India’s biggest conglomerate Tata has been selected to build the country’s new Parliament building, which is expected to cost $117 million and likely to be completed in 21 months, so Prime Minister Narendra Modi can celebrate India’s 75 years of independence in 2022 in style.
This new Parliament building is part of Modi’s grand $2.7 billion plan to modernise the old colonial government buildings of the capital under the Central Vista redevelopment project, which also includes a new residence for him.
Just a couple of days after Tatas winning the bid to build Modi’s another grandiose project, the Upper House of India’s Parliament approved a Bill to reduce salaries of Members of Parliament given the country’s economic difficulties due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
When India is in a desperate economic situation and suffering from an unprecedented pandemic and when its growing population needs good educational institutions, medical facilities, and public transportation, Modi chooses to indulge in absurd grandiosity while remaining completely indifferent to reality
Anywhere in the world, it would have been logical to ask when there are no resources to pay salaries to the MPs, why is the government going to build an expensive New Parliament house. But, not in India as the media and commentators are occupied for months with a case of suicide in the Bollywood.
More surprisingly, why is Prime Minister Modi who is known to avoid Parliament proceedings more than any of his predecessor so interested in building a massive new Parliament building?
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His record of attending Parliament is so bad that even an MP had filed a Public Interest Litigation asking for the Court’s direction on this matter. He was accused last year by another MP for attending only 24 hours of Parliament proceedings in one year.
Narendra Modi’s style of governance doesn’t subscribe to debates and discussion. He prefers to address big political rallies of his faithful than facing even a weak opposition inside the Parliament.
No-confidence motion against Modi
Under the Modi regime, Parliament has not functioned sometimes for more than 100 days, and even when it functions debates are not being allowed either by the ruling party or its allies. India’s Parliament was not allowed to take up a no-confidence motion against the Modi government for more than three weeks.
For the first time in the history of independent India, the Budget was passed in 2018 without any debate. The ongoing Parliament session, which took place after six months due to the pandemic is even being cut short.
The controversial passing of the two farm bills in the Upper House of the Parliament on 20 September 2020 is another example of parliamentary proceedings becoming a farce.
The current dispensation has thrown all parliamentary norms to the wind. In August 2019, while the regime unilaterally and arbitrarily changed the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, it did not allow any dissent in the Parliament.
So, Modi’s decision to build a new Parliament building at this difficult time of the country is not to facilitate parliamentary proceedings.
Worst economy in decades
India has already witnessed more than 5 million Covid-19 cases and 85,000 deaths and the pandemic is yet to reach its peak. Before the pandemic, the analysts had pointed out that India’s economy had not been so bad for 42 years.
Pandemic has thrown the struggling economy of the country off the cliff as the economy has contracted 23.9% in the first quarter of the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the worst decline among the world’s major economies for that same quarter.
With a declining economy, the job crisis has also become more serious. Between May to August 2020, 6.6 million professionals and 5 million industrial workers have lost their jobs. China has been threatening for war in Ladakh after occupying nearly 1,000 square kilometres of Indian claimed territory.
This ‘dystopia’ is not enough for the Modi to not even postpone if not cancelling the planned construction of the new Parliament and the Central Vista Redevelopment Project.
This massive reconstruction of Delhi’s historic landscape is taking place in the absence of holding any proper stakeholder discussion or eliciting public opinion. No studies have been undertaken about its impact in an area, which was going to receive World Heritage status from Unesco.
The entire Central Vista redevelopment project is expected to be completed by 2024, the year of the 100th anniversary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Large sections of India’s bureaucracy and judiciary have succumbed to Modi’s diktat, and most voices of opposition, environmentalists, and architects have been completely ignored.
If the plan goes ahead, this will be the third ‘monument’ built by Modi after the world’s tallest statue in Gujarat and a massive temple at the old site of Babri mosque.
When India is in a desperate economic situation and suffering from an unprecedented pandemic and when its growing population needs good educational institutions, medical facilities, and public transportation, Modi chooses to indulge in absurd grandiosity while remaining completely indifferent to reality.
Indian democracy does not need a modern swanky Parliament building. It needs its Prime Minister to respect the Parliamentary norms and practices and to govern the country following the principles of its constitution and adhering to the rule of law.
Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden