Architecture is symbolic of how communities see themselves and record their histories. Monuments reference national triumph, glorious pasts, political ideology, military and economic power. Just after independence India inherited majestic buildings that befitted a nation that was considered the jewel in the crown of a colonial empire. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister wished to propel India towards economic and social growth by building a socialist, industrious, secular and modern nation and thus had a keen interest in architecture. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier and American Louis Kahn were invited to design the edifices where a new India would take root. In Chandigarh, the city Corbusier built, India’s past was referenced only by its plurality; visually the city looked young and modern.
At the turn of the decade, in 1989, India began a process of assuming a new identity - one that would question whether the promises laid out to its people at independence would be fulfilled. The change of the old guard was imminent. The Indian National Congress lost to a coalition of socialists who had last seen power in 1977, just after Indira Gandhi had been pushed out of office for having assumed dictatorial powers after declaring a state of emergency. VP Singh the socialist primeminister took upon himself to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations for affirmative action through employment quotas in government jobs for people who belonged to the lower classes, long discriminated against by India’s rigid caste system. Soon the country erupted in protests and the recommendations were never completely implemented. The socialists exited office to a weak Congress right after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. From this political turmoil emerged a constituency of voters who prescribed to another India - a jingoist nationalism, with a definite Hindu identity. In the years that followed, India was to witness the destruction of a 16th century Moghul mosque - Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 - which was followed by communal riots between Hindus and Muslims. The reassessment of India’s national identity was continuous in the decades that followed, arising from a need to forget, and to re-imagine its history.
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