A fierce debate has broken out between the government and the opposition with regard to who should inaugurate the new Parliament building, the President or the Prime Minister. And the arguments and counter-arguments have thus far failed to provide a clear answer especially since the matter is endowed with heavy political overtones.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the new Parliament House on December 10, 2020, and he is slated to dedicate it to the nation on May 28. The opposition has all along criticised the Prime Minister's alleged efforts to appropriate the project politically. And just days before the unveiling of the new Parliament House, the anti-BJP parties, especially the Congress, have hit out at Modi for allegedly hijacking the moment that they feel belongs to President Droupadi Murmu.
Opposition leaders believe they have a strong argument and have cited the Constitution to back their criticism of Modi. It has been stated by them that Constitutional propriety demands that Murmu and not Modi should inaugurate the new Parliament building.
Amongst the Articles quoted is Article 79, which states that there shall be a Parliament for the Union, which shall consist of the President and two Houses, to be known respectively as the Council of States and the House of the People. It is argued that the Article makes it amply clear that the President is an integral part of Parliament, and it is then asked as to why the President was kept away from the foundation laying ceremony and now is not a part of the inauguration.
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge accused the government of reducing the office of the President to tokenism and disrespecting propriety. He asked why President Ramnath Kovind was not invited to the foundation laying ceremony of the new Parliament, and why now Murmu is not being invited to the inauguration of the building.
“Parliament is the supreme legislative body of the Republic of India, and the President of India is its highest Constitutional authority. She alone represents the government, opposition and every citizen alike. She is the first Citizen of India,” he said.
He further stressed that the inauguration of the new building by Murmu will symbolise the government's commitment to democratic values and Constitutional propriety.
What has been pointed out by the opposition leaders about the importance of the President in the scheme of things is something that the government has not refuted in the ongoing debate. Moreover, the description of the functioning of Parliament on the newly launched Sansad.in website states that the President is an integral part of the Parliament though he or she is not a member of either House of Parliament.
“...on the one hand, President is the head of the Executive and on the other; he/she is a constituent part of Parliament. This represents a real fusion of the highest executive and legislative authorities. In terms of the Constitution, as also in actual practice, the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature is one that is most intimate and ideally does not admit of any antagonism or dichotomy,” it states.
While the points made with regard to why it is for the President and not the Prime Minister to inaugurate the new Parliament building have been side-stepped by the government, it has chosen to point out past instances where it was the Prime Minister who had unveiled a facility in the Parliament premises.
Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Puri has hit back at the critics, pointing out that it was the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had inaugurated the Parliament Annexe building on October 24, 1975. In a tweet, he also reminded that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had laid the foundation stone of the Parliament Library building on August 15, 1987. While he did not mention it, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the Parliament House Annexe Extension Building on July 31, 2017.
According to sources in the government, the opposition's criticism is misplaced as has been pointed out by the above instances where the Prime Minister had inaugurated facilities in the Parliament complex. This is the best that one can come close to in terms of past precedent since the present Parliament House was inaugurated in pre-Independence India and it was originally meant to serve a different purpose.
On February 12, 1921, the foundation stone of the present Parliament building, the Council House as it was then known, was laid by the Duke of Connaught. On January 18, 1927, the opening ceremony of the Parliament House was performed by the then Governor General of India Lord Irwin.
However, Opposition leaders argue that there is no comparison between the inauguration of the new Parliament building and amenities such as the library building or the annexe building. Also, they insist that the Constitution is crystal clear on who is at the apex of the parliamentary framework.