Today in History: New Delhi Was Named the Capital of British India
(This story was first published on 13 February 2017 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the day Delhi replaced Calcutta as the capital of India.)
The foundation stone of Delhi was laid by George V, Emperor of India, during the Delhi Durbar of 12 December 1911. Delhi was inaugurated as the capital of British India by Viceroy and Governor-General of India, Lord Irwin, on 13 February 1931.
Why Was The Capital Moved From Calcutta?
The Emperor’s 12 December 1911 announcement, naming Delhi the new capital, stunned the nation. Geography was one of the main reasons behind the move, with the British government being of the opinion that ruling India from Delhi (which was the seat of governance of several empires earlier) was easier and convenient.
Some studies also say that the British had grown wary of the violence and nationalist uprisings in Bengal and that they planned to undo the Partition of Bengal and move out of the conflict zone.
The Prince of Wales, later King George V, laid the foundation stone of the memorial to Queen Victoria – who died in 1901 – in Kolkata on 4 January 1906.
With the capital being moved to Delhi in 1912, the Victoria Memorial was formally opened to the public in 1921, in a provincial city, and not the capital as had been intended.
Hardinge Vs Curzon
In a letter sent from Shimla to London, dated 25 August 1911, Lord Hardinge – the Viceroy of India – elaborated on the need to move the capital.
On the other hand, Lord Curzon, a former viceroy and commissioner of the Victoria Memorial who had taken the decision to partition Bengal, opposed the move.
Ambitious Plan: Let’s Build New Delhi In Four Years
The new capital was designed by British architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker. They chose the southern plains beyond the old walled city of Shahajanabad as their site. The roads were to be huge, in contrast to the walled city’s narrow lanes.
The area was first made a district province of Punjab. It was named “New Delhi” in 1927.
The viceroy, Lord Hardinge, hoped that “New Delhi” would be ready within four years. But he could not have foreseen the coming of World War I. The war, which imposed stringent funding constraints, affected the construction of the capital of British India.
It would take 20 years more, until 1931, for the British to officially inaugurate their new city.
The British worked swiftly to establish a temporary seat of government in Civil Lines. In 1912, they constructed a secretariat building to house government offices while the North and South Blocks were constructed on Raisina Hill in New Delhi.
Where Are The Monuments Now?
A commemorative Obelisk was erected at the place where King George V and Queen Mary sat during the Durbar of 1911. It can be viewed at Coronation Park.
King George V's statue was removed in the 1960s from the canopy opposite India Gate. It was relocated to a plinth in Coronation Park, where it has been placed across the Obelisk.