Upgrades give Constitution Club brand new lease of life

Dec 12, 2022 12:27 PM IST

Set up in 1947 to provide members of the Constituent Assembly a space to socialise outside Parliament, the club fell on bad times in the 1980s due to neglect and became a derelict place. But in recent years, its footfall has more than tripled and in its restaurants and cafe, one can see not just politicians and their families but also ordinary city residents

Earlier this year, Rajendra Patil, director of the India Art Festival, decided to shift the venue of the programme from Thyagraj Sports Complex, where it was held for many years, to the Constitution Club Of India (CCI).

The Constitution Club of India on Rafi Marg, which was called Old Mill Road when the club opened during British colonial rule. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo) PREMIUM
The Constitution Club of India on Rafi Marg, which was called Old Mill Road when the club opened during British colonial rule. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

“The place is in the heart of the city, now quite swanky, serene, scenic and secure, a perfect venue for an art event like ours,” he says. “ I have decided to make CCI the permanent venue for the fair.”

Delhi residents who have not visited the CCI for a few years may be surprised by Patel’s glowing description of the place. This once-derelict club, which hosted staid events by political parties, NGOs and civil society organisations, has transformed into one of the swankiest and happening clubs in central Delhi, thanks to the renovation and continuous upgradation of its facilities and services. Today, the club boasts whole new cafes and restaurants, and plush suites and has a busy events calendar that includes art shows, book launches, concerts, corporate events and tourism fairs, among others.

For the uninitiated, the club was set up in 1947 to provide members of the Constituent Assembly a space to socialise outside Parliament. One of the oldest clubs of the city along with Gymkhana, Roshanara and Chelmsford clubs, in its early years it operated out of the barracks at Kasturba Gandhi Marg (then Curzon Road), and was quite popular with Delhi residents.

“The Constitution Club, though started for the parliamentarians, has always been quite a democratic space. In the mid-1950s, when it was at Curzon Road, I would go there for music concerts by the likes of Begun Akhtar. Unlike Gymkhana Club, which was patronized by the rich and royals, and Roshanara, which was the club of the elites of the Civil Lines, and Chelmsford Club, which was known more as a watering hole, the CCI was open to common city residents who could walk in and out at any time without membership. Those days, it held many kinds of events and was also popular with Delhi University students, ” says Satish Sundra, 85, a Sunder Nagar resident, who studied history at St. Stephen’s College in the 1950s.

In 1965, the club shifted to its current location on Rafi Marg which, during the British Raj, was Old Mill Road. “It used to be a very secluded area. Many MPs were settling in Vithalbhai Patel House flats, which was built to house MPs. The club was a typical government building that had conference halls with bad acoustics. It was mainly frequented by those who attended conferences, seminars, and theatre performances at the adjacent Malvankar Hall, which became a popular auditorium in the city those days ,” says Sydney Rebeiro, 80, former advisor and dean of alumni affairs, Delhi University, who organised several plays at the Club.

Not many know that Malvankar Hall, one of the most popular auditoriums in the city in the 1960s-70s, was managed by the Lok Sabha Secretariat before its management was transferred to CCI in 2016.

By the 1980s, the CCI fell on bad times due to neglect and became a derelict place, where political parties and civil society groups held their events mainly because of affordable rents. Very few MPs and common visitors thronged the place.

“When I stepped into it in 1980 after being elected to the Lok Sabha, the club was nothing more than a concrete dhaba with attached conference rooms. I often went for vegetarian thali there and attended a few conferences and meetings,” says Hannan Mollah, 76, a former Lok Sabha MP and a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of India.

In 1999, a Vision Committee was formed by the then Lok Sabha Speaker GMC Balayogi, under the chairmanship of PM Sayeed, the then deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha. After the recommendation of the Vision Committee, the initial renovation of the CCI was undertaken by the Central Public Works Department in 2005.

Over the past few years, the club, which is run by a governing council (the Lok Sabha Speaker is its ex-officio president), has continuously upgraded its many facilities such as a spa and salon, and swimming pool and built new ones. In 2019, the club got a whole new fine-dining restaurant called Preamble, exclusively for Members of Parliament. Earlier this year, the club got new swanky suites as transit accommodation for MPs and their guests. A few weeks ago, a new plush garden cafe opened. Besides, two new fine-dining restaurants, one of them a poolside sunken restaurant, are set to open nearly next year. The club is all set to hire a Michelin-starred German chef for its upcoming restaurants.

White and gold themes dominate the Preamble’s interiors, with statuario marble tabletops and gold table legs giving it a royal look. “Its interiors are a fusion of Victorian and contemporary design elements. This restaurant was quite a challenging project for us, after all we were tasked with creating a fine dining experience for some of the most powerful people in the country. We wanted to create a restaurant that was in sync with the spirit of Lutyens’ Delhi, where the club is located,” says Sidharth Khatri, founder of Delhi Collective, the design consultant for the Preamble.

The new exclusive restaurant for MPs offers European, pan-Asian and Indian cuisine. The club’s other restaurant, Article 21, which is open to all, has become quite popular in the city and last year got a bar licence. In 2017, the club hired well-known chefs Ashay Dhopatkar and Neha Lakhani to overhaul its menu and kitchen operations.

“We have entirely renovated the club, creating world-class facilities that a modern club should have. We wanted the club to be a space for parliamentarians, past and present, where they can unwind with their family and friends and hold their work-related meetings. Many leaders cutting across party lines have given their valuable suggestions for the upgradation of the club’s facilities over the years,” says Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national spokesperson, and secretary (administration) of the club’s governing council, who has supervised the renovation.

Today, in the club’s restaurants and cafe, one can see not just politicians and their families but also ordinary city residents. “This is the only place where a common man can bump into cabinet ministers. I have been a regular at the club for three years and have had the opportunity to chat with several VIPs, who otherwise are difficult to approach. I like the club restaurant for its quality and pricing,” says Amit Kapur, 34, a teacher who lives in Karol Bagh.

“The club’s many facilities are open to ordinary people. The idea is to make it one of the finest clubs in the country, and a venue for meaningful events that go beyond political meetings and conferences. Currently, Mavlankar Hall is under renovation. Once ready, it will be one of the finest auditoriums in the country with the latest technology. The club is entirely self-funded,” says Rudy.

Arvind Kumar, director of the club, says that footfall has more than tripled in the past few years. “Even when Parliament is not in session and not many MPs visit, our restaurants are filled with ordinary people. And our events calendar is full till March,” says Kumar.

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    Manoj Sharma is Metro Features Editor at Hindustan Times. He likes to pursue stories that otherwise fall through the cracks.

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