100 years since Kolkata lost the crown

100 years since Kolkata lost the crown

100 years since Kolkata lost the crown

King Emperor George V Dec 12, 1911 at the Great Coronation Durbar at Delhi announced: "We have decided upon the transfer of the seat of the government of India, from Calcutta to the ancient capital of Delhi..."

Historian P.T. Nair, called the 'Chronicler of Calcutta' who has penned over 50 books on the city, said the decision was a blessing in disguise and gave the city space to grow educationally and culturally.

"Indian Nobel laureates, from Rabindranath Tagore to Amartya Sen, are from the city and they all got the recognition only after 1911, with Tagore becoming the first Asian winner of the award just two years later," said Nair.

The establishment of the country's first Indian Institute of Management in 1961 was a case in point, he said.

Calcutta, then capital of undivided Bengal, was a hotbed of the revolutionary movement and the transfer came only months after the British government had to annul its plan to partition Bengal, following intense protests led by the Indian National Congress and also Tagore.

"Bengal, especially Calcutta, had been politically very conscious. The revolutionary movement and the overall freedom movement had its seeds in Bengal. To counter this, they shifted the capital and the fact that Delhi was centrally located also helped," said Nair.

Calcutta, on the east bank of river Hooghly, became the capital under British East India Company rule in 1772. The city flourished politically and commercially. Other than the first multidisciplinary modern university in South Asia - the Calcutta University in 1857 - the city also got Asia's first college of European medicine - the Medical College Bengal in 1835.

The first printed English newspaper in the subcontinent came out of the city in 1789 when James Hicky published The Bengal Gazette.

Later, the partition of the country in 1947 dealt a blow as a large chunk referred to as East Bengal went to Pakistan. Calcutta, which became the capital of West Bengal, got a huge influx of refugees from East Pakistan which continued even after the 1971 Bangladesh war.

Successive governments struggled to cope with the population pressure as infrastructure and civic amenities deteriorated. Hawkers took over the pavements, development was unplanned. The city now has only six percent of road space.

Economist Bipul Malakar said the transfer of capital turned the city into a 'colonial relic'.
"The city and the state have suffered the most in infrastructure. Had it continued to be the capital, all the development that Delhi has seen over the years would have been here. Kolkata is nothing more than a colonial relic now," said Malakar.

The communists gained in strength and came to power in West Bengal in 1967, as the largest ally of the United Front government. The regime supported militant trade unionism.

Flight of capital from the state began, marking the decline of the once industrially strong West Bengal. During the communist led Left Front rule 1977-2011, the trade union movement grew stronger. Despite successes on the rural front during its 34-year rule, the Left Front drew flak for the city's falling medical services and politicisation of education.

On Jan 1, 2001, Calcutta tried to toss away its colonial past by changing the name and adopted its Bengali equivalent Kolkata.

Political analyst Sabyasachi Basu Roy Chowdhury said the decision to shift the capital to Delhi hindered the political development of the region.

"The British trend to marginalise leaders from Bengal continued even after independence with leaders from the north denying the centrestage to those from here."

"As the political dominance of the state diminished, a decline on several fronts, especially on the industry front began, ultimately hindering the state's overall growth," said Roy Chowdhury.

Footballer Chuni Goswami who captained India to the Asian Games Gold Medal in 1962 said the decision was a loss for Kolkata.

"Look at Delhi, it is flourishing. Had Kolkata been the capital, it too would have developed. People would have made big investments," 74-year-old Goswami told IANS.

Eminent Bengali author Sirshendu Mukherjee, however, said Delhi was more suitable to be the capital.

"Though it was certainly a loss for the city, I think Delhi was the right choice. It is not only centrally located but also a planned city which has enabled it to house the numerous offices which a capital of the country requires," he said.