Central Vista project: ‘Palace’ on ‘ruins of liberal democracy’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sermon on democracy at Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new Parliament building prompted the Opposition to accuse him of hypocrisy and mock his Central Vista project as an attempt to build a “palace” for himself.
Apart from charging Modi with wanton disregard for democratic culture, Opposition leaders questioned the rationale behind starting the vanity project when the country was grappling with a pandemic, economic recession and social and political crises ranging from joblessness to the farmers’ agitation.
Opposition parties have all along denounced the Central Vista project — which envisages new homes for Parliament, government offices, and dignitaries like the Prime Minister and Vice-President — but Thursday’s criticism was sharper because of Modi’s eulogy to India’s democratic traditions.
Opposition leaders accused the Prime Minister of hypocrisy, saying his track record suggested he was anti-democratic and dictatorial.
“Dear Prime Minister, Parliament is not mortar & stones. It envisions democracy, it imbibes Constitution, it is economic-political-social equality, It is compassion & camaraderie,” Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala tweeted.
“It is aspirations of 130 crore Indians. What would a building built upon trampling of these values represent?”
Surjewala added: “Modi ji, history will record that when lakhs of farmers were fighting on the streets for their rights, you were building a palace for yourself in the garb of Central Vista project. In a democracy, power is not for fulfilling personal whims but a medium of public service and welfare.”
Rahul Gandhi too directed a jibe at Modi on the occasion of National Human Rights Day.
“Modi government is snatching the fundamental rights of the poor. This is a crime against humanity. We will have to honour the rights of every section of the society for a better future for India,” he tweeted.
Former finance minister P. Chidambaram tweeted: “The foundation for a new Parliament building was laid on the ruins of a liberal democracy.”
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury was blunt: “Mr Modi is giving a moral lecture on the ‘values’ & ‘culture’ of democracy while in practice destroying democracy mercilessly, assaulting all dissent & preventing our youth from even choosing their life partners: diabolic doublespeak.”
No Congress leader attended the bhoomi pujan ceremony, and sources said that other Opposition parties too stayed away. The Congress ran a social media campaign questioning the Prime Minister’s decision to go ahead with the project amid widespread opposition and national crises.
“This desperate desire to build bigger & scream louder comes from a deep-seated insecurity that one will never live up to great leaders and governments of the past that helped mould the incredible democracy being torn apart today,” the Congress said.
“What good is a fancy new Parliament building when all the tenets of a Parliamentary democracy are being destroyed by this govt. Lakhs of Indians have died, thousands are getting sick every day, our health infrastructure is collapsing under the pressure of this pandemic & the Prime Minister is spending thousands of crores to feed his ego.”
The party posted a video explaining why the country didn’t need a new Parliament building at this time.
“It is believed change is always good. But change without reason and rationale can inflict wounds that will make generations suffer,” it said.
Former Union minister Jairam Ramesh, who had likened Modi’s obsession with the Central Vista plan to authoritarian leaders’ craving to leave their own architectural legacy, on Thursday questioned the project’s aesthetics too.
“Well, the existing Parliament building built by the Brits bears a remarkable similarity to the Chausath Yogini Temple in Morena in Madhya Pradesh, while the new ‘atmanirbhar’ Parliament building bears an eerie likeness to the Pentagon in Washington DC,” Ramesh said.
Manish Tewari wondered whether the similarity with the Pentagon was deliberate.
When the decision to go ahead with the project was announced amid the coronavirus threat, Ramesh had tweeted: “It is not just insensitive but obscene to be thinking of the New Central Vista project now. It should be put on hold indefinitely. There are more pressing uses for the thousands of crores of rupees that will be spent to satisfy one man’s ego.”