Parliament’s sanctity at stake : The Tribune India

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Parliament’s sanctity at stake

There is still time for the government to relent, which democratic decency demands

Parliament’s sanctity at stake

INAUGURATION: It is a bad omen for Indian democracy not to have the Opposition attending the May 28 event. PTI

Rajesh Ramachandran

THE metaphor of the “temple of democracy” is supposed to enshrine the sanctity of how Parliament amplifies the voice of the voiceless. To further extend the metaphor, when a new temple is constructed, the old deity is supposed to be carefully and ritualistically translocated with piety. In the case of Parliament, its divinity is the quality of its discourse, its disagreements and finally their resolution, which is impossible without the Opposition. Sadly, the inauguration of the new temple of India’s democracy will miss the sacred spirit of debates and discourses, with the Opposition boycotting the event. In fact, Parliament is more about the Opposition’s concerns than the government’s business. If it does not reflect the diversity of the people’s will, what use is Parliament?

Inauguration of the Parliament building ought to have been a moment to cherish for all. But both the govt and the Oppn are spoiling it.

The Opposition parties, whenever they were in power, had never let go of such opportunities at self-promotion, no doubt. Many Assembly buildings were inaugurated by Chief Ministers or even the PM. Yet, it is not entirely unreasonable to insist that the President and not the Prime Minister should inaugurate the new Parliament building. The President is the head of the Indian State; also, Article 79 of the Constitution, says, “There shall be a Parliament for the Union which shall consist of the President and two Houses to be known respectively as the Council of States and the House of the People.” Even if the Opposition is merely being cussed and is trying to find fault with the grand inauguration, it indeed has found a very good reason to keep away from a moment of glory for the Indian republic.

The opening of the new Parliament building is the nation’s attempt to turn a post-colonial leaf, leaving behind all that reeks of the colonial past. In fact, Lutyens’ Delhi is a symbol of colonial subjugation and the so-called continuity is a mere excuse to slavishly revel in a colonial hangover. So, a new Parliament or a new capital complex is a legitimate requirement for a new nation. Our founding fathers did not have the wherewithal to splurge to build a Newer Delhi and, in fact, New Delhi was brand-new during the transfer of power. Parliament House was opened only in 1927 and the Rashtrapati Bhavan was completed in 1929. So, these structures were hardly 20 years old when India became independent.

When British perfidy had starved to death 30 lakh people, bankrupted the nation, torn it into two, causing the death of more than 10 lakh people and the displacement of over 1.5 crore refugees, nation-building did not entail vanity projects. What was left behind by the racist, alien rulers was more than enough for the frugal Gandhians to create the miracle that is modern India. The dreams of feeding starving people, getting them round around the bellies with surplus milk and malai, building dams and opening universities were all fulfilled, and along with it the South Asian map was redrawn, adding a new nation in the neighbourhood. All this was nothing short of magic, which cannot be reduced to brick and mortar. It was all done in the hand-me-down building whose original British planners would have shuddered to think what Indians would ultimately achieve while constantly cribbing and quarrelling with each other.

After almost 100 years, it is time for Indian parliamentarians to move out of the damp old structure that looks intimidatingly museum-like, reminding many of medieval and modern humiliations. There was every reason to build a new capital complex for a resurgent India. Yes, it is a vanity project. But it is the nation’s pride that would be on display. The old Lutyens’ Delhi was a symbol of British imperial arrogance that had to be relegated to the history books and a new vibrant symbol of an emerging nation had to be built instead. To that extent, the inauguration of the new Parliament building ought to have been a magnificent moment to cherish for all. But both the government and the Opposition are spoiling it. Indians believe in omens. It is a bad omen for Indian democracy not to have the Opposition attending the event.

It goes to the Prime Minister’s credit that he turns every occasion — be it the flagging off of a new train or the opening of a new road — into a grand event projecting his larger-than-life persona, gaining immense political mileage in the process. That is his genius and the Opposition cannot quarrel with it. The discovery of the story of the Chola sceptre adds to the mystique of the management of this event, even as the liberals do hairsplitting about whether Mountbatten had indeed handed this sceptre to Nehru as part of the transfer of power ritual. The photograph of Nehru holding the sceptre with priests from Tamil Nadu around him is proof enough to authenticate the historicity of this museum piece. For Nehru, who had delved into India’s antiquity to recreate its new nationhood and had brilliantly conceptualised the Ashoka lions as the national emblem, the replica of a Chola sceptre would have surely caught his imagination.

But the majesty of the Chola sceptre in the present-day democratic context would only get enhanced if President Murmu hands it over to PM Modi. Sure, the presence of non-Brahmin priests from Tamil Nadu’s ancient religious institutions would be a reaffirmation of Hinduism’s diversity; but their presence inside the Parliament building will be akin to putting a Hindu religious stamp on the event. This, of course, cannot be termed an exercise in modernity while exorcising the ghosts of colonial bondage. But more importantly, with the boycott of the Opposition, the absence of the President will leave a void that cannot be filled by any amount of gaiety. There is still time for the government to relent, which democratic decency demands. After all, the story of the new Parliament should not begin with a controversy. And it should have, ideally, been inaugurated on the Mahatma’s birth anniversary, not on the day the man accused (though later acquitted) of his murder was born.

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