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Modi inaugurates new parliament building amid criticism

May 28, 2023

India's new parliament is the central piece of the Hindu nationalist government's plan to remodel heritage sites in the capital. Several opposition parties have boycotted the event as controversies surround the complex.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prays at the opening ceremony of the new parliament complex in New Delhi
The new triangular parliament building, built at an estimated cost of $120 million, is part of a $2.8 billion revamp of British-era offices and residencesImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday inaugurated a grand new parliament complex in New Delhi. 

"As the new building of India's Parliament is inaugurated, our hearts and minds are filled with pride, hope and promise. May this iconic building be a cradle of empowerment, igniting dreams and nurturing them into reality," Modi wrote on Twitter. "May it propel our great nation to new heights of progress." 

He held traditional Hindu prayers outside the complex in a ceremony that was also attended by top cabinet ministers. He then lit a traditional lamp inside parliament.

The government has also launched a special 75-Rupee coin to mark the opening of the $145 billion (Є135.12 million) complex.

It stands next to the old parliament building built by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in 1927, two decades before India's independence. The heritage building will now be turned into a museum.

The grand opening ceremony comes a year before the contentious national elections in 2024. Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking to pursue a third term in power.

Boycotts and protests

Over 20 opposition parties boycotted the event, saying Modi had violated protocol to inaugurate the new complex and grab the spotlight when it should have been done by President Droupadi Murmu, who is the ceremonial head of the state.

"To open a new parliament building without the opposition, it does not mean there is a democracy in the country. It's an incomplete event," Supriya Sule, an opposition leader, told news agency ANI. 

The opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi wrote on Twitter: "Parliament is the voice of the people. The Prime Minister is considering the inauguration of the Parliament House as a coronation."

Meanwhile, Indian police detained several wrestlers, including Olympic medalists, who were protesting near the complex and reportedly attempted to march into the building.

They have been protesting in various places since last month, demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Singh, the wrestling federation chief and a member of the BJP, over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation.

Sakshi Malik, in blue, an Indian wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, is detained by the police during a protest near the Indian parliament
Sakshi Malik, an Indian wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, was detained by the police during a protest near the Indian parliamentImage: Altaf Qadri/AP Photo/picture alliance

Why does India have a new parliament building?

Modi launched the construction of the new parliament amid the COVID lockdown in 2020, saying the old structure is "highly stressed" for a number of reasons including capacity, infrastructure, technology and safety.

The expense on the building, at the time, was met with apprehension amid the loss of lives and livelihood during the pandemic.

However, the prime minister said the new building "would become a witness to the creation of a self-reliant India."

The new parliament has a total of 1,272 seats in two chambers — nearly 500 more than what the old parliament could hold.

The complex, which is at least three times the size of the older parliament, features four floors and halls decorated with national symbols such as the peacock, banyan tree and lotus, as well as murals and artwork from across the country. 

 A view of India's new parliament building in New Delhi
Image: India's Press Information Bureau/REUTERS

Why is it controversial? 

Sunday's launch comes under the shadow of several controversies courted by the government.

The new parliament is part of a $2.4 billion (Є2.24 billion) Central Vista Project, under which Modi has been steadily changing the face of central Delhi. The government has portrayed this change as an effort to have India's own heritage reflected in its important buildings.

However, critics say the project only looks at Hindu heritage and is erasing other important chapters of the country's history. It is widely seen as an attempt to bolster his brand of nationalism and create a personal legacy.

Since 2014, the BJP government has remodeled several buildings, installed monuments honoring Hindu figures who had challenged the Muslim Mughal rulers and changed British road names to others of Hindu importance.

The new construction plan also drew objections from conservationists and urban planners who say it will obliterate the character of the city.

"The decision to build a new parliament building was abrupt and there has been no transparency, probity and frugality in the entire process," said A.G. Krishna Menon, an architect and conservation consultant.

Some politicians have also questioned the date of the inauguration, which conicides with the birth anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an important Hindu ideologue who was a mentor to Mahatma Gandhi's killer. 

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mk/fb (Reuters, AP, AFP)