Flanked by priests, Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a new Indian parliament on Sunday in a ceremony steeped in religious symbolism but boycotted by opposition parties.
The hexagonal new building — shaped like a coffin, one opposition party said — is the centrepiece of a remodelling of the heart of New Delhi by Modi aimed at ridding the Indian capital of the vestiges of British colonial rule.
“India is not only a democratic nation but also the mother of democracy,” Modi said.
“This is not just a building… this is the temple of democracy that gives the world a message of India’s determination.”
The unveiling was preceded by a multi-faith prayer ceremony and Modi later entered the chamber accompanied by a posse of chanting Hindu seers in saffron robes before installing a ceremonial sceptre.
He later re-entered the chamber to chants of “Modi Modi” by government lawmakers.
– Secular constitution –
Many in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party espouse the idea of Hindu hegemony in the Hindu-majority nation of 1.4 billion people, which is home to multiple faiths and which has a strictly secular constitution.
Sunday’s ceremony also took place on the birth anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an important Hindu ideologue who was a mentor to the assassin of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.
Nineteen opposition parties boycotted the event because Modi, and not Indian President Droupadi Murmu, was inaugurating the new chamber, calling it a “direct assault on our democracy”.
Modi “has relentlessly hollowed out” parliament, with opposition lawmakers “disqualified, suspended and muted” and laws passed “with almost no debate”, a statement by the parties said.
– ‘Coronation’ –
The new legislature building stands next to the ageing and cramped colonial-era parliament building designed by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in the 1920s that it will replace.
The often fractious legislature saw a string of noisy disruptions in February as the government blocked opposition demands — led by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi — for a probe into links between Modi and tycoon Gautam Adani.
Adani’s business empire has been hit by allegations of accounting fraud, which it denies.
Rahul Gandhi, the embattled scion of India’s most famous political dynasty, was disqualified from the lower parliament house days later after he was sentenced to two years imprisonment in an unrelated criminal defamation case over a campaign remark in 2019.
“The prime minister is considering the inauguration of Parliament House as a coronation,” Gandhi tweeted on Sunday.
But Amit Malviya, who heads the BJP’s social media campaign, pointed to the 1927 inauguration of the old parliament building by the British viceroy and attended by Gandhi’s great-great-grandfather Motilal Nehru.
“The Congress, which then had no compunction genuflecting in front of the British, today, has a problem attending the inauguration, even though the person helming the ceremony is a democratically elected prime minister,” Malviya told AFP.
– Wrestlers –
Outside, police detained several wrestlers, including Olympic medallists, as well as dozens of their supporters as they attempted to march to parliament, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
A group of wrestlers have held a sit-in since last month demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Singh, the wrestling federation chief who is also a BJP lawmaker, over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation that he denies.
Among those detained and taken away in buses were Olympic bronze medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia.