The foundation stone for the new Parliament House was laid on October 2020 and the inaugural date fixed for October 2022. The deadline seemed a trifle ambitious given that Sir Herbert Baker took six years (1921 to 1927) to complete the original building. But the government worked on the premise that “Modi hai to mumkin hai (If it’s Modi, it’s possible)”. The deadline was later extended to December this year, with the assurance that the winter session of Parliament would be held in the new triangular structure. But all indications are that the completion date will be deferred yet again, even though all the parties involved – the CPWD, Tata Projects Ltd and architect Bimal Patel’s firm – are working under extreme pressure. Several unforeseen hurdles, apart from the Covid pandemic, cropped up. The contractors were constrained by the fact that they are working next to the existing Parliament House, which is a heritage building. For instance, the foundation site is rocky but the usual method of blasting the rocks was prohibited and more cumbersome procedures had to be employed. Much of the work which would normally have been carried out at the site, such as carving the octagonal columns, had to be shifted far away, since the infrastructure of the old Parliament House, such as electricity and internet, cannot be even temporarily disconnected as Parliament still functions from there.
In the checklist of tasks before the new Parliament House is complete is softening the look of the Ashoka Lions, the national emblem atop the four-storey building. When Prime Minister Modi unveiled the bronze cast of the four lions in July, there was an outcry from the Opposition which claimed that the lions had been sculptured in an aggressive, angry mould with bared fangs, very different from the calm, peaceful look in the original sculpture of the Sarnath Ashoka pillar.
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Even before the poll announcement, the BJP, unlike the Congress, began preparations for the Gujarat Assembly elections. Narendra Modi delegated candidate-selection entirely to Amit Shah. Applicants for BJP tickets were pleasantly surprised to find the Union Home Minister personally answering phone calls. Journalists from Saurashtra were impressed by Shah’s accessibility when he visited Somnath. The Opposition could try and score points by raising questions about those responsible for the Morbi bridge collapse tragedy, who are not named in the SIT report. The politically well-connected Oreva group purportedly took charge of the bridge not for profit but as a social service and earmarks some of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds. The actual bridge maintenance was subcontracted to others. The bridge was hastily re-opened before the Gujarati New Year because of political pressure from local MLAs and others keen to oblige voters during the holiday season.
Removing the cobwebs
After taking over as the new Congress president, Mallikarjun Kharge discovered that there was no one to report to. Rahul Gandhi is still on his yatra and Sonia Gandhi is increasingly spending her time outside Delhi. Kharge visited the Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road and discovered that his office has been sealed since 2019, after Rahul resigned as president. The Congress has a tradition that the president’s office is closed whenever the post is empty for fear of encroachers. After ceremonially unsealing the office, Kharge discovered to his dismay that the room had cobwebs and the sofas were filthy. The furniture was sent for spring cleaning. Now that Kharge plans to sit in his office daily, the general secretaries will have to follow suit and visit 24 Akbar Road more frequently. Earlier Congress presidents had powerful aides such as R K Dhawan, V George and Ahmed Patel, to assist them. It is believed that Kharge is grooming Syed Naseer Hussain, whom he helped get elected to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka, to be his eyes and ears in the party.
Cambodia, the host for the upcoming 40th Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) Summit, was disappointed to learn that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not attend the summit. The Cambodians had hoped for President Droupadi Murmu as a substitute, but Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar will represent India instead. The diplomatic buzz is that Murmu will restrict herself to a limited number of international engagements. A new envoy who presented his credentials to the President recently was advised to provide in advance a list of the three or four topics he wanted to discuss.