If I was the editor of London Times, god forbids, and had sought out my New Delhi correspondent Hugh Tomlinson in my cabin, it would cross my mind how he would make a living outside the News Building in London.
I am afraid I don’t know how good he is with his arms or legs, for as far as his mind is concerned, there is enough in his latest piece to suggest it’s in need of attention.
He has chosen to write about the proposed “Central Vista” in India’s Capital which would be at least six years in the making and would house India’s parliamentarians besides carving out a new residence for its prime minister.
Somehow, he has quoted £2.4 billion as the cost of new Central Vista which is nearly three times the proposed expenditure. I mean I distinctly remember the concerned Indian minister to have pegged the figure at £800 million. Who is Hugh’s source? I need to ask for he hasn’t bothered with his source in the piece. Not even “according to a tea-seller outside the ministry who refused to be named.” I know pen-pushers are grumpy on their salary; and pissed at any penny the government spends. But even lies need be palatable. You can’t describe the fly-in-your-tea as a new delicacy.
Then Hugh shouts out that the expense involves the one on Indian prime minister Mr Modi’s new residence. I mean it would only be ready after 2024 when Modi would’ve finished his second term. Who knows the people’s choice thereafter? Unless of course a bird has hummed the future in Hugh’s ears. And if indeed it’s a prediction, how would he approach Rahul Gandhi after dooming his prospects? Burning bridges from both ends, I say.
By now, I know figures are not Hugh’s strong points. To his eyes, India’s parliament is almost a century old. It’s actually seven years outside since it began functioning in 1927. As a Briton, he ought to remember that all it took was seven years of World War II to terminate the British Empire of centuries. It was enough to move the nerve centre of world from London to Washington.
Hugh, I would tell him, do work on your history. I mean you find the Parliament House most viewed structure after Taj Mahal. It can’t be that you haven’t been to Gateway of India. Or the magnificent view of Rashtrapati Bhavan from India Gate has escaped you. You also declare with flourish that the new Central Vista would “consign to history” the Parliament House. The latter in fact would only be turned into a museum.
A few visits to library—I mean not the one of our own in The Times which hides more than it reveals– would let you know that in today’s free world, words such as imperialism and slavery are cussed terms.
When this new city we call New Delhi came up, built by Herbert Baker and Edwin Lutyens, and which led to creation of the Parliament and the Viceroy’s House (Rashtrapati Bhavan) among others, India’s native leaders, later its founding fathers, viewed it as permanent edifice of colonialism. Nehru had mocked it as the “chief temple where the High Priest officiated” while Mahatma Gandhi is rumoured to have wanted to turn the Viceroy’s House into a hospital.
Baker was the disciple of arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Baker’s words “…People must raise themselves to liberty, it is a blessing that must be earned…” are still engraved outside New Delhi’s secretariats. This view was the guiding public face of colonialism, propounded by men such as John Ruskin which justified centuries of genocide and pillage by the British around the world. Lutyens had viewed the Taj Mahal, which Hugh so admires, as “small but very costly beer.” It can’t be that it has escaped Hugh’s attention the statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were attacked in Portland recently . Today’s US is hell-bent on discarding racists and slavery-champions, what if they were its founding fathers.
Hugh clearly suffers from Hinduphobia. I squirmed in my seat at his words that the present move is “desecration of India’s heritage” amidst the growing fears that “Modi aims to sweep away India’s secular foundations and establish a Hindu theocracy.” I mean even by prejudicial yardstick of The Times, this was too far out.
For India to establish a Hindu theocracy, it would have to drive 200 Indian Muslims into Indian Ocean. It would have to deny voting rights to millions; dump periodic elections and burn up the Indian Constitution. Modi could perhaps all do this if he could transport a billion Hindus to some other planet which is habitable but has not a single other soul.
Who gave Hugh this idea? I hope not one among the 100 “historians” and “architects” who have written a letter to Delhi’s planners recently. How do you bring people into decision-making? By referendum? And keep the voters-in-favour waiting for four years. a la Brexit?
The official word to me seems pretty sound. The 500-odd member of parliaments (MPs) don’t have their own chambers to meet or attend a stream of visitors. Where do they handle secret documents that the MPs are required to read and refer? Where do they peer through volume of committees-related work? Is the present Parliament safe on hazards such as “fire” and “earthquake-resistant”? Does it have basic public facilities and ample parking? Do we want people to take call on such specialized matters? Don’t elections in democracy mean that the work of people has ended and the job of government has begun?
It is India’s money and India’s choice. They have every right to vision an India of tomorrow. If it feels the new Central Vista would lead to better coordination among parliamentarians, cabinet, the President and their attendant staff for efficient running of the country, who is me or Hugh to knit the dog’s hair?
The one thing I would grant Hugh is that he didn’t give the headline. Next in my chamber is the sub-editor who put “vanity scheme” in the headline. Who’s vanity? Modi’s? Where’s such a reference in the text?