At the 1911 imperial durbar, the British government took the important decision to shift its capital from Calcutta to Delhi. The new capital needed a new imperial residence, and thereafter began the construction of one of the most ambitious projects by the British in India: the Viceroy’s house (later known as Rashtrapati Bhavan).
“As the seat of the government for the entire subcontinent, it had to convey the idea of a peaceful domination and dignified rule over the traditions and life of India by British rulers,” writes Professor of Urban Planning Aseem Inam in his work ‘Tensions manifested: Reading the Viceroy’s house in New Delhi’.
Approximately 4000 acres of land was acquired south of old Delhi to construct the Viceroy’s house. The primary responsibility of conceptualising and building the structure was handed over to British architect Edward Lutyens. A unique combination of Indian and European renaissance art forms, the Viceroy’s house was built over the next 20 years.
In the next 90 years, first as the Viceroy’s house and then the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the structure has been host to some of the most significant events in Indian history. Since Independence, the Rashtrapati Bhavan has served as the residence of first the Governor General and then the presidents of the country. It has also hosted the investiture ceremonies of defence personnel, swearing in ceremonies of leaders, been witness to the signing of historic pacts and treaties with various countries, and has heard the speeches of several world leaders. Here are four historic events that the Rashtrapati Bhavan has borne testimony to within its premises.
Gandhi’s salt protest
Lord Irwin was the first resident of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He invited Mahatma Gandhi to the Viceroy’s house for a meeting, which was opposed by Winston Churchill. Gandhi carried salt with him to add to his tea, as a mark of protest against the British salt tax. It was also the beginning of a series of meetings which would culminate in the famous Gandhi-Irwin pact of March 5, 1931.
Swearing in of Nehru
The events of August 15, 1947, marking the Independence of the country, was centered in and around the Rashtrapati Bhavan. More than ten thousand people crowded around the entrance of the building to bear witness to the historic transfer of power. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of free India, took his oath in the Durbar Hall at midnight, following it up with his historic ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech. The last British Governor General of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten administered him the oath under the dome of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The other ministers of the Constituent Assembly also took their oath there. The entire public square was bubbling with celebration as the new country was born.
Swearing of the first and last Indian governor-general
C Rajagopalachari, the first and last Indian to hold the post of Governor General, was also sworn in under the central dome of the Rashtrapati Bhavan on June 21, 1948. He became the first Indian to reside in the building. Humbled by the grandeur of the Viceroy’s room, he asked to be shifted to the smaller rooms, which is now called the Family Wing of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The practice came to be followed by all future residents of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Viceroy’s room was hitherto reserved for the stay of Heads of State and Government and their delegations.
Swearing of Modi in 2014
While the Rashtrapati Bhavan has traditionally been the spot at which every incoming government takes oath, Narendra Modi followed the footsteps of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and chose not be sworn in at the Durbar Hall. Instead, the event was turned into a public spectacle at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The event was attended by over 2000 people. The heads of the SAARC countries, including that of Pakistan, were invited. The presence of a Pakistan Prime Minister at the swearing in of an Indian counterpart was unprecedented in the tumultuous history of the neighbours. The grandeur of the event grabbed the attention of the world, like no other swearing in ceremony of previous governments in India had.