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Capital City Relocation and the Quest for Alternatives Rajiv Rawat Association of American Geographers Conference Spring 2006.

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Presentation on theme: "Capital City Relocation and the Quest for Alternatives Rajiv Rawat Association of American Geographers Conference Spring 2006."— Presentation transcript:

1 Capital City Relocation and the Quest for Alternatives Rajiv Rawat Association of American Geographers Conference Spring 2006

2 An Examination  The Function of Capital Cities:  As engines of economic growth, markers of national identity, etc.  The Relocation of Capital Cities:  Traditional reasons & recent examples  Constructed Capitals:  Modernization & notions of modernity  A sub-national case study:  A struggle of capitals in a new state of India

3 Capital Cities, Cities of Capital  Most, but not all capital cities are also a country’s largest city.  Focal point of economic development, political administration, public sphere.  De facto cosmopolitan due to its diplomatic linkages, governmental institutions, & economic opportunities that draw citizens from throughout country.

4 Imagining a Nation  As seats of state power, capitals serve to define the national identity.  Capitals can either invoke or submerge history depending on the ideological needs of the state.  Capitals represent the country to the world.

5 Capitals Apart In several key instances, countries have decided to move their capitals from primary cities, or have constructed wholly new cities. This is particularly true of federations.  US (Washington DC), Canada (Ottawa), Australia (Canberra)  China (Beijing), India (New Delhi), Pakistan (Islamabad), Turkey (Ankara)

6 Examples from the State Level  Capital city not the primary city in majority of US states (33 of 50).  Capital city as the secondary city in half of Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Québec, New Brunswick).  Vermont rotated its capital between 1777 and 1805 before settling on Montpelier.

7 Some Changes in Capital Cities Brazil, 1950s Malawi, 1980s Nigeria, 1990s

8 Reasons for Relocation  For nascent countries/federations, new, neutral locales useful in overcoming advantages and influence of preexisting power centres.  Capitals can provide an important engine in the development of hinterlands.  Can aid in rectifying demographic imbalances rooted in country’s particular geography.

9 Brave New World Cities  Both Brasília & Chandigarh emblematic of 1950s social engineering through architecture & city planning.  Both attempted to wrench their respective nations into modernity through the construction of a positivist, technological utopia.  This vision of modernity arguably still the dominant paradigm animating developing countries in the post- developmentalist era.

10 From Modernism(s) to Globalization(s)  Modernism & Modernization has been largely superseded by world city & globalization literature in looking at these issues.  Has allowed the Integration of vital socio-cultural & political perspectives in a hitherto economically dominated discourse.

11 Classical Global-Local Binaries Global  Dominant/Developed  Individuality  Hybridized Identity  Dynamic – Economic  Open – Cosmopolitan  Gendered MasculineLocal  Reactive/Backward  Community  Tribal/Authentic Identity  Static – Cultural  Closed – Parochial  Gendered Feminine – (Ley, 2004)

12 Beyond Binaries  Evident that most academic discourse biased against the Local – “Globe Talk” as master discourse (Robertson, 1992)  Even arguments that seek to afford agency to the Local stress their capacity to cope & hybridize, rather than autonomy (Jackson, 2004).  Defense of the Local often left to reactionary, conservative forces, e.g., rural-urban political divide.

13 Case Study: Uttaranchal  The hill state of Uttaranchal was carved out of Uttar Pradesh state in 2000 after a peaceful struggle by its people for local autonomy.  Dehradun appointed provisional capital for an indefinite period over the objections of many autonomy movement activists.  Ongoing movement for a permanent location of capital city.

14 Uttaranchal at a Glance Gairsain Dehradun P L A I N S H I G H L A N D S INDIA State Population: 8.5 million Dehradun Population: 500,000 Gairsain Population: 6,000 Urban to Rural Ratio: 1:3 Plains to Hills Ratio: 8:9 – (Indian Census 2001)

15 Not the Only Ones?  Binary of Dehradun vs. Gairsain potentially problematic as it excludes other cities & towns with claims to fame:  Rishikesh as a spiritual centre, Kotdwar as the gateway to Garhwal, Kalagarh as the gateway to Corbett National Park, Nainital & Mussoorie as ertswhile summer hill stations of the British Raj, etc.  However, binary useful as a starting point in focusing attention on notions of modernit(ies).

16 Why Dehradun?  Large, well connected city, yet peripherally located within new state  Amongst the most cosmopolitan mid- sized cities in India  Location of many eminent governmental & educational institutions  Reputation for salubrious climate (although currently strained by excessive pollution & unsustainable growth)

17 Political Factors  Alleviates irredentist claims of plains districts where opposition to statehood was strongest.  Close to the plains & continued control from New Delhi.  Allows for continued dominance of traditional bureaucratic & state actors (i.e., remote control of hinterland)

18 Dehradun’s Unmentionables  Dominated by an “English colonial sub- culture” that has geographically segmented the city along class lines.  City’s Cosmopolitanism is in fact composed of an ethnic hierarchy with the titular nationalities in the middle.  Interim capital status has already aggravated environmental problems in the valley, leading to a majority of residents opposing this new status.

19 Why Gairsain?  Central geographical location between Garhwal & Kumaon, the two titular nationalities of Uttarakhand.  Situated in the hills proper thus deliberately inhabiting the “lifeworld” of poorest citizens.  Seen as a solution to severe underdevelopment in the hills and geographically induced uneven development.  Seen by some as an opportunity for a fresh start in the modernist fashion.

20 Uniqueness of Gairsain  The modernist impulse for a brave new capital is lacking, particularly in an era of modesty & lowered expectations.  Symbol of an alternative vision of modernity & development based on Himalayan geography and “La Realidad” of rural poverty.  May aid in transforming governance to be accountable & close to its people.

21 Gairsain as a Social Movement  No charismatic leader with a vision, but a multiplicity of voices.  Strongly coupled with the autonomy movement.  Anti-colonial heritage: village is strongly associated with freedom fighter Chander Singh Garhwali, hence the move to rename it Chandranagar.  Gairsain movement is led by women who form the majority in the hill districts, but a shrinking minority in the plains.

22 Empowering the Local  Gairsain Movement not anti-cosmopolitan as it is supported by progressive forces in the state.  Key issue is neglect of rural poor by city bureaucracy where powerful lobbies & vested interests rule.  Gairsain ensures mobility of government from community to community. Derhadun leads to entrenchment of traditional plains-based dominant classes.  As geographic factors will always favour plains, a capital in the hills proper would only ensure some measure of equal development.

23 All Possible Futures  The success of Gairsain will rest on the ability of its proponents to articulate a clear vision in keeping with the goals of their movement.  Geographic centrality must serve as a bridge to all regions, not just isolated pocket surrounding Gairsain.  “Alternative modernity” direction would make the move worthwhile, otherwise the vision may get lost in the grand modernist delusions of the past (Linkenback, 2000).

24 Most Importantly…  While empowering the Local, a capital at Gairsain could balance development policy in the state.  It would ensure the survival of the Local by this act of physical affirmation & embodiment.  It would overcome the global-local binary by bringing the global to the local & vice-versa in keeping with the evolving political and cultural identity of the state.

25 Further Information Archived materials on the Dehradun vs. Gairsain debate available @

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