New Parliament Building | A prelude to the inaugural

In diminishing the Parliament office, we diminish politics in its diversity emphasising majoritarianism. In majoritarianism, the Parliament is a mere census and number
Last Updated 26 May 2023, 05:26 IST

Sometimes a political event shrinks in size even before it is inaugurated. The opening of the Parliament building scheduled for May 28 is one such event.

The ritual of diminishing is enacted in several ways. Most of the media dismisses the boycott of opposition parties as a comic book act not even fit for political drama. Others see the Parliament house as a technical answer to a technical question. They feel the building should be evaluated in terms of space and efficiency, and not politics. Eventually, an office is after all an office.

In such a view, the semiotic power of Parliament as a thought system and an iconography of power is lost. Parliament becomes a functional architecture rather than an architectonic of ideas. In diminishing the Parliament office, we diminish politics in its diversity emphasising majoritarianism. In majoritarianism, the Parliament is not seen as a representation of diversity, but a mere census and number. Diversity becomes the biggest casualty of debate.

In fact, upon reading media reports one is reminded of the writings of India’s greatest town planner, Scottish biologist Patrick Geddes. When Geddes visited the Madurai Meenakshi temple, he was overwhelmed and ecstatic. He wrote poetically of the link between cosmology and architecture, and especially in the city as it becomes a pilgrimage of ideas. A city without cosmos and history is impoverished. Geddes argued that it is cathedrals and temples that define the value system of the city. To the list we can add Parliament.

One must read all this in the context of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi rewriting history and redoing architecture are complementary acts of erasure. The inaugural is on May 28, which is Veer Savarkar’s birthday. While wishing him happy returns, we must add that nothing Savarkar did can match the creativity of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, or Maulana Azad. The BJP uses violence to rewrite history. The Gujarat riots were seen as an overthrow of Mughal rule. Many rapists of Muslim women legitimated their act by claiming that Padmini had been redeemed at last. The BJP's attempt to merge folklore and official history is sinister. Modi sees himself as the future, rewriting both written history and architecture as memory.

Rewriting history and redoing architecture become sibling functions in the script of Modi playing the future as erasure. What the BJP is distorting is the symbolic idea of democracy. Democracy as memory and the building as mnemonic disappears.

Architecture as majoritarian logic destroys diversity. In fact, there is a mimic view of history as Modi receives and installs the Chola sceptre which the British had given Nehru during the transfer of power. The question of security takes over from memory. Parliament is no longer about public spaces and people’s memory. The ecology could be a blank sheet of erasures.

Worse, the idea of Parliament as a scene for debate, plurality, and diversity which the Congress upheld in the early years is lost. The new Parliament Office follows the ideas of majoritarianism and technocracy, linearity and efficiency are preferred over the dream of difference.

One misses Parliament as the noise of solemn assemblies. Parliament today is going to be sanitised and deodorised of any form of protest, or dreaming. I admit a toothless Opposition adds little to the halo of Parliament. The regime does not understand communication theory. It prefers a society without noise. But as communication theorist Colin Cherry claimed, noise is unwelcome music, and we need the unwelcome music of Parliament.

But the disquiet is not just at the political level, there is an intellectual silence which is profound. Imagine you are an ordinary citizen where does one go to examine the archives of the debate. Can one find out whether other possibilities were considered? Should Parliament have invited architects, historians, and urban planners to debate the building? Or do we accept a PWD mentality even for Parliament. Today we seem to accept a Parliament House without memory and public spaces. A few souvenirs cannot take over this function. Political memory is more deeply embedded.

In conclusion, one can say the Parliament House as a project loses out both as culture and democracy. Modi is only inaugurating a fait accompli. He is playing his own chorus, erasing history, and tinkering with democracy. Parliament loses its sense of iconicity as Modi could be inaugurating a hotel or studio, it makes little difference now.

The ritual which was a pilgrimage for politics has become an empty act of indifferent tourism. The iconography of the Parliament House as a sacred archive of differences has been erased. Modi has created another monument of indifference and erasure.

(Shiv Visvanathan is a sociologist, and professor, OP Jindal Global University)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 26 May 2023, 05:26 IST)

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