Monthly Archives: October 2019

India – Disadvantage Democracy & International Heritage Diplomacy – Dr. Navina Jafa


navina jafa Twitter & Instagram Follow :  @navinajafa


Central Vista – Delhi

It is an unwise decision by the Government to Re-design the already reclaimed Colonial Architectural Heritage of the Central Vista. Space defines the power capital of India – Delhi and asserts democracy. The re-design will not only impact tourism, but also the advantage of creating International Mutual Heritage Diplomatic programs.  Keeping the advantage in mind, it is better to re-locate rather than re-design even the debated Government of Myanmar re-located and not re-designed their power capital.

Parliament house
Iconic Indian Parliament Building



The controversy about re-designing the Central Vista, reflects the ruling party’s idea of Cultural Nationalism. This step ruptures the ‘Global advantage’ India enjoys related to international heritage diplomacy, the tourism industry and most of all, the collective memory of the creation of a republic and a democracy. The deal won by HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd. The firm based out of Ahmedabad ‘Gujarat’ will Re-Develop the iconic Heritage buildings and complexes – the grand circular Parliament Building, Secretariat and Central Vista by 2022. What does this really implicate especially in terms of the Global perspective and overall discourse on the Collective Heritage of a democratic Nation?


Hyderabad house
Hyderabad House around the India Gate Circle

The Government construction agency in charge the Central Public Works Department has not specified which buildings on the 3km stretch will be retrofitted or one which would be pulled down. A.G.K. Menon Convener of the Delhi Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) responded to the statement by Harpeed Singh Puri, Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister the need to do away with the “colonial ethos of the country.” This widens the scope of using architecture to create deeper fissions. Not only does history have a methodology, but is also accepted and perceived with responsibility. The precedence set in demolishing colonial heritage could lead to demarcating in the name of ‘foreign’ any other kind of architecture.

mayawati park
Mayawati Park


Power and Architectural Symbolism

The politics of architectural symbolism is continuously echoed in historical processes. Politicized architecture presents a lens for perceived national or community identity by a political regime as was seen in the Mayawati parks. (refer :

Capital cities specifically are intersections between power and architecture feeding the vision of a political agenda of ‘a’ nationhood. However, the Central Government’s hurry to on ‘replace’ the identity of Delhi the Capital City of India, takes spatial politics to another level. After all, Delhi has its history of power territories represented in historic cities. The 1985 Delhi NCR Act states that NO additional government buildings should be constructed within Delhi. The proposal being pushed by the government cites for lack of office space and modern facilities.  The upgrading of heritage spaces can be done following rules and by bringing people into the debate of preserving not replacing heritagescapes. The strategy must aim to conserve the cultural, historical and humanistic values that are part of the collective narrative of Delhi’s urban spaces and that of the people of India.


The Visual Canvas for the Republic of India

Central Vista
Democratic India – King’s Way – Rajpath & Queen’s Way – Janpath


The entire heritage zone of the Central Vista represents the space where India presents itself as a Republic, and as a democracy. It is the location for the National festival celebrations of the Republic Day parade ending with Beating of Retreat. It is the space where the democratic republic reclaimed King’s way as Rajpath (rulers’ road) intersecting with Queens’ way as Janpath (people’s road). The people of India have the right to assert preservation of the visual quality of the heritage zone that marks their political identity of the World’s largest Democracy and Republic.

Relocate Not Replace

Nay-Pyi-Taw-the New capital-city-of-Myanmar


It will be appropriate if the present regime chose to ‘relocate’ instead of replacing heritage architecture. There are several other examples all over the world for relocating and incorporating their specific design of power centers, but even Myanmar’s military rulers in 2005 while choosing to move the capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw did not pull down the colonial heritage. Security and national identity were reasons cited for moving their capital. Nigeria, yet another post-colonial country shifted its capital in 1991 from Lagos to Abuja citing security, modernized requirements, accommodating additional government machinery, neutrality and establishing their version of national identity. Russia quoted maritime security reasons in 1918 for relocating its capital city from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Similar reasons explain Shahjahan shifting the capital from Agra to Delhi, and the British moving from Calcutta to Delhi.

Breach in Heritage Diplomacy

Secretariat building
Secretariat Building – North Block – New Delhi

Heritage Diplomacy provides a common ground for conserving the best of cultural expressions by humanity. These are nodal spaces for nationalism and internationalism. Heritage Diplomatic programs unfold histories of international engagement. The Central Vista Heritage Zone in Delhi is one such space. Herbert Baker the architect who designed the Secretariat blocks in Delhi made them in his distinct style similar to the design of the Union Buildings in South Africa.

secretariat building Pretoria

The design of the Mall from the Raisina Hill to the India Gate and the eternal flame for the ‘Unknown Soldier’ is similar to the plan in Washington DC in the United States from the Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument.


