‘Modi’s bulldozing of parliament shows him as the architect of a Hindu Taliban’ was the headline of an article published in the UK’s The Guardian on June 4, 2021. The sub-header said “Flattening the majestic Mughal-inspired buildings is the latest stage in a hateful, vanity-fuelled campaign to de-Islamify India.”
The article—a critique of the Central Vista Project (CVP) undertaken by the Modi Government—was written by the Jewish British–Indian ‘sculptor’ Sir Anish Kapoor. The Mumbai-born 67-year-old has been living in England (UK) for nearly 50 years. Not surprising that a sculptor can only think of ‘bulldozing’ and ‘flattening’, after all, in a way, that’s part of their profession.
Before commenting on the merits of his article, let me tell you about his ‘connections’ and my humble opinions about his wonderful work. If a sculptor can comment about a nationally-important urban redevelopment project, surely a writer can comment on sculptures.
Like Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, Kapoor went to The Doon School in Dehradun. In 2012, when Manmohan Singh was her ‘puppet’ PM, the Sonia Sarkar gave him the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award. As a result, undoubtedly he owes a big debt to the Nehru-Gandhi-Vadra ‘dynasty’.
One of his most famous sculptures is the “Sky Mirror” (Left Pic below) which is installed outside the Nottingham Playhouse theatre in Wellington Circus, Nottingham, England. Many artists and other experts have confirmed to me that in no way was Sky Mirror inspired by the thousands of satellite dish antennae (sample in Right Pic below) that Kapoor sees in London every day, either during the day sky or the night sky.
Another famous project is the “Ark Nova” inflatable concert hall, probably inspired by the inflatable tubes kids use in swimming pools. But it somehow loses its charm when it’s full of gas.
The “Tees Valley Giants” was intended as a £15 million series of five art installations by Anish Kapoor and structural designer Cecil Balmond. The artwork was planned to be created in five towns in the Tees Valley area of England. The first of these ‘pieces of art’ named “Temenos” opened in Middlesbrough in June 2010. The Guardian, in which Kapoor wrote his article that I’m going to shortly critique, and which has published more than 40 articles about Kapoor and his work over the years, in July 2008 had described it as: “It began with a pair of tights and two rings.” Hmmm … more like a mirrored and stretched Basketball basket, right? It only cost ₹186 crores back then. If built today, given the UK’s inflation rate since then, it would cost around ₹245 crores.
If completed, the project of five art installations would have become the world’s biggest public art project. However, no one was willing to fund the other four! Surprised?
Now let me move on to Anish Kapoor’s most famous marvel, also designed in collaboration with Cecil Balmond. The “ArcelorMittal Orbit” (aka the “Orbit”) is a 375-foot-high sculpture and observation tower, with the world’s tallest and longest (584 feet) tunnel slide, located in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London. It is the UK’s largest piece of public art, and was intended to be a permanent lasting legacy of London’s hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Announced in March 2010, it was expected to be completed by December 2011. The project came about after the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson (and now the UK’s prime minister) and the UK’s Olympics Minister decided that the Olympic Park needed something extra. The project was expected to cost £19.1 million (₹130 crores), with 84% coming from the UK’s then-richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman of ArcelorMittal Steel company, and the balance from the London Development Agency. However, it opened two years late and ended up costing £22.7 million (₹226 crores then, (₹258 crores in today’s cost).
The Orbit has received wide criticism as a vanity project of questionable lasting use. When you read the next few paragraphs, you will begin to understand why Kapoor is so burned up. And perhaps he is miffed that he was not asked to design one of his beautiful pieces of art along the Central Vista coming up in the country of his birth. But then, the dynasty is no longer in charge, and will never be again, at least in my lifetime.
In October 2012, Orbit was nominated and made the Building Design magazine shortlist for the Carbuncle Cup, an award for the worst British building completed in the past year.
When plans for the Orbit were first reported, the media pointed to Boris Johnson’s election manifesto pledge to crack down on tall buildings to preserve London’s “precious” skyline.
There were several articles in The Times, which criticised the idea as a vanity project with a design “matching [Johnson’s] bravado”, built to “seal his legacy”, inferring it would be compared to other similar vanity projects such as the “wedding cake”, the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome, or the Neutrality Arch, a rotating golden statue erected by Turkmenistan President Niyazov. The newspaper also said it was the “Godzilla of public art.” Richard Morrison described Orbit as “like an enormous wire-mesh fence that has got hopelessly snagged round the bell of a giant French horn.” Morrison feared that it could become one of the many “thousands of naff eyesores” of recent public art in Britain. Fellow writer Tom Dyckhoff, while calling it “a gift to the tabloids” and a “giant Mr Messy”, questioned whether the Olympic site needed another pointless icon, postulating whether it would stand the test of time like the London Eye and become a true icon to match the Eiffel Tower, or a hopeless white elephant. He was not wrong—in October 2015 a member of the London Assembly said the Orbit was losing £520,000 (₹5.21 crores) a year.
