The dispute surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s May 28 inauguration of India’s new Parliament building, aimed at moving away from the nation’s colonial history, has been intensifying. An increasing number of opposition parties, currently standing at 21, have announced their decision to boycott the grand occasion.
In 2020, a comparable boycott occurred during the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the new building. This action took place amidst a severe Covid-19 pandemic and a significant protest by farmers on the outskirts of Delhi. The farmers’ protest was against the high-stakes agricultural reforms being promoted by the Modi government.
The new Parliament building, designed to accommodate 888 members in the lower house chamber and 300 members in a separate chamber for the upper house, is a crucial component of the government’s Central Vista redevelopment plan. The plan aims to revitalize the historic core of New Delhi. In comparison to the existing numbers of 543 and 250 members in the lower and upper houses respectively, the new building will provide increased seating capacity.
The government has faced criticism from the opposition regarding the new Parliament building for various reasons. Some of these controversies include the decision to continue construction during the Covid-19 crisis, objections to the “ferociousness” of the lion structure atop the building, and concerns regarding the individual inaugurating the structure. After two years of extensive construction involving 60,000 workers, the new Parliament building is now complete and will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Let’s take a closer look at the significant controversies surrounding the new Parliament building during the past two years:
In 2020, there were reports of the Central government allocating a budget of Rs 20,000 crore for the Central Vista project amid the pandemic. However, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri clarified that the allocated budget was intended for a series of development projects planned until 2026. He mentioned that approximately Rs 862 crore was specifically earmarked for the new Parliament building.
Several political parties raised concerns about the necessity of such expenditure during the pandemic when resources were needed for fighting Covid-19.
The official website for the Central Vista project compared the funds allocated for Covid-19 and the Central Vista project. It stated that the one-time amount allocated for vaccination in the fiscal year 2021-22 was 175% higher than the total budget (Rs 20,000 crore) assigned to the Central Vista project, as per a report by India Today.
Green Cover Concerns
The Central Vista project, which includes the construction of the new Parliament building, the prime minister’s residence, and a central secretariat, faced criticism from environmental experts due to concerns about the impact on the existing green cover.
In response, the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) stated its commitment to minimizing tree cutting by focusing on tree transplantation. The government, through the Central Vista website, reported that 404 trees that were removed for the Parliament building have been successfully transplanted in the Eco-Park. Furthermore, they highlighted that over 80 percent of the translocated trees have survived, as per the report.
This approach aims to mitigate the negative effects on the green cover and emphasizes the efforts made to preserve the environment during the execution of the Central Vista project.
The design consultant for the Parliament building project was HCP Designs, an architecture firm based in Gujarat, led by Bimal Patel. The firm was selected for the role and was paid Rs 229.75 crore for their consultancy services.
Bimal Patel has been known as Prime Minister Modi’s preferred architect and has been involved in several projects aligned with the Prime Minister’s vision. In response to allegations of favoritism regarding the selection of the design firm, the Central Vista website stated that the bids were thoroughly examined by the Central Public Works Department. Firms were evaluated based on their detailed approach, methodology, and concept design presentation before being chosen for the project.
Lion ‘Too Ferocious’
In July 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed the national emblem that was placed on the new Parliament building. However, controversy arose regarding the expression of the lion depicted in the emblem. Several politicians expressed concerns, stating that the lions appeared “ferocious.”
In response to the controversy, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court challenging the new emblem. The petitioners argued that the lions in the new emblem had an aggressive and open-mouthed expression, unlike the serene and composed appearance of the lions depicted in the state emblem kept at the Sarnath Museum in Varanasi.
The dispute revolved around the contrasting perceptions of the lion’s expression and its alignment with the symbolism and aesthetics of the national emblem. The Supreme Court rejected the petition against the new emblem, stating that it did not violate the provisions of the State Emblem of India Act, 2005.
Latest Row Over ‘PM, Not President’
Shortly before its scheduled opening, the new Parliament building became embroiled in a new controversy as as Modi, rather than the president, was invited to inaugurate it.
This decision received criticism from opposition leaders who argued that the head of state, rather than the head of government, should conduct the inauguration.
In defense of the move, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri pointed out that former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had also inaugurated various premises within the Parliament in the past.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Friday claimed there is no documented evidence of Lord Mountbatten, C Rajagopalachari and Jawaharlal Nehru describing the ‘Sengol’ as a symbol of transfer of power by the British to India.
He also alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his drum-beaters are using the ceremonial sceptre for their political ends in Tamil Nadu.
The ‘Sengol’ will be installed close to the Chair of the Lok Sabha speaker after the new Parliament building is inaugurated by Modi on May 28, an event 20 Opposition parties, including the Congress, are boycotting.
On Thursday, the BJP had alleged that the Congress displayed disregard for Hindu traditions by calling the sacred ‘Sengol’ a “golden stick gifted” to India’s first prime minister Nehru and tucking it away in a museum.
The vesting of the “sacred ‘Sengol'” with Nehru, on the eve of India’s Independence, was the exact moment of transfer of power from the British to India, BJP leader Amit Malviya had said.