India's new parliament inauguration divided the country's political class with a number of opposition parties boycotting the event Video Credit: Gulf News

Finally, India’s new parliament was inaugurated on Sunday by Prime Minister Modi. But what should have been an occasion to celebrate India’s democracy, at the heart of which is parliament, turned into a political controversy.

With 20 opposition parties boycotting the inauguration, it is clear that the fault lines between the government and the opposition will be nearly impossible to repair.

The main issue is not whether Mr. Modi should have inaugurated the new building or the President (as the opposition had said) but that parliament itself has been steadily undermined, with the government ramming through bills thanks to its majority, leaving little or no room for proper debate and discussion.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking during the inauguration ceremony of the new parliament building in New Delhi

A string of adjournments

Parliament sittings have been getting shorter and shorter over the years. Data released in December last year shows that 8 out of 10 sessions of the 17th Lok Sabha have adjourned early.

The winter session in December 2022 has been one of the shortest sessions in the 17th Lok Sabha — the other one was the Monsoon Session in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.

Also, for the last eight consecutive sessions, Parliament was adjourned ahead of schedule, which means 36 planned sitting days have been lost due to early adjournment in this Lok Sabha. The number of sittings of Parliament has halved since the 1950s and 1960s.

Read more

Federalism under spotlight

Data also shows that fewer Bills are being referred to parliament Committees for detailed scrutiny. Bills which are not money bills have been clubbed as finance bills and passed quietly to avoid scrutiny. In the fourth year of its term, the Lok Sabha still does not have a Deputy Speaker, an issue that has also been flagged by the opposition.

As a result of all this, the opposition’s voice has been drowned out inside the House with Rahul Gandhi even expelled as a member last time. That lack of respect for anything the opposition raises is also reflected in a larger political trend — the undermining of federalism itself.

This was most recently starkly demonstrated with the central government’s controversial ordinance in Delhi which has effectively put two bureaucrats over and above the elected Chief Minister of Delhi, in complete contravention of a Supreme Court order.

More than a structure

On the same day as the inauguration of the new Parliament, the government’s planning body, the Niti Aayog, held a meeting which was chaired by the Prime Minister. Eleven Chief Ministers did not come. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister, described cooperative federalism in the country as a “joke” in a letter to the Prime Minister.

All of this is reflective of a larger breakdown in communication between the government and the opposition. This is a government that does not believe in dialogue and debate or even reaching out across the aisle. The opposition should have attended the parliament inauguration.

Parliament doesn’t belong to one political party, it belongs to the people of India. That’s a lesson for the BJP as well which turned the inauguration into a political spectacle. Ultimately what parliament needs is true democracy.

As citizens, that is what we must take pride in. Not just a fancy new building.