Nineteen opposition parties have ganged up to boycott the inauguration of the new parliament. This is just the latest of the many controversies surrounding the building. We look at what this new citadel of Indian democracy looks like–and why so many people are unhappy with it.
Tell me about the new parliament…
The new parliament is just one part of the sweeping Central Vista project—which will remake an iconic stretch of land that extends from the Rashtrapati Bhavan at one end to India Gate on the other. It features some of India’s most iconic landmarks such as India Gate, Parliament House and Rashtrapati Bhavan. The project is estimated to cost Rs 200 billion and is due to be completed by 2024. The parliament is the flagship project of this colossal makeover. Here’s what it looks like:
- The four-storeyed building—located right next door to its predecessor—was built at an estimated cost of Rs 9.7 billion (970 crore).
- It is shaped like a triangle—in contrast to the circular shape of the old parliament. And it is larger by about 17,000 sq metres.
- The main spaces inside are the Lok Sabha hall, Rajya Sabha hall and the central lounge built around an open courtyard.
- Interlinking the three is the Constitutional Hall–which displays the original copy of the Constitution.
- The parliament is built to accommodate far more members—888 in the Lok Sabha and 300 in the Rajya Sabha—a jump up from the 543 (LS) and 250 (RS) seats in the old building.
- Compared to the old parliament, the interiors of the new version are more lavish—with“abstracted peacock feathers for panels, lotus motifs for roofs, floral inlay patterns on floors and intricate wooden jalis abound.”
- Also this: “Sanatan parampara and vaastu shastra have been the guiding principles behind the nearly 5,000 pieces of art” in the building.
- And given the government’s affection for all things digital, the new parliament is rigged with biometrics for voting, multilingual translation systems, and programmable microphones.
- Sadly, we have failed to decode the other gibberish in media reports such as this: “It has been reported that the interiors of the halls will be fitted with virtual sound simulations to set the right levels of reverberation and limit echoes.” Hain?
Stuff to see: We personally think the new building resembles a giant strawberry & vanilla cake—but maybe the actual building won’t be quite so pink:
And this is the Rajya Sabha—which looks blingy in general:
Interesting trivia to note: The old parliament’s architect Herbert Baker originally proposed a triangular design—which looks uncannily like the new parliament building:
The most impressive bit: is the ‘sengol’—a golden sceptre that was specially made to mark India’s independence. The five-foot-long, intricately carved sceptre was made by Tamil Nadu jewellers—and sanctified by priests. It was handed to Pandit Nehru to mark the transfer of power from the British to Indians:
[T]he handing over of a sceptre to denote the transfer of power has been in practice for nearly 2,000 years since the Sangam Age and finds mention in texts such as the Purananooru, Kurunthogai, Perumpaanatrupadai, and Kalithogai. A puranic story also mentions the deity Madurai Meenakshi Amman giving the sceptre to the Nayaka kings. It was freedom fighter Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) who suggested to Nehru the ceremonial gesture, a tradition found to have been documented even in the Chola-era as a symbol of the transfer of power to a new king.
The ‘sengol’ will be installed in a “prominent place” in the new building. It looks like this:
And here’s a photo of Nehru holding it on August 14, 1947:
Sounds awesome! Why is any of this controversial?
Well, there have been many controversies. Let’s run through them quickly:
The pandemic effect: The government chose to push through on the Central Vista project at the height of Covid misery—which raised questions about its priorities:
As some have pointed out, the amount the government is spending on the Central Vista project would have been enough to build thousands of oxygen generation plants. The cost of 162 oxygen generation plants being built by the central government is Rs 201 crore. In contrast, the budget for the new Parliament building itself is nearly five times more at Rs 971 crore.
Unnecessary & unwanted: Why build a new parliament at all? The government claims the current building is old and structurally unsound. But there is no real data to back up this claim. Critics argue that it is foolish to abandon a heritage building—which has been witness to many historic moments, including the drafting of the Indian Constitution:
Creating a behemoth at a huge cost would be against the principles of adaptive reuse, which is the norm for conservation of heritage buildings and parliaments the world over. Canada, Australia, Finland, Germany and several other progressive nations have repurposed their heritage parliament buildings.
An exercise in hubris: The entire Central Vista project has been slammed as a vanity project—aimed at stamping Modi’s presence at the symbolic heart of Indian democracy:
At one level this entire Central Vista Project is nothing more than Modi trying to repeat what Mayawati did in Lucknow some two decades ago. If as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh she could plonk statues and structures in the middle of Lucknow city and seek political mileage from them, Modi feels it is within his bandwidth to create his own sites of a partisan kind all over the country.
The inauguration: The decision to have the PM inaugurate the building—as opposed to the president—is seen as yet more evidence of the above. The opposition’s argument is that President Droupadi Murmu is the head of parliament as per the constitution—and therefore the right person to do the honours. But the BJP has instead cast the parliament as a symbol of Modi power, as Trinamool leader Derek O’Brien declared:
Parliament is not just a new building; it is an establishment with old traditions, values, precedents and rules - it is the foundation of Indian democracy. PM Modi doesn’t get that. For him, Sunday’s inauguration of the new building is all about I, ME, MYSELF. So count us out.
As a result, nineteen opposition parties have boycotted today’s ceremony.
The bottomline: The opposition boycott doesn’t matter. In the end, they can hardly boycott the parliament itself—even if it’s the building that the BJP built.
The Hindu has the most details on the new parliament. For the most scathing criticism, check out The Guardian and Harish Khare in The Wire. Also in The Hindu: a good primer on ‘sengol’— the golden sceptre. The Wire also has more on the kerfuffle over the “angry looking” Ashoka lions installed atop the building. Our Big Story on the Central Vista project has everything you need to know about the great makeover—and the core criticisms of it.