The Guardian was not behind in its criticism. Mark Brown reflected on the mixed fortunes of other symbolic London attractions such as the loss-making Thames Tunnel, the Skylon structure dismantled in 1952 on the orders of Winston Churchill, as well as the successful London Eye. Jonathan Glancey said it represented the architecturally striking “Joker in the pack”, given that the rest of the landscaping and architecture for the Olympics “promises little to get excited about.” Rowan Moore questioned the ability of the Orbit to draw people’s attention to the Stratford area after the Games, in a similar manner to the successes of the Angel of the North or the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. He also questioned if it would become one of the “many more unloved rotting wrecks that no one has the nerve to demolish.” and said its “hard to see what the big idea is, beyond the idea of making something big.” John Graham-Cumming pointed out the Colossus of Rhodes collapsed within a few decades, and the Tower of Babel was “constructed to glorify those that constructed it.” He believed it looked less and less like a work of art and more like a vanity project.
In an online poll published by The Guardian, 38.6% of readers considered it a “grand design”, while 61.4% for considered it “garbage”.
There were more than 40 other critical articles of “Kapoor’s best project” in various UK newspapers, magazines, and online portals.
Having convinced you that Anish Kapoor is the most fantastic sculptor/artist in the UK and perhaps the world, let me finally get to Kapoor’s critique on the Central Vista Project (CVP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Kapoor: “At the heart of New Delhi sits a Mughal-inspired monument that houses the seat of the Indian parliament. Built by the British architect Edwin Lutyens, the parliament buildings and their grand roadways and water channels follow the form established by the Islamic rulers of Iran and elaborated by the Islamic sultanate of Samarkand and India’s Mughal rulers. Lutyens designed perhaps the most important Islamic-inspired edifice of modern times. The buildings quote architectural emblems from Hindu temples and palaces, but the grand plan follows the design of Mughal-Islamic landscape with a light nod to Roman triumphalism. It is the greatest set of government buildings anywhere in the world. Unsurprisingly, the Islamic origin of these buildings offends the current regime in Delhi. It is why the tyrant Modi and his henchmen are destroying it. As I write, the destruction is under way. It is an abomination that Modi’s hate-filled campaign to de-Islamify India is allowed to continue via the destruction of a world-class monument.”
Bagaria: Not a single building designed by Lutyens or built during his time is being demolished. Some other buildings, mostly built in the 1960s and 1970s, and which do not have Mughal architecture, are being demolished. And this is being done for very good reasons. See how the current buildings on the North and South of Rajpath (Top Pic) — 90% of them built by Congress governments — are of haphazard shapes and sizes, and compare it to how well the new Master Plan is synchronized (Bottom Pic). Also look at the aerial view of the revamped Central Vista.
Kapoor: “Modi has appointed third-rate Bimal Patel as his architect. Patel will design its replacement much in the way that Albert Speer followed his Führer’s lead, but, of course, Patel does not have an iota of Speer’s talent.”
Bagaria: Who is Kapoor to certify whether Bimal Patel is third-rate or first-rate? His firm HCP was chosen in 1985 by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to design the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India. The project won the Aga Khan Award for architecture. In 1992, it designed the Gujarat High Court when Chimanbhai Patel of Janata Dal was CM. In 1994, HCP designed the CG Road redevelopment project in Ahmedabad, when there was a Congress CM. This project won the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements Award for Excellence and was chosen in the ‘100 Global Practices List’ by the UNCHS. In 1999, when Modi was no one, HCP was chosen in a national competition to design an extension to architect Louis Kahn’s iconic IIM Ahmedabad. In 2001, one of the world’s most reputed architectural magazines ar+d gave HCP a High Commendation Award. In 2006, HCP designed the 1200-student Aga Khan Academy residential school in Hyderabad (isn’t The Aga Khan a Muslim?). The firm has received many other national and international awards and recognitions.
Kapoor: “Modi appears to want nothing less than the obliteration of all the Islamic monuments of India and the removal of the 200 million Indian Muslims. Let us not forget that he has already forcibly taken away Indian citizenship from many millions of Indian Muslims and rendered them stateless – a crime for which he has not been brought to book, even though India is a signatory to the UN declaration of human rights, of which citizenship is a central tenet.”
