An ugly optics
The joint statement by 19 Opposition parties — along with an independent announcement by AIMIM — to boycott the inauguration ceremony of the new Parliament building has stolen the lustre from what could be termed as a historic landmark in the glorious journey of Indian democracy. In fact, the inauguration of the Central Vista in the absence of participants from most of the Opposition parties will amount to a historical notoriety that won’t be washed away from public memory for decades to come. The Central government cannot afford to trivialise the absence of Opposition parties that represent almost half of the nation. The magnificence of the infrastructural marvel of Central Vista hardly holds any relevance sans participation of people’s representatives. The lacklustre inauguration of the building representing one of the most prominent institutions in the nation will be a major blot on the image of Indian democracy, with both the Opposition and the Proposition deserving equal measure of blame. While one may argue that the Opposition has chosen a wrong occasion to make its politically relevant point, the government is equally faulty in centering the entire event around one person who, in the context of the Parliament, is just one of the hundreds of MPs. If the Opposition parties have shown readiness to compromise with the unanimity of the momentous event as a rebuke to political negligence by the ruling dispensation, the government also has done very little to make them feel more inclusive. Interestingly, the joint statement issued by the 19 Opposition parties acknowledged that “the inauguration of a new Parliament building is a momentous occasion,” and that they were open to sinking their differences despite their belief that the government is threatening democracy. But eventually, their boycott has come to be premised on “Prime Minister’s decision to inaugurate the new Parliament building by himself, completely side-lining President Murmu.” This, the Opposition asserted, “is not only a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy which demands a commensurate response.” Even a simple reasoning will affirm the validity of the reservations put forth by the Opposition parties. The Indian President is not just the nominal head and the first citizen of the nation but also an integral part of the Parliament which consists of: the President, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Prime Minister, on the other hand, heads the government and is just a member of the Lok Sabha. So, ideally, irrespective of historical precedents, it is the President who should inaugurate the new Parliament building. Furthermore, though the Opposition expressed its readiness to compromise on a range of issues, it is likely that the bitterness that has been building over the past couple of years has also set the tone for the boycott decision. In the first place, the lavish construction of the Central Vista in the midst of the deadly pandemic was itself a point of controversy. The concerns expressed by the Opposition parties back then fell on deaf ears. Secondly, the inauguration comes just weeks after one of the most prominent Opposition leaders was disqualified from the Parliament on grounds that met the legal criteria, but were alleged to be disproportionate. Thirdly, the Opposition parties have consistently raised their voice against disruptions in the Parliament by MPs on the Treasury benches. And lastly, passage of many crucial legislations through voice votes, without due debate and discussion in the Parliament, has been on the rise, leading to a feeling of neglect among Opposition parties. It is against this background that the Opposition argued that “when the soul of democracy has been sucked out from Parliament, we find no value in a new building.” It also reaffirmed that it “will continue to fight — in letter, in spirit, and in substance — against the authoritarian Prime Minister and his government.” Such statements show how deep-seated the discord between the ruling and Opposition parties in India is. However, for the time being, both the government and the Opposition should make efforts to resolve the differences and stand unanimous in acknowledging the sanctity of the new Parliament building. If they fail to do so, an ugly optics will be waiting for the entire nation.