for Behar, Chota- Nagpur and Orissa, and a Commissionership, as before, for Assam, with a general redistribution of boundaries. In other words, Lord Curzon's partition of Bengal, which had caused so much agitation, was revised, and a new and different partition projected. Admirably delivered though this announcement was, no human voice could have reached more than a small portion of the spectators in the stand ; and the news flew from the centre to both flanks with a buzz as of passing bees. But the trumpeters now blew their last fanfare, and galloped out of the arena.

From Sam Miller's Delhi, Adventures in a Megacity;

North Delhi is the city's most underdeveloped quadrant, as if someone had started building here and had run out of money. It feels deserted. Its roads are bordered by scrub and marsh, sewers and sewage plants, scattered residential townships and shrinking strips of farmland. It might easily have been so different; this area could have become the centre of modern Delhi. At the heart of this North Delhi wasteland is a clue to what might have been, yet another forgotten memorial, a stone obelisk in a deserted park. The obelisk marks the site of the most momentous announcement in Delhi's history, the first step in Delhi's transformation to a megacity. For this park was the location of the Durbar of 1911, where King George V, the only reigning British monarch to visit the subcontinent, stunned his audience of princes, officials and soldiers by declaring that Delhi would replace Calcutta as the capital of India.

After the final collapse of the Mughal Empire in 1857, Delhi had been despoiled by the British and allowed to turn into a shrunken, provincial backwater. Now, it would be transformed into a majestic imperial capital, and the original intention was to build the new city, New Delhi, at the site of the durbar. But after two years of arguing, New Delhi's planners chose a site twelve kilometres to the south, at Raisina Hill, from where India is still ruled. The British had decided that North Delhi was too marshy and too flat; it was too far from the ruins of ancient empires; and the architects wanted to build a Viceregal palace on a hill-top, so it would command an impressive vista, and, most important of all, create a sense of awe among Britain's Indian subjects. The Durbar site became an overgrown reliquary known as Coronation Park, with busts and statues of long-dead British rulers, noses held high in the air, peeping through the foliage. Today the park has a large population of  squirrels and pigeons, who have made their home amid the debris of empire...

For more than eight centuries, Delhi's centre of gravity had crept slowly northwards--as it were on tiny castors. From its oldest standing ruins in the far south of Delhi to Siri, and later Ferozebad, Shahjahanabad and Civil Lines. But, in the aftermath of King George's seismic announcement at what is now Coronation Park, the direction was reversed. Delhi's centre of gravity began to move southwards. After half a millennium with farm animals for company, the ruins of older empires, of previous versions of Delhi, were being swallowed back into the growing city--and the creep became a crawl...

Also See: Photos from the Narrative of the visit to India of their majesties, King George V. and Queen Mary, and of the coronation durbar held at Delhi, 12th December, 1911 by Sir John William Fortescue

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