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Why the President of India Should Inaugurate the New Parliament Building

Why the President of India Should Inaugurate the New Parliament Building

NEW DELHI (TW)- In response to a statement issued by the Lok Sabha Secretariat on May 18 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the new parliament building symbolising the spirit of a self-reliant India (Atmanirbhar Bharat) on May 28, several leaders of opposition parties including Rahul Gandhi have demanded that instead of the prime minister, President of India Droupadi Murmu should do the honour of inaugurating it. May 28 is the birth anniversary of V.D. Savarkar, who submitted multiple mercy petitions to British authorities for his release from the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, and the Congress has sharply attacked the Modi government for choosing this date for the inauguration and described it as a “complete insult” to freedom fighters and their legacy.

While RJD leader Manoj Jha asked in his tweet, “Shouldn’t the honorable Rashtrapati be inaugurating the new ‘Sansad Bhavan’?”, CPI’s D. Raja in his tweet sharply observed, “Obsession with self-image and cameras trumps decency and norms when it comes to Modi Ji.” Stating that, “PM leads the executive organ of the State and Parliament is the legislative organ” he opined that, “It would have been appropriate for Smt. Droupadi Murmu as Head of the State to inaugurate the new Parliament.”

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi had objected to Modi inaugurating the Parliament building by saying, “We have separation of powers and Hon’ble Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chair could have inaugurated (it).” He also sarcastically observed, “It’s made with public money, why is PM behaving like his ‘friends’ have sponsored it from their private funds.”

Congress head Mallikarjun Kharge said the president “alone represents government, opposition, and every citizen alike” and “The Modi Govt has repeatedly disrespected propriety.”

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President along with Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha constitute the parliament

The views of opposition party leaders that the president and not prime minister should inaugurate the new parliament building makes eminent sense as that is consistent with Article 79 of the Constitution, defining the constitution of parliament: “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.”

So when the Constitution itself provides that the parliament consists of the president of India and the two Houses of the apex legislature, the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, how is it that the prime minister, who does not form part of the constitutionally ordained definition of what constitutes parliament, can inaugurate the new parliament building?

There are other provisions prescribed in the Constitution that the president may address either House or both Houses assembled together (Article 86) and at the commencement of the first session after each general election to the House of the People and at the commencement of the first session of each year the president shall address both Houses assembled together and inform parliament of the causes of its summons (Article 87). Besides, it is required by the Constitution that no Bill passed by both the Houses of Parliament can become an Act without the assent of the president (Article 111).

In the legislative domain, the president and parliament are, thus, closely woven together by elaborate provisions enshrined in the Constitution. Therefore, these factors constitute the categorical imperative for the president to inaugurate the new parliament building.

The president, as the head of the State and Republic, occupies an exalted position far surpassing the position of the prime minister who is only the head of the executive, which is only limited in scope vis-a-vis the State. The president takes oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and be above all partisan considerations, unlike the office prime minister, and is always looked up to by all political parties, be it of the ruling or opposition camp, to defend republican and constitutional values.

Lessons from the laying of foundation of Parliament House Building Annexe and its inauguration

Another cogent reason why President Murmu and not Prime Minister Modi should inaugurate the new parliament building can be traced to a past precedent associated with the laying of the foundation of the Parliament House Annexe building and its inauguration during 1970 and 1975.

According to the Lok Sabha Secretariat publication, “Parliament House Estate” brought out in 2019, while the foundation of the annexe building was laid on August 3, 1970 by V.V. Giri, then president, it was inaugurated on October 24, 1975 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

This example offers a vital lesson – that neither the president nor prime minister appropriated both the foundation laying and inaugural ceremonies. As Modi laid the foundation stone of the new parliament building and participated in the Bhoomi Pujan ceremony on December 10, 2020, his involvement in its inauguration would mean that he wants to monopolise the honour of doing both programmes. It is contrary to the norms of propriety and proportionality. Therefore, in all fairness Murmu should inaugurate the new parliament.

President K.R. Narayanan inaugurated parliament library building

Just 20 one years ago in 2002, when the newly constructed Sansadiya Gyanpeeth, the Parliament Library Building, was ready for inauguration, President of India K.R. Narayanan was invited to inaugurate it and he did so on May 7 that year. If President Narayanan was requested to inaugurate the new parliament library, then the new parliament building should be inaugurated by none other than President Murmu. By following that example set by Narayanan, the Lok Sabha Secretariat, through the speaker of the Lok Sabha, should extend an invitation to President Murmu for this purpose.

President Kovind was excluded from inauguration of war memorial by Modi

In the past, President Ramnath Kovind, with his status defined by Article 53 of the Constitution as the Supreme Commander of the defence forces, was not involved in Modi’s programme when he inaugurated the National War Memorial in New Delhi on February 25, 2019. It is well known that it is the president and not the prime minister who confers medals and battle honours on defence personnel, at investiture ceremonies conducted in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

During the march past along Raj Path on Republic Day every year, the president receives the salute from those who participate in the parade and confers battle honours like the Param Vir Chakra and the Ashok Chakra to defence personnel for their excellence in defending our nation. Yet tragically, the president was excluded from the inauguration of the National War Memorial, instituted to celebrate the glorious tradition of service and sacrifice of the defence forces. That event required mature handling and the disrespect shown to the president could have been avoided by asking Kovind to inaugurate the memorial.

The egregious blunder committed in 2019 by excluding the president should not be repeated while inaugurating the new parliament building. It is President Murmu who should lead the country in inaugurating it.

S.N. Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan.

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