In a show of unity, 19 opposition parties, including the Congress, Left and Trinamool Congress, on Wednesday announced their decision to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying they find no value in a new building when the soul of democracy has been sucked out.
Noting that the inauguration of the Parliament building is a momentous occasion, the opposition parties in a joint statement said, "Despite our belief that the government is threatening democracy, and our disapproval of the autocratic manner in which the new Parliament was built, we were open to sinking our differences and marking this occasion".
However, Prime Minister Modi's decision to inaugurate the new Parliament building by himself, "completely sidelining President Droupadi Murmu, is not only a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy which demands a commensurate response".
Modi will inaugurate the new Parliament building on May 28 following an invitation by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.
The opposition parties said the president is not only the Head of State in India, but also an integral part of Parliament as she summons, prorogues, and addresses it.
"In short, Parliament cannot function without the president. Yet, the prime minister has decided to inaugurate the new Parliament building without her. This undignified act insults the high office of the president, and violates the letter and spirit of the Constitution. It undermines the spirit of inclusion which saw the nation celebrate its first woman Adivasi President," the parties said.
The Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam, the Janata Dal-United, teh Aam Aadmi Party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the CPI, the Samajwdi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Shiv Sena-Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Indian Union Muslim League, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the National Conference, the Kerala Congress-Mani, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Rashtriya Lok Dal are the signatories of the joint statement.
The decision to boycott came amid a war of words on the matter between the government and the opposition, which has been demanding that the president should inaugurate the new Parliament building and not the prime minister.
In their joint statement, the opposition parties said 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 Parliament, we find no value in a new building. We announce our collective decision to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building," the parties said.
"We will continue to fight — in letter, in spirit, and in substance — against this 'authoritarian' prime minister and his government, and take our message directly to the people of India," the opposition parties said.
The opposition parties said Article 79 of the Constitution states, “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.”
Slamming the prime minister, the parties said, "Undemocratic acts are not new to the prime minister, who has relentlessly hollowed out Parliament. Opposition Members of Parliament have been disqualified, suspended and muted when they raised the issues of the people of India. 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 parties said.
The Congress said the prime minister's decision to inaugurate the new Parliament building is a "direct attack" on democracy.
"Completely sidelining President Droupadi Murmu ji on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Parliament House is not only an insult to Her Excellency but also a direct attack on democracy," the Congress said in a tweet in Hindi
"When the very spirit of democracy has been expelled from Parliament, we see no value in a new building. We announce our collective decision to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building," it said.
RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha said President Murmu should have inaugurated it as this would be in line with constitutional propriety.
"However, the prime minister made a choice. He does not listen to others," Jha said.
The opposition parties had boycotted the ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the building by Modi in December 2020, citing concerns about its timing amid farmer protests, the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic distress due to a lockdown.
The grand opening of the new building, it is learnt, will be marked by the chanting of hymns, a "havan" and a "puja". The rituals will start in the morning and the main programme is scheduled to be held in the afternoon.
Besides Modi, the Lok Sabha Speaker will be present at the opening ceremony.