New Delhi, India – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate a new parliament building in the capital New Delhi on Sunday, a decision that has prompted at least 19 opposition parties to announce plans to boycott the event.
In a joint statement, national and regional parties on Wednesday said India’s President Draupadi Murmu should open the new parliament and accused Modi of removing the country’s first tribal head of state.
The President of India is an indirectly elected non-partisan executive body with only ceremonial powers, but is considered the first citizen of the country and is the highest constitutional authority.
“Prime Minister Modi’s decision to single-handedly inaugurate the new Parliament building, completely sidelining President Murmu, is not only a grave insult but also a direct attack on our democracy that demands a commensurate response,” said the statement issued by the opposition parties.
“When the soul of democracy is sucked out of parliament, we find no value in a new building.” We announce our collective decision to boycott the opening,” the statement said.
Congress party spokesperson Supriya Srinath told Al Jazeera that Modi did not have the “moral right” to open parliament as “he is killing democracy every day”.
“Mr Modi is doing everything for himself. When he laid the foundation stone, former President Ram Nath Kovind was not invited. Now again for the inauguration, President Murmu was suspended,” she said.
“She [Murmu] is the custodian of the constitution, she is the first tribal woman president of the country and to not invite her to the inauguration is truly shameful and the worst insult that can be hurled at a tribal woman who has risen to the presidency,” , Srinath said, adding that “history will remember” their protest against the inauguration.
“Obsession with Self-Image”
Opposing Modi’s decision, D Raja, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India, wrote on Twitter that the Indian Prime Minister is the executive arm of the state while Parliament is the legislative body.
“Obsession with self image and cameras trumps decency and norms when it comes to Modi ji,” Raja wrote. “Ji” is a common honorific word in the Hindi language.
Shehzad Poonawala, a spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), argued that the opening of a new parliament was a “matter of common importance” and accused opposition parties of politicizing the opening.
“While the Temple of Democracy will be opened on 28 [of May], the mother of hypocrisy, Congress, is trying to create excuses to stop it. Congress leaders themselves have demanded a new building in the past, but today they term it “vanity”, he told Al Jazeera.
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), another opposition party opposed to Modi opening the new parliament, said the Lok Sabha speaker or Rajya Sabha speaker should do so.
“There are greater needs of the nation and they go beyond buildings for parliamentarians. In the last 10 years, the country has aged badly. We need resources for the poor. Buildings do not fill empty stomachs, but grains do,” Syed Asim Waqar, AIMIM spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.
#BREAKING PIL has been filed #Supreme Court seeking a direction to inaugurate the new Parliament Building by the President of India.
The petitioner says the Lok Sabha secretariat violated the constitution by not inviting the President for the inauguration. #SupremeCourt of India pic.twitter.com/JypaFovbP3
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) May 25, 2023
The new parliament building, part of a $2.8 billion renovation of British-era offices and residences in central New Delhi, opens two days after Modi’s government ended nine years in power and ahead of crucial general elections due to take place in May next year.
The Central Vista project – as the British-era renovation of the capital is officially known – includes a new $120 million parliament, the residences of the prime minister and vice president and 10 blocks of buildings to house government ministries and departments.
In December 2020, Modi laid the foundation stone for the new parliament, which is said to have an increased capacity of 888 members in the lower house, called the Lok Sabha, as opposed to the current strength of 545 and 384 in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, compared with 250 now.
Construction of the buildings in the midst of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread criticism, particularly during the brutal second wave in the summer of 2021. The WHO estimates that a total of 531,843 people have died in India since the pandemic began in January 2020 ..
Congress’s Shrinate said the project was launched and prioritized over the suffering of people and loss of lives and livelihood during the pandemic.
The Central Vista project also received criticism for being inconsistent with the government’s environmental protection policies and raised concerns about the damage the project would cause to historic buildings in New Delhi’s Raisina Hill area.
Ishwar Marandi, a professor of political science at Sido Kanhu Murmu University in Dumka town in Jharkhand state, recalled the day Murmu was sworn in as president.
Marandi, who belongs to the same Santhal tribe as Murmu, said the community feels empowered by one of its members holding the highest constitutional position in the government.
“But now we see that she is nowhere, uninvited, it shakes the community,” he told Al Jazeera.