Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday inaugurated a revamped ceremonial boulevard connecting the President’s House to the India Gate memorial in New Delhi.
The three-kilometre stretch in the heart of the capital was renamed Kartavya Path, meaning “the path of duty”, earlier this week.
The revamp is part of Mr Modi’s ambitious $2.8 billion Central Vista Redevelopment Project that includes the construction of a new parliament building and alterations to dozens of other British colonial-era government buildings to match the aspirations of 21st-century India.
Mr Modi’s government has said that the revamp of the more than century-old landmark area was a step to erase the relics of the country’s colonial past.
The prime minister also unveiled an almost 9-metre statue of Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose carved from a granite block, which was placed under the canopy that previously contained the statue of King George V near India Gate — a First World War memorial dedicated to British Indian soldiers.
“The country has got a new inspiration and energy. Today, we are leaving behind the past and adding colours to future images,” Mr Modi said.
The India Gate was illuminated in the colours of the Indian flag while the entire stretch was decorated with thousands of multicoloured lights.
Several ministers, actors such as Kangana Ranaut, and veterans from Mr Bose’s Indian National Army that fought for India’s independence, also attended the inauguration ceremony.
The Kartavya Path has lawns with granite walkways, green spaces, vending kiosks, canals on both sides fitted with aerators, underpasses, drinking water and toilet facilities. More than 900 new light poles and 400 benches have been installed.
The boulevard was designed as a grand processional route to the Viceroy’s House, now the presidential residence, during the British Raj.
It was built by architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in 1921 after the British moved their capital from Calcutta to Delhi a decade earlier.
After attaining independence in 1947, India has used the avenue for the annual Republic Day military parade on January 26.
With lush green lawns and fountains, the stretch was one of the most popular public spaces in the capital, always buzzing with children and families, youngsters and tourists and ice cream and snack vendors.
“Rajpath was a symbol of slavery which has been wiped out forever, it is a matter of the past now. Today, Kartavya Path has created a new history,” Mr Modi said.
He also highlighted his government’s focus on redeveloping the country’s cultural infrastructure, which he is said is pivotal to developing a modern India.
Opposition parties, historians, architects and former bureaucrats have criticised the multibillion-dollar project, saying the refurbishment is an attempt to erase institutional memories and historical buildings.
Many have called the revamp a vanity project and accused Mr Modi of trying to create a name for himself by renaming and refashioning the country's existing landmarks.
The project was unsuccessfully subjected to court appeals by citizens over claims that Mr Modi’s government had violated environment and land rules.
It also came in for heavy criticism after it was exempted from the pandemic lockdown imposed in March 2020 that brought the country to a grinding halt for months and left tens of millions of people struggling earn a living.
Mr Modi justified the revamp as a necessity because of the age and deterioration of the current buildings and to rid the country of its colonial past.
The prime minister unveiled the national emblem — four lions standing back-to-back on a circular slab — on the roof of the new parliament building in July.
The building is scheduled to open in winter this year.