The chambers of our Parliament building have hosted and witnessed nearly a century of proceedings that have shaped and moulded the destiny of our great nation. Legislation and deliberation, all were given life in the beating heart of these great halls. The building itself symbolically metamorphosed from the seat of colonial power to the temple of democracy. It was here that the nation heralded the end of imperialism and announced the “tryst with destiny”.
The corridors of the building are living testimony to the freedom struggle led by the Indian National Congress and the loud revolutionary announcement made by Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades. When I walked through these corridors as a young visitor, I had goosebumps as I imagined stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Babu Rajendra Prasad and others who wrote the destiny of India in the Central Hall while framing our Constitution.
I was an ordinary Indian who had experienced the double jeopardy of colonial rule from Delhi and also the undemocratic totalitarianism of the Nizam. Also, I had lived through the discrimination institutionalised in Indian society for ages. So, for me, our Parliament held a special meaning. It promised me an India with equality and human values. Its proceedings held out a dream that would bring in reforms and change the lives of millions of Indians.
As a child, I was always politically inclined. Gulbarga, where I grew up, was a confluence of political activities because of its geographical location. Leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, S.A. Dange and others on their way to Mumbai, Bengaluru or Hyderabad would stop over, hold public meetings and change trains to proceed. I picked up my political thought and philosophy from their speeches and interactions. They gave me infallible faith in Indian democracy and its immense possibilities.
I learnt early in life that these possibilities could be shaped in the circular framework of Sansad Bhawan. In one word, the Parliament building, for me, meant ‘sanctity’.
My earliest memory of the Parliament building is from 1970. I had become a block president of the Congress and along with my friend Dharam Singh I had come to watch parliamentary debates from the visitors’ gallery. The atmosphere was electric and educative. The quality of the debates was stellar and so sharp that sitting in the gallery, we had to hold ourselves back from applauding many a time.
The majesty of the building itself was awe-inspiring. Truly, a Parliament worthy of our democracy and our Constitution, its pillars and corridors touching the skies and reminding us all what we can accomplish when we work together.
Later in 1972, when I became an MLA, our trips became frequent. We would come and park ourselves for the day in the Central Hall. It was one place where one could meet the who’s who of Indian politics. We would go from one bench to another quickly meeting every senior leader, ministers, opposition leaders and former speakers. Of course, I would always wait to see Indira Gandhi in action. It would be a jackpot for us to get to see her speak in the House.
I was always overawed by the Central Hall. It has a plaque that reminded us of the place where the Constituent Assembly debates had taken place. It was the place where Dr Ambedkar stood debating the contradictions in Indian life and emphasising upon the promise of democracy. It was the place where Pandit Nehru had stood up to place before the nation the Objectives Resolution, which later took shape in the form of the preamble and basic structure of our Constitution. It was a surreal experience to be in that place.
In 2009, when I came to the Lok Sabha as a member, I felt that it had become a little crowded. I personally felt that we could have utilised the space innovatively. I would have wanted the Lok Sabha to function from the Central Hall. The Rajya Sabha could have been housed in the existing Lok Sabha chamber and the space vacated by the Rajya Sabha could have been used for the new Central Hall. Of course, we needed some additional space for offices and other facilities which could have been built as a basement in the vicinity of the Parliament building. This would have ensured that the grand view of the original structure was preserved, while accommodating other requirements.
The grandeur and the glory one experiences while standing at Vijay Chowk cannot be compared with any other place in the world―the majestic Rashtrapati Bhawan flanked by the South Block and the North Block, and the circular Parliament building on one side. The wide roads, the rising slope of the Raisina Hill and the vast expanse of green on the Rajpath make it a lifetime experience for an onlooker. Unfortunately, it has been made out of bounds for visitors these days.
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It is indeed sad that in the urge to build a new Parliament building, the grandeur of the old has been compromised. The view of the old building is now blocked. The aesthetics and heritage of the building have been overlooked. Every country preserves the best it has, regardless of who built them. This heritage is a national treasure and a part of collective memory.
Every government or regime undertakes construction as per the need of the time. There were rulers who built the Red Fort or the Taj Mahal or the Qutb Minar. Former Karnataka chief minister Hanumanthaiah had, in a span of four years, got the iconic Vidhana Soudha building constructed on the lines of traditional Mysore architecture. The present government should have done something similar and constructed a structure that would have become a landmark of its time. Sadly, what has been made in a tearing hurry can best be described as an attempt by a builder to construct a building, using maximum FAR (floor area ratio) for profit seeking.
Today, a fanciful attempt is being made by individuals seeking to glorify themselves by rewriting history and rehashing past glory. It is nothing but a vain attempt at undermining the history and the journey of India. Most importantly, it is an attempt to undermine something which our ancestors fought and died for. All to settle petty ideological scores.
Kharge, a veteran parliamentarian, is president of the Indian National Congress.