Opinion | This Year's Swearing-In May Signal A Goodbye To Lutyens' Delhi

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On Monday, May 27, the 60th death anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, Delhi's traffic police imposed restrictions on the movement of vehicles in the capital's nerve centre, around Pragati Maidan, Supreme Court and India Gate. No, the curbs had nothing to do with the anniversary of India's first Prime Minister. Planning the logistics for the swearing-in of the next Prime Minister necessitated it. The ceremony itself may be held at Bharat Mandapam in the Pragati Maidan complex, which had hosted the G20 summit. It's one of the four venues seeing logistic and security drills - Rashtrapati Bhavan, Kartavya Path, and the National War Memorial being the others. 

The National War Memorial has a massive seating capacity, but scorching heat may play a spoiler. Bharat Mandapam has adequate infrastructure. A drill was conducted there on Tuesday as well. A formal announcement of the venue will have to await the election results though.

Modi's Tribute To Vivekananda

After finishing his hectic campaigning, Narendra Modi on May 30 will go to the Dhyan Mandapam at Kanniyakumari's Vivekananda Rock Memorial to meditate. This is the very spot where Swami Vivekananda meditated in 1892 and had a vision of Bharat Mata, which led him to push for the conception of a developed India. Vivekananda's name, before he became a monk, was Narendra. Viksit Bharat 2047 is thus, in a way, Modi's tribute to Vivekananda's vision.

The verdict of the 18th general election is due in a week from now. The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the aspirant Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc have begun their preparations for its aftermath. INDIA parties had planned a meeting for June 1 to assess their poll prospects and to chalk out a strategy ahead of the results. The meeting, convened by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, was destined to derail. It was abandoned soon after its announcement, apparently because it was scheduled without consulting others. It's symbolic of the disunity among the 26 parties who are proclaiming a change of guard on June 4.

Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she wouldn't be able to attend the meeting as nine seats in West Bengal will go to polls on June 1. She herself has to cast her vote in the Kolkata Dakshin constituency. Her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, general secretary of the TMC, will have to oversee polling in his Diamond Harbour seat. Derek O'Brien, the other Trinamool leader part of INDIA discussions, also cannot miss the photo-op of voting in Kolkata.
This was not the first time that the Kharge-led Congress has jumped the gun and convened a bloc meeting only to reschedule it later. Perhaps the deadline of June 2, the day Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal's interim bail expires, weighed on Kharge's mind.

Post-Poll Strategies 

Top NDA leaders have also begun strategising. Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Jagat Prakash Nadda met on Tuesday morning before Modi embarked on a campaign tour to West Bengal and Jharkhand. His roadshow in Kolkata, starting at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's statue and culminating at Vivekananda's birthplace, was symbolic not only for Bengal voters but also for the nation.

Prior to the 2019 results, Modi had meditated at Kedarnath. This year's Kanniyakumari trip will be the second occasion when Modi will meditate at a site previously used by Vivekananda. A few years back, he had spent a night at the Ramakrishna Mutt in Belur near Kolkata and used the monk's room for meditation.

While INDIA partners are grappling, the NDA leadership has already charted its roadmap. A possible Modi 3.0 may see the migration of state leaders, a few former chief ministers, and even a few serving governors, to New Delhi.

The swearing-in of a third Modi-led Cabinet may signal a total departure from past practices, ushering in an era that will set India on the path of becoming 'Viksit Bharat'. After Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the city of Ahmadabad and Gujarat's capital, Gandhinagar, underwent a huge makeover. The same has been the case with New Delhi since Modi emerged as Prime Minister.

A progressive ruler leaves his imprint on his seat of governance. Colonial-era Lutyens' Delhi, set up by the British as their Imperial Capital a century ago, seems to be waning. The Eighth City of Delhi, which may well be recorded by historians in the future as Modi's Delhi, has been in the making since 2014.

There's the Central Vista project, under which India got a new Parliament House, and the National War Memorial. Raj Path has been renamed Kartavya Path. The empty canopy at India Gate, which till 1967 had been occupied by a statue of King George V, now has a glorious statue of Subhas Chandra Bose. For 46 years, successive governments had debated who ought to be honoured under the iconic canopy. Modi's decision to install Netaji ended that debate.

State-of-the-art, environmentally efficient buildings have started coming up on either side of the Kartavya Path. The damp, crumbling, Second World War vintage structures, which house a number of offices have been pulled down. The government will start functioning from swanky office blocks in the next few years.

The Swearing-In Ceremony

Since the swearing-in of the interim government with Nehru as Prime Minister on September 2, 1946, the Rashtrapati Bhavan - then known as Viceroy's House - was the designated venue for the installation of new Prime Ministers. Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, and V.P. Singh, all took their oaths there. The break from tradition came when Chandra Shekhar was sworn in as Prime Minister on November 10, 1990. He insisted on moving the ceremony from the confines of Durbar Hall and Ashok Hall to the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan so as to let in a larger number of attendees.

P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujaral preferred the confines of the ceremonial halls. On May 16, 1996, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister at the head of a regime that lasted a mere 13 days but heralded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as India's major ruling party, he followed Chandra Shekhar's style, and his swearing-in took place at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

In 1998, when Vajpayee was sworn in a second time, he preferred to move the ceremony out of the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the Central Hall of Parliament, the venue of the adoption of the Constitution of India. But, the President, K.R. Narayanan, did not agree, and thus, the forecourt was chosen once again.

Manmohan Singh's two United Progressive Alliance regimes also preferred the confines of the ceremonial halls. In contrast, Narendra Modi in 2014 and 2019 preferred the forecourt. His last swearing-in ceremony had a record 6,500 invitees.

It's not clear yet, but in case this year's swearing-in ceremony is held at Bharat Mandapam, the Kartavya Path or the National War Memorial, 2024 will signal a strong departure from Lutyens' Delhi, and a journey towards a 'Viksit Bharat'.

(Shubhabrata Bhattacharya is a retired Editor and a public affairs commentator)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author