Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened a special session of Parliament on Monday with an emotive speech, for the one last time from the existing Parliament house, in which he paid rich tributes to the country’s democratic traditions and recalled contributions of all former prime ministers – Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh – and said the colonial-era premises will remain a “source of inspiration” and “place of pilgrimage” for all times to come.
Future proceedings of Parliament will commence from a modern building complex, next to the old one, which Modi had inaugurated in May this year. It is the centrepiece of grand project to remake key British colonial-era buildings with a distinct Indian character in the heart of the national capital.
“We have undertaken a journey of 75 years, and as we bid goodbye to this Parliament house, we must remember that though this house was built by the colonial government, it was built by our sweat and toil, by our countrymen and with our money,” Modi said.
In a surprise announcement on September 1, the Modi-led government had called a special session from September 18 to September 22, which would have five sittings, offering no specific reason.
The prime minister said whether it was the Non-Aligned Movement or the G20, the country and the House has acted unanimously. “G20’s success is not the success of one man or one party but this entire country.”
India had proved the world wrong by becoming a successful democracy, Modi said. Earlier, customarily briefing the media ahead of the session’s opening, the prime minister had said that the special session was “going to be short but historic”.
“From president Kalam to Kovind to Murmu, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh, whoever has been part of this Parliament, they have toiled to take the nation forward.”
Modi said leaving the current building was an emotional moment from him. “Just like a family is filled with memories when they leave an old house to step into a new, our hearts are filled with emotions.”
Therefore, when I became an MP for the first time, I bowed my head on its doorsteps as I entered this temple of democracy for the first time,” the PM said, adding: “It is the faith in this house of the people which enabled a small tea-seller to come to this august house.”
Construction of a new parliament building began on Dec 10, 2020, when Modi laid the foundation stone and called the building an inherent part of a “self-reliant India”. The old parliament will be converted into a museum, the government had said at the time.
Aside from being equipped with modern technology, the new parliament building has a total of 1,272 seats in its two chambers, nearly 500 more than the old one and at least four times as much space, according to the government.
In a speech spanning an hour and 20 minutes, Modi struck a conciliatory note in an address that reached to out to all political ideologies and formations. He recalled various political epochs in a journey spanning 75 years, a multitude of political movements and their leaders, contributions of all prime ministers, speakers of the House and MPs.
Modi said over 75 years, Parliament had become progressively more inclusive, with representatives from all communities and sections, including Dalits, backwards and women. He recalled historic legislation passed over the course of 75 years, including reducing the voting age to 18, formation of new states with unanimous approval and scrapping of Article 370 that had exempted Jammu and Kashmir from the complete applicability of the Constitution of India.
He said in all, Parliament has had 7,500 members and 600 women lawmakers.
“Women MPs have raised our stature and filled our hearts with pride”. Recounting some notable lawmakers, Modi said the late Inderjit Gupta of the CPI(M) had been a member of Parliament for 43 years, while the late S. Rahman continued to serve as an MP till the age of 93 years, while Chandramani Murmu had the record of being the youngest MP at 25.
In a rare acknowledgement, Modi spoke at length about the country’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Cabinet, as well as other Congress prime ministers.
“Who wouldn’t clap at the mention of Pandit Nehru’s contribution. Pandit Nehru’s ‘stroke of the midnight hour’ (speech) will always remain an inspiration. As Atal-ji said, governments will come and go, but the country has to remain forever,” Modi said.
Referring to Nehru’s first Cabinet and its law minister BR Ambedkar, Modi said Ambedkar sought to imbibe the “best practices of the world” and came out with a historic Factory Act.
The prime minister also recalled Nehru Cabinet’s water policy as a landmark. In 2019, Modi launched the Jal Jeevan mission to connect every rural household with a functional tap water.
Paying tributes to Ambedkar, who led the drafting of the Constitution, Modi Ambedkar saw modern industrialization as important to the cause of social justice. “There have been many industrial polices and there will be more, but the soul of it is the same as the first one.”
Modi mentioned all important landmarks of India’s modern history, its high points and some lows. He said Lal Bahadur Shastri, the country’s second prime minister, sowed the seeds of Green revolution “from this very house”, while Indira Gandhi played important role in the liberation of Bangladesh.
Modi recalled the Emergency years, when democracy had been “wounded”. “However, it is faith in this very house that people ensured a return to democracy soon”. Modi also praised the “courage” of Narasimha Rao government and Manmohan Singh for showing a “new path for the economy”.
The prime minister said Atal Bihari Vajpayee laid the foundation of all-round development with the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and created a tribal affairs ministry, conducted nuclear tests.
“It is also a testament to our democratic traditions, that in this very house, Atal-ji’s government fell (after falling short of) by one vote. In the years of Manmohan Singh government, this house also saw cash for votes”, Modi said referring to a scam in which cash was displayed in Lok Sabha during a trust vote
In a reference to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Modi said that MPs have attended sessions of the house as a call of duty despite facing ill-health and personal misfortunes. “Even on wheelchairs, MPs have come to Parliament as a call of duty.” Parliament, he said, did not stop even when the world and the country was devastated by the Covid pandemic.
The successful landing of Chandrayaan 3 on near the moon’s south pole, Modi, said was a testament to the achievement of the country’s scientists and an achievement of the whole world.
The five-day session of Parliament, which will see a transition of House proceedings to a new building, has up to eight bills scheduled for deliberation and approval. There is also speculation over the possibility of the government unveiling unexpected legislative proposals during the session.