Indian legislators, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have paid their respects to the country’s historic parliament building in anticipation of their move to a new facility. These
members of parliament made their remarks during the inaugural day of a special parliamentary session convened by the government, set to span a week.
Although the new parliament building was inaugurated by Mr. Modi in May, it had not yet been used for any legislative business until now. The session will transition to the new premises on Tuesday, following an event dedicated to celebrating the legacy of the old parliament.
This unique session occurs amidst criticism from opposition leaders who argue that the government has not been transparent about the full agenda for the week. The government has announced that eight bills are slated for discussion during this session. However, it’s important to note that this agenda could potentially change or expand as the week progresses.
Opposition figures have raised questions about the necessity of this special session to discuss these bills, given that MPs are already scheduled to convene later in the year for the customary winter session of parliament. Traditionally, Indian lawmakers meet for regular parliamentary business three times a year, encompassing a budget session, a monsoon session, and a winter session.
Prime Minister Modi initiated the special session on Monday by commemorating the parliament’s legacy since 1947, when India gained independence from British rule. The government has organized numerous events to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. During his speech, Modi described the departure from the old parliament as an “emotional moment”, highlighting the building’s rich history and its continued inspiration for future generations. He stated, “The biggest achievement of this parliament is that it has kept people’s faith in democracy alive” while also mentioning India’s successful Moon landing and hosting of the G20 summit.
Some opposition leaders shared their personal reminiscences of the old parliament while taking swipes at Mr. Modi’s government, alleging that it avoids answering questions and targets
In preparation for the special session, Mr. Modi had indicated that its duration might be “short” but would include “historic decisions” Special sessions are relatively rare occurrences in Indian parliamentary history. According to legislative expert Chakshu Roy, they are typically convened “for specific occasions, like commemorating parliamentary or national milestones.”
The announcement of this session last month had triggered criticism from opposition leaders,who raised concerns about the government's secrecy regarding the agenda. It also sparked intense speculation, with some pundits speculating that the government might call for early elections or consider changing the country's name from India to Bharat (following a controversy over a possible name change).
Other speculations included the possibility of the government introducing a landmark bill reserving seats for women in state legislatures and parliament. In response, some opposition
lawmakers held protests outside parliament on Monday, advocating for the introduction of such a bill.
However, the government has yet to confirm any of these speculations. Last week, after weeks of opposition criticism, the government released a “tentative agenda” for the session, which included four bills for debate. Among them was a controversial bill that would alter the process for appointing India's chief election commissioner.
Opposition parties have strongly objected to this bill, characterizing it as “undemocratic” and asserting that it would diminish the independence of the Election Commission and its officials. However, it’s worth noting that this particular bill was not part of the list provided to opposition leaders during an all-party meeting on Sunday.