The Coincidental Similarity between Washington DC Mall & the Indian Central Vista

The Central Vista, Parliament and Secretariat complex are significant components for Delhi to apply for the tag of World Heritage City. This status locates a city within the frame of the International Heritage Diplomatic discourse. The Central Vista heritage zone along with a contrasting experience of the Mughal boulevard in – Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi) tops the must-see list of most travelers.  The spatial display of multiple power-public architectures provides a fascinating insight into the existent living heritage of coexistence and the idea of diverse India in a democratic frame.

The idea by the Dutch Concept of ‘Mutual Heritage’ launched in the 1990s, is yet another dimension of Heritage diplomacy. It opens lines for cross-cultural people to people dialogue and shared history for future engagements. Mutual Heritage programs serve to build a contested past for a constructive present and future. Another example of heritage diplomacy is the American Embassy’s Ambassador’s Fund. By replacing the Central Heritage Zone in the capital of India e that represents the Indian Republic and Democracy, the argument of Cultural Nationalism trivializes history and the latitudinal space to assert global leadership in Heritage Diplomacy.


About the Author: About Dr. Navina Jafa: A Short Account:

A short film: : Dr. Navina Jafa, is a well-known academic, curator, writer, interpreter, and presenter of and on Indian Cultural Heritage and an acclaimed Indian Classical Dancer, Writer and Cultural History and Dance Scholar.  She specializes in inventive ways of documentation and exhibition that looks at the wider frame to address Traditional Skills of India and Asia through research and livelihood program.  She has extensively worked on Cultural Skill Diplomacy in the Context of the Indian Ocean and Asia.Recent Awards:  Women Economic Forum: Exceptional Leaders of Excellence – April 2019; Woman of Pure Wonder – Vodafone Foundation – 2017;











Missing the Step Swadeshi Governance – Indian Culture, Water & Economy Navina Jafa –

The recently offered 100-day action plan by the Minister for Culture Prahlad Singh Patel ignores the two major crises facing the Nation – The reality of the economy and the National Water Emergency.[1] Existent practical community science to address water, provide traditionally skilled jobs are completely ignored in the plan. The Western Development Model serves the purpose of the present generation only. The article provides strategies to bring sustainable traditional knowledge systems to the center ensuring environmental, development sustainability, and economics.

waterharvesting and community


Modehra- Water tank

Rani ki Vav

While culture serves as the basic tool for divisiveness in society, it does not feature as a tool for development, for democratic community engagement, and conscious responsibility to factor traditional knowledge and sociological systems.

Salihotra Samhita

The Plan Ignores the Cultural Landscape in the Narrative on Development: The plan by the Central Government – Ministry of Culture offers ‘Greening India’ vision that comprises water harvesting by digging multiple pits at 123 heritage sites. A Heritage site does not exist in isolation it is a part of a larger regional specific cultural ecosystem. However, the lack of comprehending cultural heritage has led to disconnecting heritage sites from their surroundings leading to an imbalanced development. For example, the disassociated Taj Mahal with the Agra city and the Yamuna river-heritage has presented developmental imbalance. Contrast this with the Agha Khan initiative of the development of the Humayun’s tomb and its holistic approach to address the Nizamuddin Basti. The monuments are more than seasonal tourism exotica.

Western Model of Development is Fracturing – India has always had in different regions practices of community ownership to conserve common-wealth. Traditional Culture of Community Ownership   The present government’s initiative ignores ‘Swadeshi’ Culture and ratifies the Western model of development, and is frozen in the top to bottom approach. Interestingly, it was always important in traditional sociological dynamics for sharing the responsibility for community commonwealth. One of the expressions remains is Shramdaan which means Voluntary contribution by way of physical labor resulting in community ownership to improve the environment.

community ownership shram daan

Another example in several traditional societies all over the world is that of ‘sacred groves’. This implies community ownership to protect bio-diverse natural resources. In India, some community practices emerge as resistance by civil voices against the Western model of development. The latter provides solutions in the present but results in a damaging environment for future generations.

sacred grove goa

In Udaipur, Rajasthan there is along the city lake the Gangaur Ghat. Gangaur festival and on other occasions the community gather to clean and de-silt lakes in the urban landscape addressing their water security.

citizenbs clean lake in udaipur

Recently, in the name of development (building roads, metros, mining) a number of forests, trees are endangered. Cutting of trees has fractured community ‘sacred groves’ that assert community responsibility to conserve local biodiversity.

Building roads and investment in tourism infrastructural development ignore local cultural centuries-old sustainable practices to sustain resources. For example, along with the sacred river space of Uttaranchal the building of roads without taking into consideration river-beds, and other natural geographical consideration has ruptured community practices for community ownership of natural resources such as the practices of ‘Jal Yatra’ (community water worship processions).

jal yatra

Suggested Strategies: There is a need for a definitive strategy to bring transformative change. A program that addresses water crises, creates jobs, and sustainable development.

A suggestive approach: Begin with tabulating a geographical region-wise grid of the 123 heritagescapes coordinated with local traditional water-wisdom, and other scientific heritage knowledge.

Second, translate the tabulated information in action by evolving an action plan for systematic community engagement with the heritage sites. This will imply bringing back the Swadeshi parampara (tradition) of community commonwealth ownership.

The sites can be the focal point to form ‘paramapara panchayats’. The plan must work to bring in groups like the Anganwadi, resident welfare associations and other civil society bodies to actively claim community ownership of water security and practical science for everyday life. This will illustrate the development from below.

Thirdly, the amplification of information of the multilayered heritage-site program through Development Communication for larger community involvement. For this, using regional linguistic specific traditional folk performing arts can be effective and also provide job work for the marginalized skilled performance communities and help conserving intangible heritage.

This ‘Combined Heritage program’ in the 123 Heritage site can be the Link Program for Water Emergency and Job Creation in each heritage-landscape. The site program will serve to connect local Natural heritage with traditional science and skill heritage. It will empower communities at the grassroots and ensure sustainability.

Misplaced Scientific Cultural Steps – Suggestions to Redirect for Community Participation  

science water

The action plan also talks about taking scientific knowledge to rural children by investing in mobile van science museums. Viewing the present National crises, the culture of science needs to part of everyday life. As mentioned above the purpose can be served in the suggested Heritage site program. The site program can incorporate for instance, besides traditional water-wisdom, scientific heritage on categorizing plants by indigenous communities, sustainable practices concerning seeds and irrigation. The mobile van ‘museums’ are non-productive, misdirected utilization of public money and ignores larger urgent issues.

Lost Opportunity to Address Cleaning of the Ganga- Kawar Yatra – Additionally, the action plan will develop places for aarti along sacred rivers for daily pilgrim by installing large LED screens and audio systems. This spectacle is again ignoring urgent community ownership, maintenance, and recharging of the ‘sacred’ water bodies. The rivers, lakes, ponds, step-wells need to be de-silted and cleaned off of garbage and plastic. The contrast can be best gauged by referring to contrasting community expressions. Water expert Farhad Contractor says, “The urban city of Udaipur illustrates existent living water wisdom and community practices. For instance, during the celebration of the festival of Ganghaur, women gather around lakes. They engage in cleaning the lakes so that they can continue to be used by the people and provide clean recreational and worship spaces.” In contrast, the present UP government in the Badaun district organized daily aartis during the recent Kanwariya Yatra. Reports refer that the District Collector, the chief administrative officer of the district routinely attended the aartis rather than motivating the public incidentally comprising of a very large number of male-youth to stake ownership and participate to clean the Ganga. This is similar to the recently completed spectacle of the Ardh Kumbh that was converted as a Maha Kumbh Mela celebration by the Uttar Pradesh Government. The huge investment was sold as a tourism spectacle and there was huge investment advertised to illustrate Swachh Bharat. At the end of the festival, it was evident that there was planning to deal with the garbage leaving the river and the city dirtier than ever before.

This misplaced action plan by the Cultural Ministry ignores the potentiality of Culture to contribute to development. In the directionless plan, the emphasis is confining culture to create spectacles and quick showbiz elements. The lack of engagement of subject knowledge experts as consultants is evident. With the economy nose-diving, and important issues like joblessness and water scarcity on hand the 100-day action plan is flimsy.  There is the need for bringing in cultural heritage professionals, and for responsible investment to address the larger issues of jobs and water-crises rather than injecting the masses with the opium of spiritual spectacles.

About the Writer:

navina jafa

Dr. Navina Jafa, a multifaceted polyglot is hailed by the Financial Express as the ‘Gatekeeper of the Spectacular!’, by the Times of India as ‘Experience Architect’. She is a specialist in Indian, Asian Cultural Heritage. Her multiple roles include that of a thinker, academician, performing artist (classical dancer), writer, and heritage interpreter and engaged in grassroots sustainable development.  She is Director of Indian Cultural Heritage Research and Vice President of Centre for New Perspectives.

The Hindu – 1st August, 2019,