Marking a milestone in India’s democracy and putting his own stamp on the Government’s showpiece Central Vista redevelopment project, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the new Parliament building on Thursday and said that it will fulfil the country’s aspirations of the 21st Century while symbolising the “coexistence of the new and the old”.
“This is a historic day. This is a milestone in the country’s history. The people of the country will build the new Parliament together. The new Parliament building will exemplify the coexistence of the new and the old,” Modi said.
The Prime Minister carried out the “bhumi pujan” for the building in the presence of six priests from Sringeri Math in Karnataka at 1 pm, which was followed by an interfaith prayer meeting. The Rs 971-crore structure, covering 64,500 sq m, is expected to come up by 2022, in time for the 75th anniversary of independence.
In his address, Modi spoke about the “soul of democracy” and invoked Guru Nanak to stress that while there is space for differences and various streams of thought, they should not lead to a disconnect.
“Various streams of thought, various perspectives help strengthen democracy. We must march ahead keeping in mind that there is space for differences but there should not be any disconnect. Guru Nanak had said, jab tak sansar rahe, tab tak samvad rahe (so long as the world exists, dialogue must go on). Speaking and listening is at the heart of dialogue. Indeed, this is the soul of democracy. There can
be differences in policies and politics but there should not be any differences in the end goal of serving the people,” he said.
The comments came on a day when the Central Government reiterated that it was open for further discussions to break the deadlock with various farmers’ unions over its new Farm laws. Over the last two weeks, thousands of farmers, largely from the Jatt Sikh community from Punjab, have been camping at Delhi’s borders to demand the withdrawal of these laws.
The Prime Minister also hit a personal note while detailing the need for a new Parliament. “The (existing) building is now looking to retire. It is incumbent upon all of us to give 21st Century India a new Parliament Building. And this is a step towards achieving that,” he said.
“I will never forget the day I entered Parliament for the first time, in 2014. This is the same building where our Constitution was drafted by Babasaheb Ambedkar and our founding fathers. Every legislation drawn up in this building is our pride. But we need to accept the reality as well. This building is nearly 100 years old. There has been relentless repair work over the years to keep it up and running,” Modi said.
Thursday’s event was also attended by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh, a number of Union Ministers, including Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi and Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, MPs, heads of diplomatic missions and business leaders, including Tata Sons Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata.
Modi said the new Parliament building draws its strength from the country’s robust democracy. “During Independence, doubts were raised on the future of the nation. Forecasts were made that democracy will not be successful in India, citing illiteracy, poverty, social diversity and lack of experience. Today, we can say with pride that we have proved the naysayers wrong and the 21st Century world is witnessing Indian democracy’s progress,” Modi said.
Referring to the country’s history, which is “behind the success of the democratic project in India”, Modi spoke about the jansabhas in the 12th Century during the philosopher Basavanna’s time, which “precedes even the Magna Carta, a 13th Century document which is often considered the foundation of democracy”.
“Prior to that, some inscriptions in a village called Uthiramerur located 80-85 km from Chennai indicate the presence of a democratic system even in the 10th Century. There are inscriptions on the panchayat system during the reign of the Chola dynasty. They also had a provision under which elected representatives could be declared unqualified for contesting elections. Moreover, candidates who did not declare their assets, along with their relatives, could not contest,” he said.
Given this tradition, Modi said, it is “ironic” that there are attempts by the western world to explain democracy to India. “Usually, elsewhere, discussions on democracy mostly revolve around elections, governance. However in India, democracy forms the soul of the nation, it is a way of life, which evolved over centuries. When we will discuss our democratic history with pride, India will emerge as the mother of democracy,” he said.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that democracy, which is at the very heart of the Parliament’s existence, continues to evoke hope. We must keep in mind that every elected representative is answerable to the people and the Constitution. All our decisions should be guided by the principle of nation first and national interest,” Modi said.
On the occasion, messages from President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu were read out. Kovind said the “new building will stand alongside the present Parliament House in harmony, joining our past with the future in a seamless manner”. Naidu said that “public representatives will find a congenial space to debate public issues in a collegial manner”.
The event was green-lighted by the Supreme Court three days ago after it obtained an assurance from the Government that that no construction, demolition or translocation of trees will be carried out at the Central Vista site till the court decides the various pending petitions against the project.
Defending the project, the Centre had told the court that the existing Parliament building had many deficiencies, such as inadequacy of space, structural weaknesses and security issues.
According to CPWD, the new Lok Sabha Chamber will be able to accommodate 876 members and 1,224 members during joint sessions while the Rajya Sabha Chamber will be able to accommodate 400 members.
The building will be earthquake-resistant, and adaptable to the most modern digital technology. It will incorporate indigenous architecture from different parts of the country, and showcase cultural diversity.
Around 2,000 people will be directly involved in its construction, while another 9,000 will be there indirectly. More than 200 artists from various parts of the country will also work for the building.
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