Lynn Meskell (Pennsylvania)
In June 2015, a nomination dossier entitled “Delhi’s Imperial Capital Cities,” combining the two imperial capitals of Shahjahanabad and New Delhi, was proposed for the UNESCO World Heritage List. I trace the trajectory of the dossier and events surrounding its withdrawal to reveal the political imbrications of urban conservation, international institutions, neoliberal governance, and colonial histories. I situate Delhi’s heritage within the ambit of neoliberal governance that recalibrates and promotes urban heritage preservation, while similarly encouraging development and economic growth. I consider how sustained government efforts to reframe Delhi as a “global city,” coupled with the identification of Delhi’s imperial capitals with Mughal and British rule, resulted in the dossier’s withdrawal. The episode reveals tensions in this specific political moment over contemporary perceptions of imperial occupation and “foreign” empires, which plagued the dossier from the outset and continue to reverberate in India today.