The new Parliament house may be dangerously undemocratic

New Parliament building

India’s new Parliament House was launched with as much fanfare as there was controversy. For those now in their sixties and seventies who have had occasion to either travel or live in Delhi, the new Parliament building was neither necessary with the offensive waste of public funds. Nor does it have the architectural grace that the current building has. A contrast picture doing the rounds on social media showed the new Parliament resembling the Mangalore market. One was new; the other rather old and dilapidated. Design-wise, it looked like a photocopy.

The inauguration will be remembered for multiple reasons. Several notoriously display a sense a return to archaic values, a refutation of what should be contemporary secularism and modernity and equally a negation of inclusivity. Progressive minds, in particular, could not wrap their minds around why the President of India was excluded from the list of invitees to this significant occasion. She, in fact, is the formal head of the executive. Her exclusion illustrates the dangerous precedent of excluding a woman who was elevated to high office after boastfully exemplifying the decision as the final recognition of the tribal people of India.

Eyebrows were raised around the symbolism of the Sengol that Modi brought into engagement. The “Sengol” is a scepter remnant of the longest-reigning dynasties in history, the Chola dynasty of South India. Nehru as the first Prime Minister of Independent India accepted the “Sengol” as a symbol of the handover of authority from the British. It was then consigned to a museum in Allahabad. The five-foot-tall scepter created for Modi, made in silver and covered in gold has now been retrieved and will now be located in proximity to the Lok Sabha Speaker’s platform. In its traditional connotation, the Sengol is a symbol of just and equitable governance. During the Chola dynasty it used to presage the handover of authority from one monarch to another. The inauguration of the new Parliament House was not that. Modi has not been handed the Sengol. Instead he has appropriated it as an instrument of power divine. He is not even remotely from the Chola tradition. This is just a way of initiating a dimension to his persona as being connected to the ruling Chola dynasty only for its prestige. Modi is not a ruler. He is an elected representative who has forgotten that he once summoned the people to call him a ‘Pradhan Sevak’. What a political transformation! Every part of the ceremony should have had the people of India represented in it. The un-seeming sight of a decked-up Modi walking down the aisle as if it the occasion was some coronation and the space was his ruling bastion, strikes at the very roots of democratic traditions.

When Modi assumed power in 2014, people recall the image of him prostrating at the steps of Parliament House as if it were a sanctified space. Critics saw in that gesture sheer theatrics that compounded a campaign punctuated by social dissection. Then, as now, Hindutva took big leaps forward. It was appalling how Modi could make-believe that the sacred and the political were common space.  By carrying forward the Sengol in the Parliament, led by and surrounded by a group of Hindu priests from Tamil Nadu, Modi was stamping Hindutva as an irrevocable political fact. Nor is Modi a religious symbol by any stretch of imagination.

It needs no symbols in Parliament- the highest destination of people’s aspirations. Parliament must refuse to be subordinated by Modi’s artless political maneuvers. It is democracy that is in peril and it must be thwarted firmly and unitedly by the Opposition and the public at large.

There was yet another political mishap that Modi brought in. The opening of the Parliament coincided with the birthday of Veer Sarwarkar, the founder of Hindutva. Sarwarkar was the same person who abdicated his right to pursue the freedom struggle in exchange for release from prison. One’s imagination would need a colossal stretch to link Sarwarkar with ideas of democracy as we know it.  It could have waited for a day that coincided with a national figure such as Ambedkar’s birthday, the creator of India’s constitution. Hindutva’s imprint on the character of parliamentary culture has been devastating.

Modi seemed to care two hoots about what President Murmu’s rightful place at the inauguration. It corroborates the rejection of the democratic ideal. People are being alerted:  Vote Modi out in 2024 or risk having no somber parliamentary thought left over. The BJP-RSS combine will swallow up the remains and spit out democracy, abandon the constitution, and virtually appoint an Opposition only because you need the theatre of democracy. Modi and his party (Note, we are talking about ‘his’ party, because that is the rubble it has been reduced to) have asked for people to ‘vote Modi’. Karnataka snubbed that dreary plea. Eddelu Karnataka, a group of writers and activists, got the State to convert machines of hate into democratic spaces. They made the Modi/Shah appeals redundant.

Like it or not, our new Parliamentary debates will take place in the new space. What do we the people need to rejuvenate democracy so it creates dimensions that opens up spaces for Parliament to act as a deliberative discursive form wherein authentic weighing up is innermost to decision-making? As political observers have stated and asked: “We have gradually morphed into an executive democracy”. They ask: If, indeed, we want to return to parliamentarianism, what manner of constitutional changes and reforms would that require?

If one were to list the failures of democracy under the Modi command (note, I don’t use regime) because we are in an irreversible autocracy and living under forms of fascism that have made bona fide democracy all but outmoded. Perhaps, a live and very current example of this form of tyranny was visible when our female wrestlers who won India laurels in international sports fora have protested sexual violence by the notorious MP, Brij Bhushan, current president of the Wrestling Federation of India.  Ace grapplers have alleged that he had indulged in persistent sexual harassment and are demanding his arrest. Brij Bhushan declares he is innocent but won’t step down to allow an independent inquiry. The clamor for his arrest is growing but the top BJP leadership is silent. Brij Bhushan has bizarrely mobilized huge support with hard core public mobilization of the Bhakts who are sworn to defend ‘their man’. Brij Bhushan says he will hang himself if he were proven guilty. So, why isn’t there a resignation obtained? It would offer the space where Brij Bhushan is certain to be exposed. Modi would, for once, break his silence and punish a party man.

The women under oppression can hardly be expected to win unless there is a mass uprising around the country. Brij Bhushan deserved to be arrested immediately and tried under POSCO. Ten years have passed since the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, enacted in consequence to India’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, came into effect on November 14, 2012. Laws don’t mean too much when it comes to the Sangh Parivar. Law and punishment is for the enemies of the Parivar- deserved or not. Athletes camping at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar protest site – a stone’s throw from parliament – alleged that police assaulted them. The moral of the story seems to be: Challenge the corrupt and cruel powerful BJP leaders and get assaulted; even arrested.

The new Parliamentary building was where they were headed when many were beaten and taken down by a brutal women police force. The entire country is rooting for the women who brought glory and are now willing to sink their medals into the Ganga.

A new Parliament is built. It cost the people of the country Rs 970 crore just to glorify one man’s ego and desire. A new building will do nothing, on its own, to upgrade democracy. The historic Parliament House will fade into oblivion. Meanwhile the poor will get poorer, jobs will get harder to obtain, MSME’s will collapse, hunger and starvation will grow and starvation deaths will fade into mere statistics, educational standards will deteriorate under the new NEP, history will be re-written to suit fascist notions of history. The rich will feed the ruling political classes, the BJP will remain the richest political party in the world, and the RSS will be the only NGO not to require FCRI.

Whither democracy?

Ranjan Solomon is a political commentator

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