Opp fires salvo for 2024: Boycotts new Parl opening

By Shivaji Sarkar

The battle royale begins for the Lok Sabha elections 2024. over the new Parliament building. The combined opposition led by the Congress has decided to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building on May 28 and may even consider abandoning the new building.

The inauguration of the new Parliament building has brought virtually the entire opposition on one platform. Releasing the Joint Statement of Like-Minded Opposition Parties, Sanjay Rout, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP said, “All opposition parties have decided to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building on May 28 and we will also do the same,” said Raut. The statement has the name of the Congress and 18 other parties.

This paves the way for most non-BJP parties to come together on a common issue of not maintaining propriety and parliamentary traditions of the protocol of precedence of  the President of India. The joint opposition has said the President could not be ignored and the prime minister cannot take precedence in matters of Parliament. It is possible that the entire Opposition would meet in Delhi to decide the course of action for the elections to 2024, just a year ahead. The coming together of the Opposition would force the BJP to have new strategies and throw up new challenges to keep the rivals at bay. Indian politics is warming up for an intense year-long electoral battle and polarisation of votes.

If the boycott extends to the new building itself as some parties expressed so, it can lead to almost a direct clash between the ruling party and the opposition conglomerate. It is unprecedented in the history of Indian democracy. However it remains to be seen if it smoothens up the internal contradictions of the opposition as also how it would share the seats in each of the states. Though AAP is part of the combine it is not yet clear how it would stay together with the Congress.

At present Lok Sabha has 543 members and Rajya Sabha 250. There is no Central Hall in the new building. Joint sessions would be held in the Lok Sabha chamber. This is likely to happen from 2026 as per a 2020 announcement. This is to allow representation in tune with the rising population. It is being questioned by the opposition whether if this formula is followed then northern India would have more representation while South India would lose many seats., because of population imbalance. Since population has receded in the South, it will lose proportional representation. The North East is likely to have minimum rise. The opposition says Parliament cannot work on hypotheses. Congress is also questioning which census would be the basis for the new representation formula. The last census was in 2011. No census for 2021 could be conducted for the due to Covid19 lockdown. No arbitrary decision on such sensitive issues should be imposed.

There is a strong concern and an emerging view that the number of Lok Sabha seats should be frozen at the present level and there is little need to increase the numbers as it would be unwieldy, cumbersome and impractical. Apart from the cost of parliamentary operations a rise in number of MPs would disrupt  the functioning of the House itself and also other unforeseen problems.

The present Parliament building was completed in 1927, and is now going to be nearly 100 years old. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passed resolutions for a new building for holding Parliament. Consequently, on December 10, 2020, the foundation stone of the new building was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A large section of parliamentarians still believe that parliament should continue to function from the present, iconic Parliament House. The new building could be used for fancy conferences and other uses.

In a joint communique on Wednesday, 19 parties led by the Congress have stated that they would boycott the inauguration as against the protocol it is not being done by the President Draupadi Murmu, as is the convention.

“The inauguration of a new Parliament building is a momentous occasion. Despite our belief that the government is threatening democracy, we were open to sinking our differences and marking this occasion,” the statement read.

The joint statement also said: “Undemocratic acts are not new to the Prime Minister, who has relentlessly hollowed out the Parliament. Opposition Members of Parliament have been disqualified, suspended and muted when they raised the issues of the people of India.”

The statement adds, “MPs from the Treasury benches have disrupted Parliament. Many controversial legislations, including the three farm laws, have been passed with almost no debate, and Parliamentary Committees have been practically made defunct. The new Parliament building has been built at great expense during a once-in-a-century pandemic with no consultation with the people of India or MPs, for whom it is apparently being built. When the soul of democracy has been sucked out from the Parliament, we find no value in a new building. We announce our collective decision to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building.”

RJD Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said that there is a need for course correction with the entire Parliament Building inauguration. Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav added “We will boycott this.”

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury accused PM Modi of “bypassing” the President when the foundation stone was laid. TMC MP Derek O’Brien took to Twitter to announce the party’s decision. “Parliament is not just a new building; it is an establishment with traditions, values, precedents and rules – it is the foundation of Indian democracy. PM Modi doesn’t get that. For him, Sunday’s inauguration of the new building is all about I, ME, MYSELF. So count us out.”

TMC MP Mahua Moitra tweeted “President of India is number 1, vice president is no 2 and PM is third. This is not Modiji’s griha-pravesh that he built with his own money. Not attending May 28 party.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla will dedicate to the nation the new Parliament building on May 28. Invitations have been sent in both physical and digital forms to the MPs of both Houses.

The statement includes the names of the Indian National Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena (UBT)CPI-M, CPI, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, National Conference, Kerala Congress (mani) Revolutionary Socialist Party, Vidhuthalalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, MDMK, Indian Union Muslim League, and Rashtriya Lok Dal.

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