As soon as the Narendra Modi government unveiled its Central Vista Redevelopment plan in September 2019, we witnessed coordinated cacophony from a coterie of people questioning the proposed project.
The stage for the misleading campaign against the Central Vista project was set by a Modi-hating columnist, who in his The Print column on 28 September, equated the prime minister with an “emperor who wants to build his capital like many in the past”. It took the columnist only a fortnight to trash a project of national importance, details of which were first reported by The Hindu, citing ministerial sources, on 12 September 2019.
Another attack followed, and this time it was aimed at Bimal Patel — the architect of the Central Vista project — and this too was led by The Print gang. Calling Patel “new India’s go-to architect,” it questioned his selection process and branded him as “facilitator of Modi’s dream”.
Later, continuing its tirade against Bimal Patel, The Print followed up its Bimal Patel piece by his interview on the Central Vista project.
After the COVID-19 outbreak, the line of attack on the Central Vista project shifted to how the project was a waste of precious resources and why it should be reviewed to focus on the pandemic. In an April 2020 piece, the columnist argued that “the money required to revamp heritage can be used to control the pandemic.”
However, the same writer followed his April 2020 piece with another piece in January 2021, accusing the prime minister of “pushing for a hugely expensive project based on outdated office and administrative concepts.”
Terming it an assault on India’s history, one retired babu called it a demolition drive and questioned the government’s moral authority to do so. Seriously? If an elected government does not have that authority, why have governments in the first place!
Retired babus and so-called eminent citizens wrote several letters opposing the Central Vista project. It is another matter that the names of these ‘concerned’ retired top babus and eminent citizens are found in almost every letter of protest written ever since Prime Minister Modi assumed power in Delhi.
New-found love for Edwin Lutyens
Edwin Lutyens, who already enjoys disproportionate credit for developing New Delhi than he should have, was also pulled out from his grave.
The government was accused of tinkering with his heritage. Only a supremely self-loathing individual will worship someone who referred to “Indians as black, blackamoors, natives, or even niggers”. He did not stop at that and termed “Indians dark and ill-smelling, with very strange and frightening food”.
Lutyens’ extraordinary intolerance and dislike of everything Indian is well documented in his letters. While working in Delhi, Lutyens concluded that “Indians and whites cannot mix freely” as Indians are very different and cannot be on the same plane.
Whatever little Indian patterns we see in buildings designed by Lutyens were because of Swinton Jacob and Herbert Baker. Lutyens’ disdain for India forced Jacob to resign following disagreements over Indian materials against Lutyens’ wishes.
However, such is the power of Modi hate that even a hardcore racist Lutyens appears a messiah to those opposed to the Central Vista project. Ignoring the government’s repeated clarifications about the non-negotiable status of the heritage buildings, a well-coordinated campaign, wrongly calling it an attack on colonial heritage, was also launched.
The real reason for the barrage of attacks
I have laid out my reasons as to why criticism of the Central Vista project is founded on baseless reasons and lies and is essentially a derivative of the perennial Narendra Modi hate practised by those opposed to him.
One noteworthy and most plausible reason for this barrage of sustained attacks was that Congress’s first family was the principally affected party. Several Lutyens zone properties usurped by them via Gandhi-family-run trusts and foundations inside government facilities were facing reallocation following the redevelopment of Central Vista.
No wonder, Congress pulled out all stops to falsely malign a project, rightly billed as the project of New India.
Criticism despite Supreme Court order
All the concerns, complaints, and issues raised by those opposed to the Central Vista project were trashed by the Supreme Court vide its detailed 611-page judgment. However, even that order did not stop the anti-Modi cabal from spreading its canards.
The Opposition and media commentators mounted a malicious misinformation campaign — calling the project a Rs 13,400 crore house for Prime Minister Modi — to misguide people.
This same section of the Indian media resorted to spreading regular fake news about the project eating into the green-cover and available public spaces in New Delhi. No credence was given to the fact that the project would increase both green cover and public spaces in the redeveloped area.
The government’s claim of saving approximately Rs 1,000 crore annual rent payments for hiring office spaces in Delhi due to the scarcity of government-owned office space fell on deaf ears.
The critics calling for the stoppage of the project, citing the need to fight the pandemic, completely disregarded the 137 percent increase in the health budget for 2021-2022 and provision of Rs 35,000 crore (more than 26 times the amount of Rs 1,339 crore worth of Central Vista projects tendered for the year) for administering free COVID-19 vaccines.
Moreover, this mindless criticism ignored the valid argument that yielding to demands of stalling the infrastructure project of national importance would have rendered migrant workers jobless in the middle of the pandemic.
It will not be preposterous to claim that every demand for stopping infrastructure projects during a pandemic cannot be called well-intentioned — more so because the pandemic hit economy needs higher spending to keep the wheels of the economy moving and not push it into a tailspin!
With Thursday’s inauguration of the newly-built — in a record time of 12 months — defence office complexes by the prime minister, the Central Vista Project has moved into its next phase. Hear no one but the man himself as to why the Central Vista is an important milestone towards building a capital rooted in Indian thinking, determination, strength and culture.
The author is a Chartered Accountant with interests in social entrepreneurship, culture, dharmic issues and agriculture. He has served as an Economic Advisor to Trivendra Singh Rawat, former chief minister of Uttarakhand. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.