NEW DELHI: The three-kilometre stretch, running from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate, has become one of the most important roads in India, witnessing momentous changes in the country’s political history. The British called it Kingsway; which after Independence was transliterated into Hindi as Rajpath. Now onwards, it will be called Kartavya Path (Road to Duty).
It’s not merely a cosmetic change, however. The renaming of Rajpath to Kartavya Path is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to rid the country of its colonial past.
In his recent Independence Day speech, the Prime Minister had stressed on the abolition of symbols relating to colonial mindset. “We have to give up the colonial-era mentality. Instead, we must rely on our capabilities,” he had said. Witness to many momentous events in modern India’s political history, this stretch of the road testifies to the significance of this political statement.
The ceremonial boulevard of the national Capital running from the Raisina Hill complex to India Gate began its journey as Kingsway, a majestic central axis in the heart of New Delhi that was built here after the imperial seat of the administration was shifted from Calcutta (now Kolkata).
It was at their famous Delhi Durbar on December 15, 1911, King George V and his consort Queen Mary had laid the foundation stone of the ‘new capital’ of the British Raj.
In consonance with the vision of the king, architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker built the new capital city, whose grandeur and architectural splendour rivalled the best of the cities in Europe and America The town planning committee settled upon an area that lay to the south of Shahjahanabad – Raisina Hill, which was selected as the spot for the new centre of power.
“Looking eastward and starting from the left, one could see Shahjahanabad, 14th-century Ferozabad, Purana Qila, and further to the right, the tomb of Emperor Humayun and the Sufi shrine of Nizamuddin. This was a site that could connect the new capital to the imperial past of India,” writes Swapna Liddle in her book Connaught Place And The Making of New Delhi.
The centrepiece of this new capital was the Raisina Hill complex, housing the majestic Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) and North Block and South Block forming the Imperial Secretariat. A grand axis was laid from the Great Place (later renamed to Vijay Chowk) to India Gate by the architects with verdant lawns, fountains and ornamental lampposts on both sides, forming the resplendent Central Vista Avenue. It was named Kingsway. The ceremonial axis got its name similar to Kingsway in London, an arterial road built in 1905 to honour George V’s father, Edward VII.
On India’s Independence on August 15, 1947, the boulevard from Raisina Hill to India Gate was chocka-block with people, welcoming the dawn of a free India which shook off the yoke of a long colonial rule.
When India became a Republic on January 26, 1950, the first Republic Day celebrations were held at Irwin Stadium (now Captain Dhyan Chand National Stadium) behind India Gate complex. Since 1951, Rajpath has been the venue of all Republic Day celebrations. From 2023 onwards, these will be held at Kartavya Path
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