At the heart of New Delhi, the capital of India, sits a Mughal-inspired monument that houses the seat of the Indian parliament. Built by the British architect Edwin Lutyens between 1911 and 1931, the parliament buildings and their grand roadways and water channels follow the form established by the Islamic rulers of Iran and elaborated by the Islamic sultanate of Samarkand and the Mughal rulers of India.
Lutyens designed perhaps the most important Islamic-inspired edifice of modern times. The buildings quote architectural emblems from Hindu temples and palaces, but the grand plan follows the design of Mughal-Islamic landscape with a light nod to Roman triumphalism. It is, in my view, the greatest set of government buildings anywhere in the world.
Unsurprisingly, the Islamic origin of these buildings offends the current regime in Delhi. It is why the tyrant Modi and his henchmen are destroying it. As I write, the destruction is under way. It is an abomination that Modi’s hate-filled campaign to de-Islamify India is allowed to continue via the destruction of a world-class monument. Astonishingly, the UN heritage forum is silent and world heritage bodies have kept their mouths firmly closed. Are they afraid of Modi, or do they not care what happens in India?
Modi has appointed third-rate Bimal Patel as his architect. Patel will design its replacement much in the way that Albert Speer followed his Führer’s lead, but, of course, Patel does not have an iota of Speer’s talent.
This ideologically driven, hate-filled destruction follows the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 and the vandalism of Islamic and Mughal monuments all over India. Modi appears to want nothing less than the obliteration of all the Islamic monuments of India and the removal of the 200 million Indian Muslims. Let us not forget that he has already forcibly taken away Indian citizenship from many millions of Indian Muslims and rendered them stateless – a crime for which he has not been brought to book, even though India is a signatory to the UN declaration of human rights, of which citizenship is a central tenet.
The pretence that the destruction of this grand vista is justified by a lack of space for parliament is flimsy. The National Museum of India, which is housed in one of the buildings to be demolished, is to be moved to a space inadequate for its marvellous collections, putting at risk many invaluable and fragile works of art. All this will be done at breakneck speed in order to have the work finished before the end of Modi’s term in office. The Indian courts have been pressured to acquiesce to this idiotic scheme and journalists and other commentators have been intimidated.
Tragically, Covid-19 ravages the country but uncaring ideology makes sure that the central vista project has $2bn in funding while hundred of millions of India’s poor and destitute have to fend for themselves. They are dying by the hundreds of thousands. Modi is building a vulgar monument to himself on the corpses of invisible and unnamed citizens.
I draw a comparison here with the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who in the 17th century destroyed Hindu monuments and temples all over India in fervent religious hatred. Modi is an Aurangzeb for our times. His regime bears comparison with the Taliban in Afghanistan, who also attempt to rule with ideological fervour.
Modi’s Hindu Taliban needs monuments to itself in order to establish cultural acceptance and domination. Like all fascist-leaning politicians, Modi hopes that by controlling the images at the heart of the nation, he will form a new vision of his India, which places him at the centre alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel.
The ego displayed in this and other of his vainglorious projects puts Indian democracy at huge risk. Modi recently opened a cricket stadium named after himself, in laughable mimicry of Kim Jong-un in North Korea. He erected a monumental statue to Vallabhbhai Patel, the Hindu-Gujarati freedom fighter. It is four times bigger than the Statue of Liberty, unimaginably vulgar and cost over $400m. These are edifices for ultra-nationalist Modi Talibanists to rally around.
The British civil servant John Strachey declared in a lecture given at Cambridge University in 1884 that “there is no such country as India and this is the first and most essential fact about India that can be learned”. Seeking unified religion, culture and tradition in India, he could not find them. What he failed to see is India’s capacity for diversity, India’s inescapable multi-layered complexity, India’s refusal of singularity. He could not see India as forming a cohesive whole without a shared language or tradition. His nation-state mindset could not see unity and diversity living side by side.
British colonial endeavours to force Indians into one system led to famine and slavery. It forced Indians into cultural inferiority so Christian morality could dominate and British business interests could flourish. I believe the fascist government in India today is doing what the British could not. Modi and his neo-colonial henchmen are forcing Hindu singularity on the country.
The destruction of the parliament buildings represents the taking-over of the Indian psyche by a fascist regime. Its ultra-nationalist vision is of Hindu dominion over all Indians at any price, and Modi as its architect will rule India with his right hand raised in salute, palm open, mimicking the Hindu god Vishnu – among others.