Narendra Modi carries the Sengol, bows as respect and speaks during the inauguration ceremony of the new parliament building in New Delhi on Sunday. AFP
India’s major opposition parties on Sunday boycotted the inauguration of a new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a rare show of unity against his Hindu nationalist ruling party, which has ruled for nine years and is seeking a third term in next year's elections.
Modi inaugurated the new Parliament in the capital of New Delhi by offering prayers as Hindu priests chanted religious hymns.
Opposition parties criticised the event saying Modi had sidelined President Droupadi Murmu, who has only ceremonial powers but is the head of state and highest constitutional authority.
Shortly after the inauguration, a visibly beaming Modi entered Parliament amid a rousing applause by his party lawmakers who chanted "Modi, Modi." He delivered an almost 40-minute speech in which he hailed India's parliamentary democracy and said the country had left behind its colonial past, referring to the old Parliament building that was built by the British when they ruled India.
"India is the mother of democracy," Modi said, as lawmakers thumped their desks. "Several years of foreign rule stole our pride from us. Today, India has left behind that colonial mindset."
The opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: "Parliament is the voice of the people. The Prime Minister is considering the inauguration of the Parliament House as a coronation."
At least 19 opposition parties skipped the event, which coincided with the birth anniversary of a Hindu nationalist ideologue.
Opposition parties said in a statement that Modi's decision to inaugurate the building was "a grave insult” to India’s democracy, because the government had "disqualified, suspended and muted” opposition lawmakers while passing "controversial legislation” with little debate.
"When the soul of democracy has been sucked out from the parliament, we find no value in a new building,” the parties said.
India’s powerful Home Minister Amit Shah said the opposition had politicised the event. Other leaders from Modi’s party said the boycott was an insult to the prime minister.
Narendra Modi bows as a mark of respect during the inauguration ceremony of the new parliament building. AFP
Early in the morning, Modi held traditional prayers outside the complex in a ceremony that was also attended by top cabinet ministers. He then lit a traditional lamp inside parliament.
The event was boycotted by 20 opposition parties who said Modi had violated protocol to inaugurate the new complex and grab the spotlight when it should have been done by the president, the highest executive of the country.
Narendra Modi carries a sengol as Speaker of the Lok Sabha Om Birla looks on. Reuters
"To open a new parliament building without the opposition, it does not mean there is a democracy in the country. It's an incomplete event," Supriya Sule, an opposition leader, told news agency ANI.
The Modi government has rejected the opposition argument, saying no protocol has been violated and that the prime minister respects the constitutional head of the country.
The new parliament complex is the centrepiece of a $2.4 billion project aimed at eclipsing the significance of colonial-era buildings in the capital's centre, paving the way for modern buildings with a distinct Indian identity.
"Our new Parliament is truly a beacon of our democracy. It reflects the nation's rich heritage and the vibrant aspirations for the future," Modi said on Twitter late on Saturday.
Narendra Modi holds a sengol during the inauguration of new Parliament building in New Delhi. Reuters
The new triangular-shaped building — built at an estimated cost of $120 million — is part of a $2.8 billion revamp of British-era offices and residences in central New Delhi that will also include blocks of buildings to house government ministries and departments, and Modi’s new private residence. The entire project, called the "Central Vista,” is spread over 3.2 kilometres.
The project was announced in 2019, and Modi laid the foundation in December 2020.
The plan has drawn intense criticism from opposition politicians, architects and heritage experts, many of whom called it environmentally irresponsible, a threat to cultural heritage and too expensive.
Outrage grew in 2021, when at least 12 opposition parties questioned the project’s timing, saying it was built as the country faced a devastating surge in coronavirus cases. They branded the revamp as Modi’s "vanity project” and said its construction was prioritized over the loss of lives and livelihoods during the pandemic.
A year earlier, a group of 60 former civil servants wrote an open letter to Modi to highlight the architectural value of the old Parliament and said the new plan would "irrevocably” destroy the area’s cultural heritage.
Modi’s government has said the overhaul was necessary because the older building was "showing signs of distress and overutilisation” and that the new design "combines the country’s heritage and traditions.”
The new building sits just across from India’s old Parliament, a circular structure designed by British architects in the early 20th century. The new four-story building has a total of 1,272 seats in two chambers, almost 500 more than the previous one. The old Parliament will be converted into a museum.
Associated Press / Reuters
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