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Decolonization and the Struggle for National Liberation in India (1909–1971)

Historical, Political, Economic, Religious and Architectural Aspects


Thierry Di Costanzo and Guillaume Ducœur

At the end of the First World War, the Raj remained economically or even strategically more central than ever in the general colonial architecture of the British Empire. Yet, between the two World Wars, the colonial regime hung only by a thread when confronted with the rising popularity of the nationalist movements. As a result, independence was granted in 1947 to this major component of the Empire, a truly cataclysmic event for the remainder of the world. This reality conflicts with the idea that a well-managed, peaceful decolonization process was launched by the British authorities. The independence of British India proceeded at the same speed as the Partition of British India which had both immediate and distant, but surely terrible, consequences like the 1971 war with Pakistan over Bangladesh.
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Images of Empire: Re-Use in the Architecture and City Planning of British India



The political instability in Bengal and the general fragility of the British presence in India at the start of the twentieth century led, amongst other reasons, to the decision to move the imperial capital from Calcutta to Delhi. This article will examine the design of the governmental headquarters and the layout of the newly-planned capital city as well as the surrounding debates and the underlying political reasons.

Announced by King George V during the coronation darbar in 1911, the development process of this new imperial centre sparked intense debates amongst British architects in India and politicians at home in England. The main question was the style of architecture to be chosen to visually represent the British Empire in its colony. Should a purely Western style be chosen to indicate a perceived superiority of the British or should local architectural elements be integrated to indicate the significance and acceptance of the local culture? This was a deeply political question, signalling different approaches in dealing with the political crisis and insecurity facing the colonial power at the time. In the end, a hybrid style, combining aspect of Western architectural traditions and local motifs and building conventions was chosen.

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