National Geographic : 1947 Nov
Delhi, Capital of a New Dominion BY PHILLIPS TALBOT * T HERE is a familiar ring to the great events taking place this year in the Indian capital city of Delhi. An imperial power has made a whirlwind exit, leaving a country that contains one-sixth of the world's people. The withdrawal is big news, especially at the seat of power. But bazaar patriarchs know that the process is nothing new. Legends say the first conqueror established his headquarters on the key site of Delhi in the mists of time before history, and ever since then residents of the area have watched dynasties come and dynasties go.t The most noticeable break from tradition in the British departure was that a conference table rather than a battlefield marked the succession, while a change of officials rather than a brutal sack inaugurated the new order in Delhi itself. With traditional wisdom, some wise men of Delhi have long predicted these events. When, in 1911, King-Emperor George V announced the transfer of his Viceroy's capital from Cal cutta to Delhi, seers recalled an ancient say ing: "When a dynasty moves to Delhi, its days are numbered." Britain's Last Viceroy First Governor General In its latest role, New Delhi becomes the capital of the Hindu-dominated Dominion of India, largest of the two entities created by partition. Rear Admiral Viscount Louis Mountbatten (now an Earl), who as Britain's last Viceroy brought the dominion plan to fruition, remains as Governor-General (Plates I, II, and page 598). The smaller Dominion, Pakistan, with its Moslem majority, has chosen Karachi, on the Arabian Sea, in eastern India's Sind Prov ince, as at least its temporary capital. Ma homed Ali Jinnah, president of the Moslem League since 1934, is the Crown's choice for Governor-General of Pakistan (map, p. 600). There are strong reasons why each major contender for power in north India-the Raj put, the Afghan, the Turk, the Persian, the Mahratta, the Briton-has sought control of Delhi. Here, in a narrow slot between the great Himalaya barrier and the sandy wastes of Rajputana, is the strategic command post sepa rating the lusty civilizations of dry Central Asia and the Indus Valley from the green teeming wealth of the Ganges Valley and central India. Delhi, in fact, is the inevitable capital of India whenever this sprawling country is under unified control. Centrally located, the city is 800 miles from Calcutta, 730 miles from Bombay, 675 miles from Karachi, and 520 miles from the Khyber Pass. In modern times it has become one of the largest railway junctions in the country, the hub of lines extending to both coasts and to the frontier. Rapid development of postwar aviation in India makes it also the center of an extensive air network. The Grand Trunk Road from Calcutta to Peshawar passes through Delhi. The city is also the major trade distributing center of northern India. Some Similarity to Washington Like Washington, D. C., Delhi Province is small. Its 574 square miles were cut out of neighboring provinces to form a national capi tal. Also, like Washington, it has had diffi culty winning a high degree of self-rule. The central government has run it under a bureau cratic administration. Today's city, like all the earlier Delhis, lies on a narrow plain with the holy Jumna River on the east and what all residents call the Ridge, the northernmost spur of the Aravalli Range, on the west. In 1941 the built-up area in this limited space seemed amply full with about 650,000 people. As a result of wartime expansion, however, 1,200,000 persons now live in the urban parts of the province. About 940,000 people have crowded themselves into the walled city where 522,000 lived before. The elaborate, aloof New Delhi, which was opened in 1931 as a completely planned capital city with facilities for 70,000 residents, now holds 213,000 people in the original bunga lows, in maharajas' town houses turned into hostels, in war-built American army barracks turned over to the Government of India, and in other temporary buildings. How to provide this great number of people with adequate supplies of electricity and fil tered water and to move them around on the overstrained streetcar and bus systems is a constant headache for the municipal commit tees. So far, despite shortages of charcoal in * Mr. Talbot represents the Institute of Current World Affairs in India and is a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Through the Heart of Hindustan," November, 1921, and "New Delhi Goes Full Time," October, 1942, both by Maynard Owen Williams; and "India Mo saic," by Peter and Frances Muir, April, 1946.