Let us look at the history of the Red Fort, before we come to the question of the need of handing over its maintenance to the highest bidder.
When the rebel soldiers arrived in Delhi on that blistering afternoon of May 11, 1857, and gained access to the Red Fort, because the guards opened the gate to admit them. Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ the 82-year-old frail and ailing last Mughal King granted them an audience upon their insistence. The rebel soldiers requested him to lead them in battle against the Goras. Bahadur Shah Zafar, as he is more popularly known, is reported to have told the soldiers, I am an old man, I have no money and no army, how can I lead a war?
The soldiers are reported to have said in reply, we are the army and the people are with us, we need your blessings, grant us the honour of fighting under your command. It is from this moment that the Red Fort—seat of Mughal rule for 209 years from 1648—was transformed into the head-quarters of the first war of independence against foreign rule. The revolt was crushed most ruthlessly by the hirelings of the colonialists, supported by a large number of small and big feudals, who had sided with the British.
Tens of thousands were massacred, according to some estimates more than 25,000 in Delhi alone. The king was arrested; two of his sons and a grandson shot in cold blood by a mercenary called Hodson, the king wastried for treason and exiled! The union Jack was hoisted on the Red Fort.
Throughout the next 90 years, the dream of every Indian was to see the flag of independent India unfurled from the ramparts of the Red Fort. The Red Fort thus became the symbol of India’s struggle for freedom. The site from where the revolt was led had to be liberated from the hands of the colonialists.
The British too realised the symbolic importance of the Red fort and that is why Curzon wanted King Edward VII, on his aborted visit to India, to address his subjects from the Deewan-e-Aam and it is for the same reason that Colonels, Dhillon, Sehgal and Shahnawaz of the INA were brought to Delhi and imprisoned in the maximum security prison at the Red Fort and tried here, like Bahadur Shah Zafar, for treason. They were defended among others by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Barrister Asif Ali.
The centrality of the Red Fort was very much part of the consciousness of the leaders of the freedom struggle and that is why, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India chose to address the Nation from the same Ramparts where he had, a few moments earlier, unfurled the flag of the newly independent India.
So this is the site revered by millions of Indians as the center of the struggle for freedom - the Red fort of Delhi, the hub of a unified revolt against foreign rule- bartered away for Rs.5 crore per year for a period of five years. Rs.5 crores! The Red Fort had earned and given to the government of India Rs.6.15 crores in 2014 and now it is handed over to a corporate house for this pittance. And will the Fort get in exchange, public conveniences, tactile paths for the visually impaired, street furniture, teashops and yes signage with Bharat Dalmia emblazoned across it. The discussion, apparently, is about deciding the size of the hoardings.
This is corporate social responsibility for you. A company that is shelling out ₹5 crore per year must have annual average profit before tax to the tune of ₹250 crore for at least three years consecutively. This is peanuts for big corporate house, especially if you calculate the extent of free publicity and the prestige that comes with being associated in the upkeep of a world heritage site.
What the corporate group is getting in return makes eminent sense for them, but what about the government, what do they get out of the exercise?
Unless this too is part of a charade that has been running now for four years, pulling down and denigrating every symbol of the unified struggle of the people for freedom and the unity that it had built, since the founders of the present dispensation had little to do with that struggle.
[Originally published by National Herald.]
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