Opinion: On New Parliament, Government's Boycott Of Opposition

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team boycotted the Opposition. Yes, you read that right. From the time it was conceived, to its execution over the last few years, leading up to the inauguration ceremony - the new parliament building has been an exercise in architectonic narcissism. Or, to put it more simply, 'The I-Me-Myself Project'.

There is no doubt from the time the project was conceived a few years ago, to its opening on the last Sunday of May 2023, that it was the entire Opposition that was boycotted by the union government. At no stage - ideation, budgeting, design, implementation and even the gawdy opening - was the Opposition asked to contribute. Nor did any elected Member of parliament (beyond a handful of Modi ultra-loyalists) have even a nanoscopic clue about what was going on from blueprint to building.

I have not entered the new parliament building. Nor did I watch the television coverage of the event. I saw many pictures on Twitter and Instagram though.  One image from the day disturbed me. Here it is. 


Where is the President of the Republic of India? Where is the Vice President of India, who is also the Chairman and Presiding Officer of Rajya Sabha? How many women do you spot in this picture? How many elected MPs from Lok Sabha? How many members from Rajya Sabha? Proud parliamentary democracy or blinkered theocracy?

A few other thoughts on the subject.

1. Need for a new parliament building?

There can be two sides to the argument about whether the world's largest democracy needed a new address for its MPs. Indian parliament is a 93-year-old building. The Capitol Building in the US was built in 1800, and the Palace of Westminster in the UK was last rebuilt in 1870. The French National Assembly Palais Bourbon was renovated during the 1840s. But junk the old for a whole new building? 

2. Opposition Unity

Twenty Opposition parties, in a rock-solid display of unity, spoke the same language that day. The Opposition had three options: i) Attend the ceremony and shout slogans - that would have been deemed inappropriate. ii) Attend the opening and then be accused of supporting the sacrilege of democracy iii) Register strong protest with a concerted boycott of the proceedings, a ploy followed by freedom fighters against the autocratic British. So boycott it was.

3. Intimidating atmosphere 

Earlier, when the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha used to enter the House at 11 am, he would be greeted by MPs in different languages - from Namaskar, to Nomoshkar, to Vanakkam. All that has changed in the last few years. Now, a pleasant exchange of greetings is often drowned out by slogans from the Treasury Benches. Some MPs from the Opposition respond with a slogan coined by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's aide Abid Hasan Safrani, 'Jai Hind'. With this background, keen observers of daily parliamentary proceedings were not surprised at the flow of events and imagery on inauguration day: religious sloganeering, bare-bodied seers, in-your-face Hindu symbolism, the absence of every Opposition MP, Presiding Officers reduced to playing supporting or no roles.

4. No country for women

After seeing the photographs, what hope is there of passing the Women's Reservation Bill? The most important woman in India, a former schoolteacher from Odisha who is now the country's First Citizen, was missing. And how many women did you spot in the procession that walked down the Lok Sabha aisle? I can't help but ask how Naveen Patnaik and Jagan Mohan Reddy felt about this misogyny. After all, they had instructed all their MPs to attend the ceremony.

5. Why on Savarkar's birthday?

Here is a list of some other days that would have been appropriate. Dr BR Ambedkar's birthday, April 14. Nehru's birthday, November 14 (or would that be asking for too much). Atal Bihari Vajpayee's birthday, December 25. Or, May 13 to mark the first sitting of the first Lok Sabha. Or July 22, National Flag Adoption Day. Independence Day. Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. October 31, National Unity Day (Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's birthday). November 26, Constitution Day. But Savarkar it had to be.

P.S. There was a teleprompter in the new building. We saw it in the photographs. Was it used? Was it not used? (As an Opposition MP who was always kept in the dark, I do not have a clue).

(Derek O'Brien, MP, leads the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.