Tryst with history: 100 yrs since Duke of Connaught laid foundation stone of Parliament House

Kunal Dutt

New Delhi

One hundred years ago, when the nation was still in the making and Independence 26 years away, Britain's Duke of Connaught laid the foundation stone of Parliament House and said it would stand "as the symbol of India's rebirth to yet higher destinies".

On Friday, a century from that February 12, 1921 day, as parliamentarians from various parties sat in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha for the budget session and work continued on a new parliament building close by, the milestone was a blip in history unnoticed by many.

The building, with a diameter of 560 ft and circumference of one-third of a mile, was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who along with Sir Edwin Lutyens was chosen to design the new imperial capital in Delhi on a site in the Raisina Hill area.

Placing the first building block of what would become the imposing circular, colonnaded structure that is the heartbeat of India's parliamentary democracy, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, had recalled the grandeur of the Acropolis in Athens.

He was an uncle of King George V, then reigning monarch of the British Empire, and laid a huge block of red sandstone bearing inscriptions in Hindi, English and Urdu in that order. It carries his name and the historic date in Roman numbers -- "XII February A.D. MCMXXI". "I need only recall the Acropolis of Athens, the Capital of Rome, and the great cities of the East famous in past ages for their splendour and culture. India herself is rich in such precious legacies. From the granite pillars on which the Apostle Emperor Asoka engraved his imperishable edicts, onwards through the chequered centuries, down to the splendid palaces of the Moghal Emperors, every age has left behind it some monument commensurate with its own achievements," the Duke of Connaught said.

Records show the grand ceremony took place with then Viceroy Lord Chelmsford - a recreational club named after him still stands a stone's throw away -- and a large number of ruling chiefs from princely states and other dignitaries in attendance.

A 1921 publication of the Superintendent Government Printing, Calcutta, on the Duke of Connaught's visit has full texts of the speeches made on the occasion.

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