Ever wondered why the capital of India shifted from Calcutta to Delhi? 

To answer this, following is a summarized piece of data about these 2 cities spanning across ancient, medieval and modern phases in Indian history.

In Ancient Indian history around 300 B.C we had the city Indraprastha. Some major civilizations and educational institutions had developed around it and it was also the geographical center of the Indian land. If we relate to the cities in present times, Delhi happens to be close to geographical center of India.

In Medieval Indian history, we saw the Afghan and Mogul rulers establish their Sultanate around Delhi, thereby rendering it as a trade center and a military establishment.

Coming to the Modern Indian history, when British invaded India, initially their trading hub was Madras. This was mainly due to its topographical advantages of ports and harbors (East India Company).Gradually they moved farther from Madras to much more fertile topology of Bengal (today’s Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa). A very important factor guiding this move was the cultivation of high revenue yielding Indigo plantations.

Hence, trade moved to East which also gave rise to exploitation of land and farmers. Soon there was agitation against the employers and administration. The local government and many rulers too had issues faced on the trade routes, taxes and employment.

These rebellions became bigger and eventually led to the Battle of Plassey I and II around 1757-63. In the first battle 1757, the Nawab of Bengal Siraj-Ud-Daulah could defeat the British army. He was instrumental in having keyed the mass murder of British men, women and children, by jailing them into an underground cell with just one window. This episode is referred to as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Of the many reasons, the cruelty of this vengeance became the main driving force for the British to come and conquer Bengal and establish its fort. Colonel Robert Clive bribed the commander Mir Jafar in Siraj-Ud-Daulah’s army and defeated the Nawab. Henceforth, Calcutta became the capital of British India.

Why did the capital move to Delhi from Calcutta?

Early 1900’s, Bengal was amid all political affairs for many factors like fertile lands, cheaper labors, immense zamindari wealth and flourishing ports. As the Nationalist movements gained momentum, the British faced inconveniences in their administration. Political propaganda, communal tension made the government shift base to Delhi. Delhi seemed the apt choice as it already housed many important leaders, institutions.

Sir John Jenkins, a senior member of the government of India, initiated the process to shift the capital to Delhi to escape these nationalist forces. The Morley-Minto reforms in 1909 allowed Indians to stand in legislative council elections. This move made Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India consider shifting their base to a more centrally located capital to rule the nation. “He who rules delhi rules the land of hindostan”.

While Curzon, former Viceroy of India, progressed with the idea of dismantling the nation with the partition of Bengal (1905, later aborted), Hardinge had established links with the heads in Delhi, using the advantage of its geographical

The Company wanted to separate the political administration from the mercantile aspirations. The shift of capital agitated the British traders, who at that time were all based out of Calcutta. Delhi in all aspects provided a haven totally under the British control. It took almost 20 years for the British to plan and accomplish, under the architectural skills of Luytens and Baker.

New Delhi came into existence with a zone of grand avenues, stately buildings and whitewashed bungalows on the southern extremities of what now is known today as “Old Delhi,” the original Mughal city. Thus, formally, 13th February 1931 Delhi became the capital of India.


1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_India

2) Cover Pic: http://www.caravanmagazine.in