NEW DELHI — India’s major opposition parties on Sunday boycotted the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new Parliament building in a rare move of solidarity against his Hindu nationalist ruling party. , the party has been in power for nine years and is seeking a third term in elections next year.
Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the new Parliament in the capital New Delhi by offering prayers as Hindu priests sang religious hymns. Opposition parties that criticized the event said that Mr. Modi had removed President Droupadi Murmu, who has only ceremonial powers but is head of state and has the highest constitutional authority.
Immediately after the inauguration, Mr. Modi beamed as he entered Parliament to the warm applause of lawmakers in his party, who chanted “Modi, Modi”. colonial past, refers to the old Parliament building built by the British when they ruled India.
“India is the mother of democracy,” Modi said, as lawmakers pounded the table. “Several years of foreign rule took our pride away. Today, India has left that colonial mindset behind.”
Leader of the opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi wrote on Twitter: “Parliament is the voice of the people. The Prime Minister considers the inauguration of the National Assembly House a coronation ceremony.”
At least 19 opposition parties omitted the event, which coincides with the birthday of a Hindu nationalist thinker.
Opposition parties said in a statement on Wednesday that Modi’s decision to inaugurate the building was “a serious insult” to India’s democracy, because the government had “removed the ways, suspending and silencing” opposing legislators while passing “controversial legislation” without much debate.
“As the soul of democracy has been sucked out of parliament, we find no value in a new building,” the parties said.
India’s powerful Home Minister Amit Shah said the opposition had politicized the event. Other leaders in Mr. Modi’s party say the boycott is an affront to the prime minister.
The new triangular building – built at an estimated cost of $120 million – is part of a $2.8 billion renovation to British-era offices and homes in central New Delhi. , will also include building blocks to house government ministries and departments, and Prime Minister Modi’s headquarters. new private residence. The entire project, called “Central Vista,” spans over 3.2 kilometers (1.9 miles).
The project was announced in 2019 and Modi laid the groundwork in December 2020.
The plan has drawn fierce criticism from opposition politicians, architects and heritage experts, many of whom call it environmentally irresponsible, a threat to with cultural heritage and too expensive.
Outrage grew in 2021, when at least 12 opposition parties questioned the timing of the project, saying it was built as the country faced a dramatic increase in coronavirus cases. They see the renovation as Mr. Modi’s “vanity project” and say its construction takes precedence over the loss of lives and livelihoods during the pandemic.
A year earlier, a group of 60 former civil servants had written an open letter to Mr. Modi highlighting the architectural value of the old Parliament and saying that the new plan would destroy the cultural heritage of the area. area in an “irregular” manner.
Mr Modi’s government said the overhaul was needed as the old building “shows signs of deterioration and overuse” and the new design “combines the country’s heritage and traditions”.
The new building is opposite the old Parliament of India, a circular structure designed by British architects in the early 20th century. The new four-story building has a total of 1,272 seats in two room, nearly 500 more seats than the previous building.
The old Parliament Building will be converted into a museum.
During Sunday’s televised ceremony, Mr Modi prostrated himself before a royal golden scepter, which his Bharatiya Janata Party says symbolizes the transition of power as it was presented to the country’s first prime minister. country on the eve of India’s independence from Britain in 1947. Follow Modi inside the Parliament, where he placed the scepter near the speaker’s chair.
Critics of Mr. Modi and opposition leaders have questioned the historicity of the scepter and say the symbol is suitable for a monarchy, not a democracy.
Last year, Mr. Modi inaugurated a refurbished colonial boulevard in the heart of New Delhi, which is used for ceremonial military parades. The avenue was previously known as Rajpath, or Kingsway, but Modi’s party changed it to Kartavya Path, or Road to Duty, arguing that the old name as a “symbol of slavery” had been “permanently removed” “.
The controversy over the new legislative building comes just months after opposition leaders protested Gandhi’s removal from Parliament in a defamation lawsuit over remarks he made about Modi’s last name. .
Just a mile from the ceremony, a heavy police presence overwhelmed about 100 protesting Indian wrestlers and their supporters. They accused their union president of sexual misconduct and planned a march to the new Parliament building. Some protesters clashed with police and were forced to board buses.
Indian Wrestling Federation President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has denied the allegations, is a powerful lawmaker from Modi’s party.