Why are 19 Opposition parties boycotting the new Parliament building inauguration?

Nineteen Opposition parties unitedly called to boycott the new Parliament building inauguration on May 28th by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Why are 19 Opposition parties boycotting the new Parliament building inauguration?

Nineteen opposition parties, including the Indian National Congress (INC), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] and others on Wednesday, May 24th, decided to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, instead of President Draupadi Murmu.

Opposition parties released a joint statement denouncing this act, calling it an assault on democracy. “Prime Minister Modi’s decision to inaugurate the new Parliament building by himself, completely sidelining President Murmu, is not only a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy which demands a commensurate response…”, the statement said.

“When the soul of democracy has been sucked out from the Parliament, we find no value in a new building. We announce our collective decision to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building. We will continue to fight — in letter, in spirit, and in substance — against this authoritarian Prime Minister and his government, and take our message directly to the people of India”, the opposition statement further added.

The opposition signatories are the INC, the AAP, the TMC, the Left, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Janata Dal-United (JDU), Uddhav Thackeray’s faction of Shiv Sena, and Samajwadi Party among others.

The primary reason for the Opposition parties to denounce this act of Modi is that they allege the prime minister is making a political statement ahead of the 2024 general election using the inauguration of the new Parliament building as optics. They allege that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has mauled the democratic spirit of India through its authoritarian and alleged communal politics.

The prime minister is the head of the government and the head of the Parliament’s lower house – Lok Sabha; whereas the president is the head of the state, the one to call the Parliament’s sessions. The Opposition parties believe that the Modi government is bypassing the president to use the inauguration of the new Parliament building as a ceremony to market the ‘brand Modi’.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted on Tuesday, “Modi bypassed the President when the foundation stone for the new Parliament building was laid. Now too at the inauguration. Unacceptable. Constitution Art 79: “There shall be a Parliament for the Union which shall consist of the President and two Houses…”

He also tweeted, “Only when the President of India summons the Parliament can it meet. The President begins, annually, Parliamentary functioning by addressing the joint session. The first business Parliament transacts each year is the ‘Motion of Thanks’ to President’s Address.”

On Tuesday, May 23rd, TMC, AAP and CPI announced they will skip the ceremony on May 28th, where Modi will inaugurate the new Parliament building, following Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla’s invitation.

Union Minister Hardeep Singh slammed the INC in the political slugfest over the prime minister’s inaugurating the new Parliament building bypassing the president just to make a political statement before 2024.

Addressing the reporters, Puri condemned INC for lacking a “national spirit and sense of pride.” He said that former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi had inaugurated the Parliament Annexe building on October 24th 1975. He also added that former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation of the Parliament Library on August 15th 1987.

This remark was severed by AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh’s tweet “SUV—Self-Usurped Vishwaguru—has already annexe-d the Parliament for self-aggrandisement. But surely, there is a fundamental difference between inaugurating an Annexe where officials work and a library which is hardly used on the one hand, and inaugurating not just the Temple of Democracy but its गर्भगृह (sanctum sanctorum) itself.”

Some opponents also criticised the date of the event. May 28th is the birth anniversary of VD Savarkar, the Hindutva ideologue synonymous with radical views that were in stark contrast with those of Mahatma Gandhi. He pledged lifelong fealty to the British after prolonged imprisonment.

Ever since the announcement of the new Parliament building in 2020, it has found itself tangled in one after another controversy. Starting from its cost to the unconventional ferociousness of the lions on top of the new Parliament building and the undertaking of the construction process during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been several controversies around it.

Sixty-nine former bureaucrats criticised the Union’s decision of constructing a new Parliament building amid the coronavirus crisis and India’s economic decline. In an open letter to the prime minister, the former officers said, “It is a matter of great dismay that at a time when we are faced with an economy in perilous decline and a pandemic which has brought untold misery to millions, the government has chosen to invest vast sums on a project which represents nothing but the pursuit of pomp and grandeur.”

Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, during a news briefing, declined to comment on the boycott and backlash. He stated that the government has invited everyone, and now one can act according to one’s sensibility.

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