New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new parliament building that was under construction for over three years on Sunday in an elaborate ceremony. Modi presided over a Hindu ritualistic puja and installed the monarchical symbol of power, the ‘Sengol’, near the Speaker’s high chair in the morning, and eventually threw the gates of the new building open to the members with a 40-minute speech in the afternoon.
By the end of the ceremony, the event turned out to be the prime minister’s biggest-ever push for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s idea of a “New India” that, in Modi’s own words, will now be driven by the inventiveness of early Indian Hindu rulers, India’s current business enterprise and technology-driven advancements.
The optics of the event were clear. Marked by the conspicuous absence of constitutional, although titular, heads of the Indian state – President Droupadi Murmu and Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankar, both of whom only sent their congratulatory messages that were read by Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh – the event saw Modi leading the way in each ceremonial act, be it the installation of the Sengol or getting seated at the centre of the high table, or even getting the final say.
Modi ensured that he is not seen as a mere pallbearer of the so-called “aspirational new India” but as its chief driver.
“This is not merely a building. The new Parliament is a reflection of the aspirations and dreams of 140 crore people. It is a temple of our democracy. It showcases India’s determination and willpower to the world,” Modi said in his speech.
The prime minister chose the occasion to draw a parallel between the new Parliament building and India’s “new direction, new goals and a new vision” under his leadership, and claimed that the people’s aspirations that are reflected in the new Sansad Bhawan will help the nation become “developed” in another 25 years, “atmanirbhar (self-dependent)” and set new records in the future.
He said that he got the good fortune to restore the respect of the “holy” Sengol that symbolised the great tradition of transfer of power during early India’s Chola dynasty by placing it inside the new Parliament building, and that it will continue to inspire the members of the parliament in taking India forward.
The prime minister particularly emphasised that a new Parliament was a mirror image of a “new India” that prided itself in learning from traditional values while still emulating a modern vision.
Modi said that there was a time in early India when during the regimes of the Mauryas and Cholas, foreign travellers used to be mesmerised by Indian innovations but “hundreds of years of slavery seized that pride” from India. He invoked democratic structures of early India like Ganas and Sanghas to claim that India is the “mother of democracies”, and that democracy for Indians was not only “a system” but “a tradition, a belief”.
By clubbing the medieval and early modern era together as a stagnant periods of “hundreds of years of slavery”, Modi used the occasion to cement the ahistorical understanding perpetuated by right-wing thinkers that India went through a dark period in the medieval times during which large parts of Indian territories were governed by Islamic regimes. Professional historians have extensively researched on how complex democratic structures, administrative mechanisms, technological advancements and agriculture flourished during these times under various Delhi Sultanate and Mughal rulers.
The prime minister’s parallels, however, were more deliberate than accidental. He said that every country has historical moments where its consciousness takes a new direction, and that India’s spirit had taken a new turn after Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement in 1920. That new drive to grow out of years-long slavery, he said, eventually culminated in the Indian independence from the British in 1947. Modi said the new Parliament building marked a similar turn in India’s consciousness that will result in it becoming a “developed” nation in the next 25 years.
“I had said earlier too, from the Red Fort on the Independence Day, that “yehi samay hai, sahi samay hai (This is the time, and this is the right time).”
“Safalta ki pahli sharth safal hone ka vishwaas hi hota hai (The first condition for success is to believe that you can be successful),” Modi said.
The Parliament building in itself is fitted with latest gadgets, automated screens and futuristic architecture, and yet imbibes the Indian tradition and its diverse culture, Modi said to hammer down the point that pro-market interests and Sanathan Hindu Dharma will flourish together in the years to come under his leadership.
As he finished his speech, Modi recorded once again his claims about his government’s achievements, while emphasising that his government is committed to the poor and so is the new Parliament building.
“If I am proud of the new parliament, then I am also satisfied that I could deliver more than four crore houses to the poor. If I am proud of the new parliament today, then I am also satisfied that more than 11 crore toilets were built for women in the last nine years,” the prime minister said, adding that villages have become accessible through more than four lakh kilometres of roads that were constructed in the last nine years.
Claiming that his regime also saw construction of more than 30,000 Panchayat Bhawans, he said, “From Panchayat Bhawan to the Parliament, our allegiance, our inspiration is only one – desh ka vikaas, desh ke logon ka vikaas (the country’s development, and development of the country’s people).”
His emphasis on the poor towards the end of his speech appeared to be a divergence from the picture of a glorious Indian past painted by the prime minister earlier on. Similarly, the thirst for a “new India” powered by cultural nationalism, business and technological advancements that Modi spoke of stood in stark contrast to the other reality of India, where crores of people still need shelter and basic amenities. It may have been unintentional, but in one speech, the prime minister laid out the alarming differences between the imagined global aspirations of Indian people, and conditions in which they continue to live even today. The new parliament building equipped with the latest technology doesn’t mirror that wide gap, or devolve power to the poor and unprivileged.
The inauguration ceremony was meant to be Modi’s show. It turned out to be exactly that, and more, given the way the prime minister intended to cement his cult politics further. He failed to build consensus among the opposition parties, 21 of whom boycotted the event. Despite speaking highly about great democratic traditions of India, he bypassed the constitutional authority of the President of India, and positioned himself as a benevolent monarchical figure. In hogging all the attention, Modi appeared to have set some new undemocratic and majoritarian standards.