Renovate, not rebuild

 thehindu.com  11/10/2019 19:09:06 

The Central government is considering either redeveloping Parliament House or building a new structure. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the government is considering suggestions to build a new Parliament House or renovate the existing one with improved facilities by 2022, just in time to celebrate 75 years of Independence. Against this backdrop, a serious deliberation on the details of the proposed renovation or reconstruction plan is required.

History and architecture

Parliament House was designed by the British architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker in 1912-1913. Construction of the building began in 1921 and was completed in 1927. It is popularly believed that the circular structure of the 11th-century Chausath Yogini Temple in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh may have inspired the design of Parliament House. The Chausath Yogini Temple, also known as the Ekattarso Mahadeva Temple, is one of the few such Yogini temples in the country which is in good condition. This fact defies the popular misconception that Parliament House is colonial in nature.

There are 30 statues and busts in the Parliament House precincts including the sculptures of Chandragupta Maurya, Motilal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi. There are more than 20 portraits. Thus, the building represents the composite culture and social pluralism of India.

Inscriptions from the Upanishadas, Mahabharata, Manu Smriti and other texts are indicative of the spirit with which parliamentarians should conduct business. A dome over the passage to the Central Hall also has a Quranic inscription which says, God will not change the condition of the people unless they bring about a change themselves. These features demonstrate the secular nature of the Republic of which the Parliament House is the nucleus.

The Parliament House has a hybrid architectural style. It has Hindu, Saracenic and Roman features. It drew stylistic and decorative elements from native Indo-Islamic architecture, especially Mughal architecture, which the British regarded as the classic Indian style, and less often, Hindu temple architecture. This nature of architectural pluralism should be maintained while constructing a new Parliament House or renovating the existing structure.

Demands of space and security

The buildings constructed over 100 years ago such as the North and South blocks are not earthquake-resistant. There is a shortage of working and parking space, amenities and services. The building no longer supports added demands of space and security. There are no chambers for MPs. The situation will further worsen if there is an increase in the number of seats. Therefore, there should be enough space for MPs, their staff and media in the new or renovated building. Separate chambers should be conceived for individual MPs.

The Parliament House building has remarkable symbolic value. It embodies the spirit of Indian democracy. Hence, it would be advisable to maintain and renovate the present building rather than build a new one. The Capitol Building of the U.S., built in 1800, was subsequently expanded. A massive dome and more chambers for the House of Representatives and the Senate were added. But during expansion, the original plan was maintained despite the tumultuous passing of two centuries. This approach of maintaining and renovating the existing Parliament House building would be a wiser option.

Let us reshape the Parliament building by imbibing the composite culture and rich architectural legacy of India. Such a majestic edifice may inspire us to reshape India as an effectively secular, pluralistic and inclusive republic.

Rajmohan Unnithan is a Member of Parliament

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