NEW DELHI: India’s opposition parties on Wednesday said they would boycott the inauguration of a glitzy new parliament building, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of a “grave insult” to democracy by excluding the president.
Construction of the building is part of a Central Vista project aimed at revamping or replacing British colonial-era government facilities, including a new residence for the prime minister.
Work on the parliament building began in January 2021 and is estimated to have cost around Rs12 billion ($145 million), according to media reports.
Since the project was announced, it has faced criticism over a lack of transparency and high costs. It has also been hit by allegations it violated environmental and land laws.
On Wednesday, 19 opposition parties criticised the government’s decision to exclude Indian President Droupadi Murmu - the head of state - from an inauguration event set for Sunday in New Delhi.
“Prime Minister Modi’s decision to inaugurate the new parliament building by himself, completely sidelining President Murmu, is not only a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy which demands a commensurate response,” the parties said in a joint statement.
“When the soul of democracy has been sucked out from the parliament, we find no value in a new building. We announce our collective decision to boycott the inauguration,” they added.
‘It’s historical event, not time for politics’
Reacting to the boycott, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said that it is a historical occasion and not the time for politics.
The minister said that boycotting and making issues out of a new issue is most unfortunate.
“I would like to tell them that this is a historical event. This is not the time for politics...Boycotting and making issues out of a new issue is most unfortunate. I appeal to them to reconsider their decision and join this historical function...,” said Pralhad Joshi.
The nineteen opposition parties who will boycott the inauguration are: Congress, DMK, Aam Aadmi Party, Shiv Sena (UBT), Samajwadi Party, TMC, Janta Dal (United), Nationalist Congress Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), RJD, Indian Union Muslim League, National Conference, Communist Party of India, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Kerala Congress (Mani), Vidhuthalai Chirunthaigal Katchi, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Revolutionary, Socialist Party and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
The statement said that the inauguration of a new Parliament building is a momentous occasion.
“Despite our belief that the government is threatening democracy, and our disapproval of the autocratic manner in which the new Parliament was built, we were open to sinking our differences and marking this occasion. However, Prime Minister Modi’s decision to inaugurate the new Parliament building by himself, completely sidelining President Murmu, is not only a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy which demands a commensurate response,” it said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla will dedicate to the nation the new Parliament building on May 28.
Invitations have been sent in both physical and digital forms to the MPs of both Houses. President Droupadi Murmu and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar are likely to release congratulatory messages on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Parliament building on May 28, sources said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the new Parliament building on December 10, 2020. It has been built in record time with quality construction.
In the present building of the Parliament, there is a provision for the sitting of 543 Members in the Lok Sabha and 250 in the Rajya Sabha. Keeping in view the future requirements, arrangements have been made for a meeting of 888 members in the Lok Sabha and 384 members in the Rajya Sabha in the newly constructed building of the Parliament. The joint session of both Houses will be held in the Lok Sabha chamber.
The government has defended construction of the building, saying it was necessary and a matter of pride for Indians.
The current parliament, designed by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, was opened in 1927.