ND did not change immediately post 1947:Book

New Delhi: Built by the Britishers to trumpet their supremacy, New Delhi found it hard to shrug off imperialistic rituals and social formalities after Independence, while its obsession with status and privilege is still intact, says a new book.

During the first heady years of Independent India, certain social rituals and hierarchy were taken out of their original context and repackaged to maintain the authority of the new leaders, writes Sydney-based researcher Nayantara Pothen in "Glittering Decades".

For the British, precedence and protocol had provided a means by which they could clearly indicate the hierarchical nature of official society, as well as their collective position of superiority over the Indians.

"(After Independence) nothing was really very different in New Delhi, it would seem. The leading actors might have changed, but the play remained the same," she writes citing the case of the city`s elite Gymkhana Club where social rules and rituals set during the British Raj were retained.

"The committee rules were applied more stringently than before and members were required to establish their financial and social credentials before being allowed membership… It was almost as though imperial Delhi had never gone away," says Pothen.

Explaining how the end of British rule in India couldn`t end New Delhi?s fondness for formality and protocol, she points out that the capital city continued to be tarred by the ritual-heavy brush of officialdom.

Published by Penguin Books, "Glittering Decades" recounts the story of New Delhi between 1931 and 1952 ? a period of heavy political change and transition – when the capital`s love affair with the trappings and rituals of power and privilege was at its peak.

After New Delhi was inaugurated in 1931, the monuments and buildings of Lutyens and Baker were intended as the physical representation of a benevolent imperialism to reinforce the social and racial hierarchies of the Raj.

"Even he (Nehru) recognised the need for the adherence to certain social niceties in the official world… New Delhi`s love affair with formality continued, it would seem," says the book.

As dress code for official functions, `morning dress` and `evening tails` gave way to equally formal forms of `churidar` and the `sherwani`. The presidential white dhoti was acceptable only if it was spotlessly white and clean.

The increase in formality and security served as external manifestations of Nehru`s new role as the leader of an independent nation-state and were an accepted means of reinforcing his newly acquired authority, says the book.

Nehru, however, was notorious for having an aversion to outward rituals and display of power.

As a consequence, the book says, Nehru had a "grudge" when he had to shift from his modest dwelling on York Road to the grand Teen Murti Bhavan. "More repugnant to Nehru, however, was protocol. There was an eternal tug of war between India`s Prime Minister and those in charge of protocol," it says.

Giving the example of the first Republic Day celebrations in 1950, the author points out ceremonies like swearing in of the new President in the Durbar Hall of Government House, unfurling of the national flag and the march past of the defence forces drew mainly on British ritual and military ceremonial.

"These rituals were needed and retained because they were a means of articulating power and control in a time of transition and consolidation," observes Pothen.

Things however started changing after the general elections in the winter of 1951-52 which gave way to a new crop of leaders who reclaimed New Delhi for an independent India. "The frantic pace of social life in New Delhi continues unabated and its obsession with status and privilege remains," the book concludes.

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