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Planning Delhi


Saraswathi Raju


By Stephen Legg
Blackwell Publishing, USA, 2007, pp. 247, price not stated.

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 12 December 2008

This book is unique in that it looks at Delhi as a site of play of power, cooption and contestation between authoritarian governance of colonial power—its utopian imagery at odds with the material practice by the native Indians. What makes the book particularly exciting is the empirical case studies that have been used to explicate the theoretical arguments. Theory no longer remains abstract—in combining theory with practice, the author has been able to challenge some of the constructs about the colonial spaces and their articulation.   In doing so, the author interrogates three different paths. The first one is through the highly regulated and hierarchical residential spaces of New Delhi which are also highly policed and cordoned off from the rest to the spaces of Old Delhi. The author calls the latter ‘spaces of surveillance and improvement’. He argues that in order to understand the dialectic and interdependent movement between the two ‘cities’, a second, historio-graphical journey has to be negotiated. In undertaking this journey, the author draws from the architectural and town planning literature to engage in some of the constructs of postcolonial theories regarding urbanism. However, according to the author, theoretical orientation alone helped him decode Delhi’s colonial spaces until he incorporated knowledge and power and their transference in the practice and existential materiality. In articulating his propositions, the author makes copious use of Michel Foucault’s work on ‘governmentalisation of the state’. However, in order to completely understand Foucault’s discourse on the relationship between modern biopower and the forms of power that predated it, the author had to tread a third path through Foucault’s intellectual biography to selectively identify a ‘toolkit’ which would help him piece together Delhi’s spaces of colonialism.   In a nutshell then the book is about Foucault’s theorization of power as explicated through the historical imprints of the colonial power in Delhi’s urban landscape. Delhi consists of two cities—the old and the new. New Delhi, as one of the spectacle of imperial modernity, was commissioned in 1911 to be a city ordained by the rationality, orderliness and polity of the enlightened British pitched against the organically evolved and traditionally anchored older city of Shahjahanabad. Even as these two cities appeared to be two different projects as arch opposites, in the author’s conceptualization the ‘political rationalities of practice’ (p. 2) under the colonial governance was such that the ...


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