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Ringing in the new, letting the light in

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech, the centre-piece and concluding note of the inauguration of the new Parliament building on Sunday, sought to place this moment in a longer and wider national imagination. “Yeh sirf ek bhavan nahi hai… (this is not just a building)”, he said. What was being inaugurated was no mere edifice, but a site of the people’s strivings and aspirations, symbolising “nootan aur puratan ka sah-astitva (the coexistence of new and old)”. Of course, the new building was a response to the prosaic need for new technologies and extra space. More room was needed in order to accommodate a larger number of people’s representatives after the next delimitation exercise in the foreseeable future, and digital technologies and modern-day efficiencies would enhance their work as MPs. But it was about much more than just that. It was about a poetic linking of the past with the present and the future. The PM drew a long arc — from the relics and legacies of the Indus Valley civilisation, the stupas of the Maurya era and the Chola temples, to the new Parliament set in “aazadi ka Amrit kaal”. India’s Parliament bears witness, he said, to the nation’s renewal after the colonial interruption, and its new incarnation embodies a 21st century nation, having retrieved its self-confidence, turning its face to the future — “buland hausle se bhara hua Bharat ghulami ki us soch ko peeche chhod raha hai”. Built with granite from Rajasthan, woodwork from Maharashtra, and handwoven carpets from UP, the new Parliament consecrates and bears witness to a self-reliant India — “aatma nirbhar Bharat ke suryodaya ka sakshi banega”. PM Modi projected a sense of national reawakening — as when Gandhi brought a diverse people together to mount a civil disobedience movement, he said.

But as much as he talked of the past, and spoke of continuity, the PM’s emphasis was characteristically on the new — “nayi sansad (new Parliament)” symbolises new energy or “nayi oorja”, and the nation remakes itself by “naveen praan (new life)”, “naveen parv (new festivals)”. In another distinctive feature of his framing, he sought to bring “the people” to the centre — his speech was peppered with invocations of “140 crore Bharatiyon ka sankalp (the resolve of 140 crore Indians)” — while drawing a picture of a nation being watched by the world, and looking at itself through the world’s eyes. Other nations draw inspiration from India, he said, and that also vests in it a special responsibility. Because India’s democracy is a foundation for “vaishvik lok tantra (world democracy)”. The world, he said, is once again looking at India with “aadar” and “ummeed”, respect and hope. In another instance of Modi-speak — but one that struck a less uplifting note — the PM drew a link between the symbolism of the new Parliament and his government’s achievements of the last nine years. These were all measures to create a new welfare architecture for the poor, “nav nirman, gareeb kalyan” — houses for the needy, toilets that promise women greater dignity, construction of roads and water conservation bodies and panchayat bhavans. But his focus on the nine years of his term seemed to shrink his own effort to paint a larger canvas.

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The listing of his own government’s successes was not the only giveaway, however, on Sunday. It wasn’t the only pointer to the fact that could not be papered over by all of the PM’s soaring eloquence — the event in which India gave itself a new Parliament was dominated by one leader, one party, one political colour from this country’s diverse palette. From the morning havan-pooja rituals that accompanied the installation in Lok Sabha of the Sengol, the sceptre that traditionally symbolises transition of power on divinity’s watch, to the speech that brought the ceremonials to their afternoon end, the PM dominated the frame, the rest were audience or props. While at least 20 Opposition parties, including the Congress, had their own reasons for staying away — not all of them persuasive — the fact is that the onus was also and especially on the PM, his party and government to reach out and make an effort to draw them into the national occasion. The 2024 elections are not far away and therefore generosity will probably be hard to find on both sides of the political fence. But in the end, Sunday’s ceremony remained incomplete. The PM could have, on the day of many a grand gesture, made one more— say that the House awaited those who had decided not to be there that afternoon, that Parliament would be incomplete without his friends in the Opposition. It may have been hard in these bitter, fractious times, but the spirit of the new Parliament demanded it. That spirit will find fulfilment only when Parliament opens its doors to all the people’s representatives in the Monsoon session. And when MPs, across party lines, take their place in the two Houses, one with a peacock motif and the other dominated by a lotus, that have been designed, as the PM noted in his speech, to let the sunlight stream in. It was a truly spectacular unveiling on Sunday. Now the nation waits for Parliament to get to work — that will mark its real inauguration.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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