Rajpath to make way for Kartavya Path: How India is stepping away from its colonial past

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Next time you walk down the road from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in Delhi, it won’t be the iconic Rajpath that you have trailed, but the Kartavya Path (Path of Duty).

The Narendra Modi government has decided to rename the iconic stretch and the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has convened a special meeting on 7 September where the proposal will be placed before the council.

The move comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the entire stretch, which has been renovated under his government’s ambitious Central Vista redevelopment project. Under the project, Rajpath will have state-wise food stalls, red granite walkways with greenery all around, vending zones, parking lots and round-the-clock security. But people would miss only one thing — food will not be allowed on the lawns from India Gate to Man Singh Road.

The stretch will open for the public after 20 months. On the day of the inauguration, visitors will not be allowed on the stretch from the India Gate to Man Singh Road, but they can use the remaining part. From 9 September, the entire stretch will be thrown open to the public.

The renaming of Rajpath to Kartavya Path is part of the Modi government’s drive to rid the country of its colonial past. In his recent Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said stressed on the abolition of symbols relating to colonial mindset. “We have to give up the colonial-era mentality. Instead, we must rely on our capabilities,” he had said.

Rajpath’s colonial past

Rajpath — the ceremonial boulevard that runs from Rashtrapati Bhawan all the way down to Vijay Chowk and India Gate, and ends at the 16th century fort, Purana Qila — was named by the British as ‘Kingsway’ in honour of King George V who visited this new city during the Delhi Durbar of 1911 and proclaimed the shift of the capital from Calcutta to the erstwhile centre of Mughal power.

Like much of Central Delhi, Rajpath was designed by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. It was set up to offer an uninterrupted view of the new city from the Rashtrapati Bhavan, which was the Viceroy’s palace at the time and today serves as the official residence of the President of India.

Following the independence of India, the road was given its Hindi name, ‘Rajpath’, in place of its English designation. This represents a mere translation more than a substantial renaming, since ‘Rajpath’ in Hindi is broadly analogous in meaning to ‘King’sway’.

Today, Rajpath is not only synonymous with the Republic Day parade, but has also become a symbol of resistance. The site has seen massive protests — from agitations demanding justice after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in 2021.

Shedding colonial baggage

Over the past few years, the Narendra Modi-led government has been slowly steering India away from the vestiges of the British rule.

Earlier, the Centre repealed more than 1,500 old and obsolete laws, most of which were remnants of the British era.

During an April event, speaking to civil servants, Prime Minister Modi had said, “I have directed the cabinet secretary to take charge of freeing citizens and the country from compliance burdens. The country is completing 75 years of independence. Why do we need to keep the citizens occupied in the shackles of compliance?”

Citing the example of a law mandating imprisonment for the offence of not white-washing toilets at factories every six months, the prime minister said that the law should not be looking to send citizens to jail for trivial issues, reports News18.

Another example of India moving away from India’s colonial past was the decision to replace the Abide with me hymn at the Beating Retreat Ceremony during the Republic Day celebrations with Kavi Pradeep’s Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon. The Beating Retreat ceremony had earlier also seen the introduction of classical instruments such as sitar, santoor, and the tabla.

The prime minister also unveiled a hologram statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at India Gate. This hologram is to be later replaced with the statue of Netaji. The statue would be unveiled in the same place to mark the year-long celebration of the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. This has been done at the canopy where a statue of King George V had stood till its removal in 1968.

In 2017, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the Budget on 1 February — in a break from the past where the Budget was announced on the last day of February. The Rail Budget was also merged with the Union Budget after it had been presented separately for 92 years, in yet another departure from British-era practices.

In 2019, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also opted for the traditional bahi khata rather than the briefcase tradition — a tradition that comes from United Kingdom from the 18th century. The first budget box was designed in 1860 for the Chancellor of the UK back then, William Ewart Gladstone.

Most recently, while commissioning the INS Vikrant, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also unveiled a new naval ensign doing away with the Saint George’s Cross and replacing it with a design inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

The new ensign consists of the national flag in the upper left canton, and a navy blue-gold octagon at the centre of the fly. A blue octagonal shape with the national emblem sits atop an anchor, superimposed on a shield.

Below the shield, within the octagon, is inscribed the motto of the Indian Navy “Sam No Varunah” (a prayer to the God of the sea, Varuna).

Speaking at the event, Prime Minister Modi had said, “Till now the identity of slavery remained on the flag of Indian Navy. But from today onwards, inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji, the new navy flag will fly in the sea and in the sky.”

With inputs from agencies

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Rajpath to make way for Kartavya Path: How India is stepping away from its colonial past
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