India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, proudly inaugurated a remarkable new parliament building in a ceremony overshadowed by a boycott from at least 20 opposition parties. The striking triangular complex, strategically located in the heart of Delhi, will serve as the home for both the upper and lower houses of parliament. Adjacent to the historic circular parliament building constructed during the colonial era in 1927, the new structure will symbolize the future while the old one is transformed into a museum.
In a display of religious Hindu symbolism that drew criticism for its departure from the country’s secular values, Narendra Modi, donning traditional attire, participated in several prayer rituals during the ceremony. However, this overtly religious focus raised concerns about the building’s intended purpose as a symbol of India’s secular democracy. Despite the controversy, Modi tweeted his hopes for the iconic building to become a “cradle of empowerment” that propels the nation towards new heights of progress.
The absence of hundreds of opposition party members during the ceremony was conspicuous, with their decision to boycott announced earlier in the week. Opposition leaders argued that it should have been the president, a largely ceremonial figure, rather than Modi himself, who inaugurated the parliament building. They deemed it a violation of the constitution and parliamentary procedure, accusing Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of authoritarian tendencies and centralizing power. In an open letter, the opposition groups decried the move as a grave insult and a direct assault on democracy, stating that the soul of democracy had been drained from the parliament.
Responding to the opposition’s accusations, the BJP urged the opposition parties not to “politicize” the ceremony, emphasizing the significance of the event and the need for unity. However, the absence of opposition participation was a cause for concern raised by Supriya Sule, an MP from the Congress party, the largest opposition party. Sule questioned how the government could proceed with the inauguration without the inclusion of the opposition, highlighting the lack of democracy in the country.
The £100 million parliament project had been mired in controversy from its inception, with critics accusing the Modi government of reshaping the corridors of power to align with its nationalistic political agenda. Launched in 2020, the project aimed to create a new parliament building that would bear witness to India’s journey towards self-reliance. The swift construction, completed in less than three years, was driven by an implicit deadline: the 2024 general election, where Modi intends to secure a third term in office.
The ambitious Central Vista project, encompassing the overall development, had a price tag of over $2.4 billion. It included the construction of a new government secretariat, a new prime minister’s residence, and office. Critics raised concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the project after it was awarded to architect Bimal Patel, hailing from Modi’s home state of Gujarat, who had secured several high-profile government projects in recent years. The government and the project’s architects justified the need for a new building by asserting that the old structure, almost a century old, was no longer suitable and could not be adequately adapted.
The new parliament complex, three times larger than its predecessor, boasts the capacity to accommodate more than 1,200 MPs, a significant increase from the original parliament’s capacity. With India’s population reaching 1.4 billion people, the number of representatives might be subject to review in 2026. The architect incorporated materials and designs from various regions of India to reflect the nation’s cultural diversity and encompass different architectural styles. Notably, a sacred Sengol, a gold sceptre from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, presented to India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, during the country’s independence in 1947, was placed by Modi in the new parliament chamber, adding a historical touch.
Despite the opposition boycott and ongoing controversies surrounding the construction, India’s grand new parliament building stands as a symbol of the nation’s aspirations. As the seat of democracy, it holds the promise of empowerment and progress, yet its inauguration raises questions about the balance between religious symbolism and the secular principles on which the nation was founded. The political landscape will undoubtedly continue to be shaped by the events surrounding this monumental structure, which now stands at the heart of Indian democracy.