Thursday September 21, 2023

Modi inaugurates grand new Indian parliament

May 29, 2023

NEW DELHI: Flanked by priests, Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a new Indian parliament on Sunday in a ceremony steeped in religious symbolism but boycotted by opposition parties.

The hexagonal new building -- shaped like a coffin, one opposition party said -- is the centrepiece of a remodelling of the heart of New Delhi by Modi aimed at ridding the Indian capital of the vestiges of British colonial rule.

“India is not only a democratic nation but also the mother of democracy,” Modi said. “This is not just a building... this is the temple of democracy that gives the world a message of India´s determination.”

The unveiling was preceded by a multi-faith prayer ceremony and Modi later entered the chamber accompanied by a posse of chanting Hindu seers in saffron robes before installing a ceremonial sceptre. He later re-entered the chamber to chants of “Modi Modi” by government lawmakers.

Many in Modi´s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party espouse the idea of Hindu hegemony in the Hindu-majority nation of 1.4 billion people, which is home to multiple faiths and which has a strictly secular constitution.

Sunday´s ceremony also took place on the birth anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an important Hindu ideologue who was a mentor to the assassin of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.

Nineteen opposition parties boycotted the event because Modi, and not Indian President Droupadi Murmu, was inaugurating the new chamber, calling it a “direct assault on our democracy”.

Modi “has relentlessly hollowed out” parliament, with opposition lawmakers “disqualified, suspended and muted” and laws passed “with almost no debate”, a statement by the parties said. The new legislature building stands next to the ageing and cramped colonial-era parliament building designed by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in the 1920s that it will replace.

The often fractious legislature saw a string of noisy disruptions in February as the government blocked opposition demands -- led by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi -- for a probe into links between Modi and tycoon Gautam Adani. Adani´s business empire has been hit by allegations of accounting fraud, which it denies.

Rahul Gandhi, the embattled scion of India´s most famous political dynasty, was disqualified from the lower parliament house days later after he was sentenced to two years imprisonment in an unrelated criminal defamation case over a campaign remark in 2019.

“The prime minister is considering the inauguration of Parliament House as a coronation,” Gandhi tweeted on Sunday. But Amit Malviya, who heads the BJP´s social media campaign, pointed to the 1927 inauguration of the old parliament building by the British viceroy and attended by Gandhi´s great-great-grandfather Motilal Nehru.

“The Congress, which then had no compunction genuflecting in front of the British, today, has a problem attending the inauguration, even though the person helming the ceremony is a democratically elected prime minister,” Malviya told AFP.

A group of wrestlers have held a sit-in since last month demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Singh, the wrestling federation chief who is also a BJP lawmaker, over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation that he denies. Among those detained and taken away in buses were Olympic bronze medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia.