‘Amrit Mahotsav gift’: PM Modi as Parliament gets new address
The ceremony was boycotted by 22 opposition parties who had demanded that the President, rather than the Prime Minister, should have presided over the event.
The world’s largest democracy moved to a new home on Sunday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw open the doors of a sprawling new Parliament with state-of-the-art facilities and increased seating for lawmakers, marking a historic day in independent India’s legislative history.
Multi-faith prayers, a homam or holy ritual, and the installation of a ceremonial sceptre, or Sengol, comprised the hours-long ceremony that ended in the afternoon with an address by the Prime Minister to all members of Parliament.
“There are few moments in every nation’s history that are immortalised. Some dates are like immortal signatures on the face of time and 28th of May, 2023 is one such day. The people of India have given themselves a gift for the Amrit Mahotsav,” Modi said in the newly inaugurated Lok Sabha.
The ceremony, however, was boycotted by 22 Opposition parties that had demanded the inauguration be done by the President as the ceremonial head of Parliament, rather than by the Prime Minister.
The new 64,500 sq metre, four-storey complex, built at a cost of ₹971 crore, takes over from the iconic circular building that was inaugurated in 1927 to function as the legislature of a British India, before housing independent India’s first lawmakers. But in recent years, the colonial-era structure showed signs of wear, and space was increasingly cramped, even for important legislative business.
The grandiose new building — housing a Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, a library and a Constitution Hall apart from offices — will give fresh energy and strength to the world’s largest democracy, the PM said.
“This new Parliament building connects planning to reality, policy to creation, willpower to execution, and resolution to realisation... This will be a medium for realising the dreams of the freedom fighters and will witness the sunrise of Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) and see the realisation of a Viksit Bharat (developed India),” Modi added in his 35-minute-long address.
The ceremony began around 7.30am with prayers and rituals. Dressed in a cream kurta and dhoti with a golden border, Modi received blessings from priests flown in from Tamil Nadu who performed an elaborate ceremony to bless the Sengol before it was placed in the Lok Sabha amid vedic chants.
The Sengol, the signifier of governance in Tamil kingdoms of yore, was made by Madras (now Chennai) jewellers Vummidi Bangaru Chetty. It was then displayed in a Prayagraj museum. Made of silver and gold, the sceptre stirred a controversy last week after the government argued that it was handed over to Jawaharlal Nehru on August 14, 1947 as a symbol of transfer of power, and the Opposition said there was no documented proof of its symbolism.
The building — with a seating capacity of 888 in the Lok Sabha Chamber, with an option to increase it to 1,272 during joint sessions, and 384 for the Rajya Sabha — heralds the next chapter in India’s democratic journey, though the week running up to its opening was shrouded in political controversy. The new Parliament’s first test will likely be hosting the next monsoon session, when frosty ties between the government and the Opposition might derail proceedings. The structure has been built to accommodate a planned expansion in electoral representation at the national level later this decade.
In a hall packed with lawmakers, chief ministers, senior party leaders, diplomats, judges and special invitees, the PM dubbed the building an illustration of the coexistence of the ancient and the modern. He urged lawmakers to set new standards and made a pointed reference to the impact that legislative business conducted over the next 25 years will have on the lives of the poor, the marginalised and the disadvantaged.
“Each one of us was facing difficulties in the Parliament’s old building while performing our duties. There were problems related to technology, and seating arrangements and these things were being deliberated upon for the last 2-3 decades that the country is in need of a new Parliament House,” he added.
Modi felicitated 11 workers for their contributions towards the construction of the new building. He also unveiled a special commemorative stamp and a coin to mark the inauguration.
The deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, Harivansh, read out messages from the President and the vice-president.
President Droupadi Murmu called the building a living example of India’s commitment to democracy. “The architects of our Constitution had imagined a nation that would be founded on the legislative wisdom of the democratically elected members. So, I am delighted that the PM, who is the symbol of Parliament’s trust, is inaugurating this building,” Murmu said in a message written in Hindi.
In his message, also read out by Harivansh, vice president Jagdeep Dhankhar said the new building symbolised the resolve to liberate oneself from a colonial mindset.
The Opposition criticised the event, echoing its earlier argument that President Murmu, not PM Modi, should have presided over the event. It also drew links between the grand ceremony inside Parliament and the scenes of chaos that unfolded some distance away in Jantar Mantar as the police moved to block a planned protest by some of India’s top wrestlers against sexual harassment and intimidation, allegedly by Bharatiya Janata Party lawmaker Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
“The right to inaugurate the new Parliament was snatched from the President. Women players were beaten up on the streets with dictatorial force,” Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said in Hindi. “Remember Modi ji, democracy does not run from the buildings but functions through the voice of the public,” he added.