Bagaria: How exactly has Modi already forcibly taken away Indian citizenship from many millions of Indian Muslims and rendered them stateless? This kind of rubbish allegation only suits the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Kapoor: “The pretence that the destruction of this grand vista is justified by a lack of space for parliament is flimsy.”
Bagaria: Post–2026, the strength of both houses (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) are mandated to increase to reflect the growth in India’s population. This has nothing to do with Modi or the BJP. It is part of the Constitution. Lok Sabha seats were increased (“delimitation”) to 494 in 1952, 522 in 1963, and 543 in 1973. Though there was supposed to be a delimitation exercise every 10 years, this did not happen after 1973. In 2002, through a Constitutional Amendment, it was decided that the next delimitation will be done in 2026. The new Parliament will be 36% larger than the existing 94½ year-old building, with enhanced seating capacities of 888 in the Lok Sabha vs. the current 552 and 384 in the Rajya Sabha vs. the current 245. The new Lok Sabha Hall will accommodate 1,224 MPs for a ‘joint’ sitting of both houses. I have argued in two of my books that India has ~16.8 lakh voters per Lok Sabha MP, the US has ~5.5 lakh voters per MP and Indonesia (3rd largest democracy) ~3.35 lakh per MP. How can one person represent 16.8 lakh voters? We must have no more than ~7 lakh eligible voters per MP. If that means 1,300 LS MPs, so be it.
Besides, the 94½ year-old building has several structural problems and cannot be expanded. It is already crammed. The Central Hall can seat a maximum of 636 persons, including 200 temporary seats. Very few MPs have offices and MPs of almost all parties have complained about this several times over the years. Besides, there is no space for staff of those MPs who do have offices. The electrical, mechanical, air-conditioning, lighting, and acoustic/AV/PA systems and security infrastructure are absolutely out of date and need modernising. Additions by past governments were executed in an insensitive manner. Two new floors added by Nehru in 1956 over the outer circular part of the building hid the dome of the Central Hall, and changed the facade of the original Lutyens building. The covering of Jaali windows has reduced the natural light in the halls of two houses. In the absence of proper drawings, its structural strength to be earthquake-safe cannot be certified. This is of particular concern since the earthquake risk factor for Delhi has moved from Seismic Zone-II at the time of construction of the building, to Seismic Zone-IV, likely to be upgraded to Zone-V. Fire safety is a major concern as the building is not designed according to modern fire norms. In case of an emergency, the arrangements for evacuation are extremely inadequate and unsafe.
During Congress rule, the office of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar (a Congressperson nominated for the post by the Congress party) sent a letter in July 2012 to the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, stating that the Speaker has given approval for the construction of a new Parliament building. The letter said that the issue should be given TOP PRIORITY. It stated: “The Parliament building was constructed in the 1920s … Over the decades on account of ageing and over use the building has started showing the signs of distress at various places. The present sitting capacity of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is likely to go up after 2026. In such a scenario it will be necessary to have a new Lok Sabha chamber with larger sitting capacity.” The letter further stated that instructions should be given to the Central Public Works Dept. to find an area close to the existing Parliament complex and to identify a suitable location for constructing a state-of-the-art new Parliament building. “We badly need a parliament building. This one simply isn’t functional and is outdated,” said then Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, even today a senior leader of the Congress party.
It was OK nine years ago Mr Kapoor, as your friends were building it? But it’s not OK today, as you hate Modi?? Besides, like I have already said, there is no “destruction” of the old Parliament building.
Kapoor: “The National Museum of India, which is housed in one of the buildings to be demolished, is to be moved to a space inadequate for its marvellous collections, putting at risk many invaluable and fragile works of art. All this will be done at breakneck speed in order to have the work finished before the end of Modi’s term in office. The Indian courts have been pressured to acquiesce to this idiotic scheme and journalists and other commentators have been intimidated.”
Bagaria: All the paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, collections and other significant heritage and cultural artefacts presently housed at the National Museum, National Archives of India, and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts have been carefully preserved. The National Museum will be relocated to the North and South Blocks, reconceptualized to present the rich heritage and achievements of the nation in a modern and engaging manner. The North and South Blocks house the most important ministries (Home, Defence, Finance, and External Affairs). After these are relocated to the new Central Secretariat buildings, the North and South Blocks will be retrofitted and refurbished to serve as a state-of-the-art National Museum, with usable display floor area 3.13 times larger than the present facility. The central plaza between the two Blocks will be a space for installations, where programmed performances and public activities will allow visitors to engage with the splendours of this complex even after museum hours. The new building is being readied on a war–footing before August 15, 2022, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence, and has nothing to do with the end of Modi’s second term in office. As far as pressurising the courts is concerned, I’m sure if Kapoor was an Indian citizen, he would have to pay the right price for ‘contempt of court’ for making such remarks. Besides, more than enough Congress and CPI(M) party ass-licking journalists have written against the project, so Kapoor’s acquisition is yet another lie!
