The Lok Sabha in the new Parliament building. (Central Vista website)
The Lok Sabha in the new Parliament building. (Central Vista website)

Let lawmaking in new parliament be more inclusive

Journalists loved the older structure for its Central Hall that gave them easy access to leaders.

There were smiles all round when the new parliament became functional on the second day of the special session as it heralded the tabling of the women’s reservation bill. The bill reserves a third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures. It is a fitting legislation making the inaugural historic, the rather needless suspense around it notwithstanding. The adjacent circular structure built by the British Raj that served as parliament since January 1950 was where multiple battles were fought for gender justice. Women stepped up to claim their right as they polled more votes than men in the 2019 general elections for the first time.

Having sown the seed, the crop was ready for harvest ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls. Built over 65,000 square metres, the new building is thrice the size of the old one, providing more legroom and scope for additional seats after delimitation, a prickly issue in the South. Part of the Central Vista project, it has been re-imagined to reflect Indian ethos as compared to the colonial architecture of the old parliament that will become a museum. The new building was constructed rapidly even during the Covid lockdowns amid allegations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s self-aggrandisement, but there was no blowback because the economy started humming.

The old parliament has a storied history – from the Constituent Assembly debates to the first PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s tryst with destiny speech, Indira Gandhi’s liberation of Bangladesh, Narasimha Rao’s liberalisation, the Pokhran-II nuclear tests during Vajpayee’s regime, the rural jobs scheme when Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh did their jugalbandi, and the goods and services tax under Modi’s watch. Some legislations were high on drama, like the Lokpal Bill, but low on delivery.

Journalists loved the older structure for its Central Hall that gave them easy access to leaders. It was also the place where lawmakers of all parties got to meet informally across their ideological divides and even worked out compromises on knotty issues. It helped make politics the art of the possible. The privilege was withdrawn from the media later. Unfortunately, no such facility exists in the new set-up. Can we please have it back? The new parliament is now part of Modi’s legacy. One hopes the transition is not just physical but also mental, where lawmaking is more inclusive than partisan. Is it asking for too much?

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The New Indian Express
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