Jinnah House – A marvellous edifice etched in history

The Jinnah house

On August 28, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) gave its nod to a proposal to rename Aurangzeb Road in the heart of the national capital after former President A P J Abdul Kalam. This has sparked off a controversy. Name change or not, this stretch of road houses some of the famous buildings, one being the Jinnah House.

The Jinnah House is the house of the Ambassador of the Netherlands in India, on what used to be 10, Aurangzeb Road. Situated in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone, or simply Lutyens’ Delhi, the approximately 25 to 30 square kilometre urban landscape was planned and developed in the 1930s by the British as the heart of their new capital in India.

The house

There are many who would agree that this house is one of the most beautiful edifices in the area. This elegant building, though large —it has two stories, four bedrooms, living rooms, a dining room, lobby, library, galleries and verandahs— does not lord over an onlooker’s senses, even at close quarters. In fact, it displays an understated elegance. The spotless white colour, classic curvilinear lines and restrained exterior effects adds to its charms. The most remarkable feature is the circular lobby. A series of arches raised on simple columns run around it, holding up the first floor walkway, from which the bedrooms lead off in different directions.

The famous library

But the room with the most distinguished pedigree is, of course, the library. For it was in the privacy of this chamber that deliberations, discussions and decisions, which decisively influenced one of the most crucial phases of modern Indian history, materialised. The ceiling fan and wooden flooring date back to those days. And to understand the history, we trace the famous residents of this building.

It's famous residents

The story begins with Rai Bahadur Sardar Baisakha Singh, a government contractor who bought the three-acre plot in 1929, and the Bloomfield brothers, architect associates of Lutyens, who designed for him a grand house on it. The architects loved their own creation so much that they rented it from Baisakha Singh and lived there for some years.

By the end of the 1930s, independence from the British was no longer a distant hope but a foreseeable reality. Side by side, the idea of a separate Muslim homeland was growing and Muhammad Ali Jinnah's All-India Muslim League (AIML) was at its forefront. Though he preferred his palatial home in Mumbai, he realised that a permanent abode in Delhi was necessary. After considering several other properties, Jinnah settled on Singh’s stylish mansion, which he bought for Rs 3 lakh.

During Jinnah's stay in the house, there were several special moments. It saw many extravagant meets, often hosted not merely for social reasons, but to advance the cause of Pakistan. And there were some low-key meetings that top the list of the house’s historic landmarks. One of these was the discussion in 1939 of the idea of partition between Jinnah, Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad, India’s first president.

In 1947, Jinnah knew his time in Delhi was coming to an end and he sold the house to one of his closest friends, Ramakrishna Dalmia, a business magnate, at the same price he had bought it for. However he continued to reside in it. Perhaps the last major event held on its manicured lawns was the press conference of 13 July, 1947 where “every newspaper was represented”. The occasion was for Jinnah to announce his acceptance of the Mountbatten Plan, which spelt out the partition of British India into India and Pakistan. Just over three weeks later, Jinnah flew to Karachi to preside over the birth of Pakistan on August 14. He was never to step into this house again, or come back to India. But the name just stuck.

From Dalmia to the Dutch

Ramakrishna Dalmia was one of India’s top industrialists, and at that time, in the months following partition, many properties belonging to Muslims who had left for Pakistan were taken over by the Indian government as ‘refugee properties’. Fearing a similar fate for his recent purchase, Dalmia acted with alacrity. Barely three months after Jinnah’s departure, he rented out the house to the Dutch Ambassador for Rs 5,025 per month. Four years later he went a step further and sold it to the Government of the Netherlands for Rs 5 lakh.