Kapoor: “Covid-19 ravages the country but uncaring ideology makes sure that the central vista project has $2bn in funding while hundreds of millions of India’s poor and destitute have to fend for themselves. They are dying by the hundreds of thousands. Modi is building a vulgar monument to himself on the corpses of invisible and unnamed citizens. I draw a comparison here with the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who in the 17th century destroyed Hindu monuments and temples all over India in fervent religious hatred. Modi is an Aurangzeb for our times. His regime bears comparison with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Modi’s Hindu Taliban needs monuments to itself in order to establish cultural acceptance and domination. Like all fascist-leaning politicians, Modi hopes that by controlling the images at the heart of the nation, he will form a new vision of his India, which places him at the centre alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel.
Bagaria: Firstly, the Modi Government and the RBI has already spent or sanctioned ₹29.7 lakh crores for various Covid-relief measures. Only ₹1339 crore is being spent on the CVP till August 2022, which is just 0.045% of the money being spent on Covid relief. Secondly, how is the new Parliament a vulgar monument? Besides, during Covid, three Congress states announced plans for new buildings. In August 2020, the Chhattisgarh government announced a 5.65 lakh square feet Assembly building, 81.4% the size of the country’s new Parliament. In the first week of May 2021, at the height of the second wave, the Shiv Sena–NCP–Congress government in Maharashtra floated a tender of ₹900 crores for a MLA hostel of ~10 lakh square feet. Not only is this proposed building more expensive than the new Parliament, the contractor says the cost will shoot up further, with the electrical cost alone estimated at ₹250 crores. The tender cost of ₹9,000/sq.ft. is more than 1.4 times the cost of constructing a 5-star hotel. I won’t be surprised if more than ₹300 crores comes to the coffers of the Shiv Sena–NCP–Congress politicians in the form of kickbacks. On June 3, 2021, the Rajasthan Government cleared a ₹266 crore project in record time to build 160 luxurious four-bedroom flats of 3,200 square feet each for MLAs in Jaipur; as well as a ₹60 crore Auditorium in Jodhpur. Building bylaws were flouted for the MLA flats. A 92 feet tall building was allowed as a “special case” against a 50 feet rule. The building will have 1,200 parking spaces, or 7.5 per MLA. Wow!
Kapoor: “The ego displayed in this and other of his vainglorious projects puts Indian democracy at huge risk. Modi recently opened a cricket stadium named after himself, in laughable mimicry of Kim Jong-un in North Korea.”
Bagaria: I believe that the dynasty has asked Mr Kapoor to write this article as they will not be able to name it Sonia Gandhi Vista, like they have named at least 445 medical/educational institutions, roads, buildings, stadiums, airports, ports, sanctuaries, parks, schemes, awards, trophies, tournaments, and fellowships after Nehru, Indira Gandhi, or Rajiv Gandhi!
Do you know why the Congress and its cronies such as Kapoor are opposing not only the Parliament building, but the entire Central Vista Project?
The Sonia government wanted to build a ~3.75 lakh square feet (area unconfirmed) Parliament building at an estimated cost of ₹600 crores in 2012, or ₹16,000/sq.ft. (which is ₹26,656/sq.ft. crores at today’s cost).
The Modi government is building a 6.94 lakh square feet building @ ₹862 crores, or ₹12,420/sq.ft. So the Congress has missed a big opportunity, if you get what I mean.
Secondly, many buildings that the GOI currently leases in Central Delhi and which may become useless after the CVP is complete, are owned by Congress leaders. An Enquiry Commission should be immediately set up to ascertain how many Congress-leader-owned buildings across India are leased to the GOI and state governments, various departments, PSUs, and other government organisations.
Thirdly, the delimitation exercise due in 2016 will reduce the proportional number of seats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the Congress still has some existence. Therefore, Congress’s seat share in the Lok Sabha is likely to go down even more after delimitation.
Fourthly, the Congress does not want Modi to get the credit for something that will ultimately make all Indians proud. Yes, many of the same people who are criticizing the project now will start praising it in the years to come. Most are known to change their colours and go with the popular flow of the times.
Never again will Central government offices be overcrowded, dirty and stinky. Never again will its employees waste time in commuting. Corruption will reduce because all public meeting rooms are being put in the front part of every ministry building in the CVP with glass walls. And all Indians will be proud of a new capital city (well, almost all!).
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