Parliament’s majesty rests on commitment to democracy - GulfToday

Parliament’s majesty rests on commitment to democracy

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

A view of India's new parliament building in New Delhi, India. Reuters

A view of India's new parliament building in New Delhi, India. Reuters

Amid needless display of political discord and street protests against deficiencies of the democratic system, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday inaugurated and dedicated to the nation a new Parliament building, which he said represented the aspirations of India’s 1.4 billion people.

The building was constructed as part of a plan to replace select Delhi structures of the colonial period with new ones, which symbolically connect with pre-colonial India.

About 60,000 people worked for two and a half years on the building project, which cost about Rs 8 billion.

About 20 opposition parties, led by the Congress, boycotted the inaugural ceremonies. They said the government should have invited the President, who, under the Constitution, is a part of Parliament, to inaugurate the building. Since President Droupadi Murmu is an Adivasi, they insinuated that bypassing her was an insult to the entire tribal population.

Several of these parties had also boycotted the foundation stone laying ceremony of the building in December 2020, where, too, the Prime Minister was the central figure.

What led them to disassociate themselves from these events was the fear that they would benefit Modi politically. Some regional parties foiled the big parties’ bid to turn the boycott into an all-opposition affair by attending the inaugural ceremonies.

Modi had taken up the Parliament building project without talking to leaders of other parties and trying to build a national consensus. One cannot, of course, presume that if he had done so, there would have been a ready response from the opposition.

Until now Parliament was functioning in a building designed and built by the colonial rulers in the early part of the last century.

Work on the new building began and continued without a break during the Covid-19 pandemic. It went on uninterrupted also during the prolonged agitation by farmers from different states who had converged on Delhi to protest against the government’s farm reform package. All this shows the sense of urgency with which the Modi regime handled the project. The new building is more spacious than the old one. Its Lok Sabha (lower house) chamber can seat 888 members and Rajya Sabha (upper house) chamber 300 members. The seating capacity of the two chambers in the old building was 543 and 250 respectively. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology, the new building will facilitate working without paper.

The quest for a pre-colonial symbol of power, to be installed in the new building, led the Modi establishment to re-discover the ‘chenkol’ (sceptre), made on Independence eve, modelled after one believed to have been used by ancient Chola rulers of the South. After the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, gave it to the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 to symbolise transfer of power, it was lying forgotten somewhere. In his inaugural speech Modi claimed that he had restored its glory by installing it near the Speaker’s chair in the new Lok Sabha chamber. Parliament’s majesty rests not on the antiquity or sacredness of the national symbols invoked in its name. It rests solely on the extent of its commitment to the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution, which lays down the goals of the nation. The first of the objectives spelt out in the Preamble of the Constitution is Justice, social, economic and political, in that order.

While the Prime Minister was holding up the new Parliament building as a symbol of the aspirations of the people of India, a group of women wrestlers, who had earned laurels for the country at international meets, were demonstrating in Delhi streets, not far from where he was speaking. They were seeking justice from the government. Early this year the women wrestlers had launched an agitation against Brij Bhushan, President of the Wrestling Federation of India. They alleged that he had been sexually harassing them for years. They said there had been no police action so far on their complaints against Brij Bhushan, who is a member of Parliament belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Farmers’ organisations had planned a demonstration in Delhi in support of the women wrestlers. Police prevented them from entering the city. The wrestlers and their supporters were arrested and dragged through the streets when they attempted to march to the new Parliament building.

The street scenes were a rude reminder of the gap between precept and practice. The political system must device measures to bridge the gap and improve the quality of democracy.

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