What Gets To Be Chosen as ‘Heritage’?

Symbolic gestures

At a time when the troubled history of former colonies and the global north is being reexamined, the treatment of India's architectural heritage is of critical concern, reports Deepa Bhasthi: what gets erased, destroyed or rewritten, and by whom? Under scrutiny is the new Parliament building project in New Delhi – the budget for which starts at INR 20,000 crore (GBP 2 billion). It will not only change the way the city centre looks but will seek to dismantle the history of its imperial architecture. Critics of the 'Central Vista' scheme might wish that taxpayers' money be better spent on battling the COVID-19 pandemic (the country recorded its highest daily death toll yesterday amidst a deadly second wave of infections).

But there is no stopping it now. The current rightwing, Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has made an art out of its symbol-driven PR, with this new building project promoted as representing 'the values and aspirations of a New India' and 'rooted in the Indian Culture and social milieu…' (meanwhile the current Parliament is to be transformed into a 'Museum of Indian Democracy'). 'In need of urgent deliberation now is the question of what gets to be chosen as heritage and culture in today's India,' writes Bhasthi, 'and where one places imperial architecture within these politics of choice.'

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