For Congress, opposition to the Central Vista Project is actually a legacy battle. In their worldview, it was them who won independence. It was their great grandfather Jawahar Lal Nehru who had delivered that famous Tryst with Destiny speech on the midnight of August 14, 1947, in the Central Hall of the Parliament. Hence the building and its associated structures were their legacies. How can Modi now usurp it? It is this jealousy and heartburn that is behind Congress’ criticism of the project. Pandemic is just an excuse. The real anxiety is that India’s political legacy should remain Nehruvian and Congress-ist.
The Congress had been trying to convert public infrastructure into a personal legacy from the very beginning of independent India. Hundreds of institutions and infrastructure projects – from dams to airports to buildings to even zoological parks – built on public money were converted into private heritage by naming them after the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. It is that mindset which assumes that the new parliament building or the central vista too should belong to their legacy only.
The new Central Vista Project, when it is completed five years from now, belongs to the nation, not to any individual or party. It was envisaged first during the UPA – 2 regime. Members of the parliament, cutting across party lines, welcomed the idea when it was first moved in 2012. In view of the increased political activity centred around the parliament building and also keeping in mind various security challenges including structural stability, Speaker Meira Kumar had recommended constituting a High Powered Committee in 2012 to suggest an alternative complex to house both the Houses of the parliament. It is another matter that the proposal did not move forward during the UPA regime and was actively pursued by the Modi government after it came to power in 2014.
India’s parliament building was built as part of the new administrative capital city of Lutyen’s Delhi a hundred years ago in 1921. Imperial Legislative Council and Central Legislative Assembly held their meetings during the British rule in this building after its completion in 1927. The Constituent Assembly had held its meetings in it during 1946-49. The building has been serving as the Parliament House since 1950, housing both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
Architects Edward Luyten and Herbert Baker built the parliament building hundred years ago keeping the Colonial requirements in mind. Many European democracies, with much smaller populations, have built massive and impressive structures for their parliaments. The Reichstag in Berlin, the Ridderzaal at The Hague, the parliament building in Budapest, the Capitol in Washington DC, the Central Block in Ottava were all magnificent structures built to house the parliaments of Germany, The Netherlands, Hungary, US and Canada. Many other countries too have such massive and impressive structures for their parliaments. Indian Parliament House, although impressive in its Indo-Saracenic architecture, is grossly inadequate for India’s growing population and parliamentary needs.Keeping that in mind Prime Minister Modi set the ball rolling for the construction of the new Central Vista in 2019.
The new project covers the construction of a new parliament building, a central vista from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhavan, a new complex for the Vice President of India and a new house for the Prime Minister. Modi is keen that the first part of the five-year project – the construction of a new parliament building and the central vista – should be completed by 2022 when India celebrates seventy-five years of its independence. It will naturally be a matter of pride for every Indian to move into a new parliament building on that solemn occasion.
The new parliament building will be much bigger than the present one, keeping the evolution and future needs of India’s parliamentary democracy. India will undergo its next delimitation exercise for the parliament and the legislatures in 2026. After the delimitation, there is anticipation that the strength of both the Houses of Parliament will increase substantially. The new building will be sufficient to accommodate the new strength of the parliament whenever it comes into existence.
Objections being raised by the Opposition to the construction of this Central Vista Project are frivolous and obviously politically motivated. Construction projects have been exempted from lockdown restrictions in all the states. They are not only providing employment to workers but also preventing them from an arduous flight to home states as witnessed last year. In the case of the Central Vista Project, over 1500 workers are on the ground working in fully Covid-care conditions. In fact, many major infrastructure projects have been in progress in India and the world despite Covid. The cash-starved Maharashtra Government has issued tenders for a 900-crore redevelopment of the MLA hostel at Nariman Point in Mumbai. The Chhattisgarh government has stalled the construction work of the new Raj Bhavan, Assembly, CM House etc only after BJP President J P Nadda, in a letter to Sonia Gandhi, pointed out the duplicity of the Congress in opposing the Central Vista Project while continuing with construction in Naya Raipur.
The project cost as submitted by the government to the Green Tribunal is about Rs 13,500 crore. The government has already allocated over Rs 35,000 crore for vaccination drive in the country. Massive Covid relief measures are being undertaken on a war footing. ‘Criminal wastage’, ‘blind arrogance’, ‘PM’s ego’ – these words of Rahul Gandhi smack of only the jealousy of a fading leader. Repeated taunts by the opposition leaders about ‘Modi ka Ghar’ to betray their pettiness only. It is going to be the Prime Minister’s house, not ‘Modi ka Ghar’. In any case, the PM House is not a part of the first stage of the construction.
The five-year Central Vista Project is expected to be completed by 2024. By then the new parliament will come into existence. Going by the opposition to the project from the Opposition, it appears they are resigned to the fate that they won’t be having any chance to enjoy the project after 2024. The extended strength of the parliament will be possible only after the 2029 elections as the delimitation exercise will take place in 2026. Grumblings from the opposition about the increased parliament strength indicate that they have lost hope about 2029 too.
The new parliament building is not only the need of the hour but also the pride of the Atma Nirbhar nation.
(The article was originally published in Organiser on May 20, 2021. Views expressed are personal.)