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;











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