The temple of Indian democracy may soon have a new address. In the last 17 years, ruling dispensations have made at least three attempts to set up a new parliament building: in 2002 under late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2015 by the-then Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, and last week, when the pitch finally received the government’s go-ahead. It’s probably just a coincidence that the proposals for a new building have always come when the BJP – a party seen as a proponent of faith-based systems such as astrology, numerology and vastu – has been in power. Some opposition leaders suspect a “vastu” or “feng shui” inspiration behind the move to effect major structural changes to the Parliament House or construct a new building.
In 2002, a practitioner hired by the-then Speaker found serious vastu flaws and suggested some structural alterations, or converting the Parliament Annexe or Vigyan Bhavan, both vastu-friendly, into a parliament house. Another option was constructing a brand new structure.
It is true that the Parliament House requires more space, and needs repairs and renovation due to wear and tear. But the proposed move at the cost of taxpayers’ money, especially when the economy has been hit by a downturn, has raised eyebrows in political circles.
While many were guarded, former Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav said the government’s priorities were misplaced. “Having served 11 terms as Member of Parliament, I feel it my duty to say that I am not in favour of proposal to build a new parliament house building,” he tweeted last week. “Yes it can be renovated or strengthened. These buildings are beauty of Lutyens Delhi & part of Indian heritage & history."
On 12 September, union minister of housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri announced that the Centre will reconstruct areas around Rajpath, which includes a new parliament building to reflect India’s own architecture. These iconic buildings were erected between 1911 and 1931, around the time the new capital was inaugurated. Speaking at a FICCI event, Puri said reconstruction of the central vista “was Prime Minister’s dream project”. According to media reports, the government has set July 2022, ahead of the 75th Independence Day, as the target date for a new parliament building or a major revamp of the existing structure.
That the Indian Parliament building suffered from “vastu dosha” (flaws of the elements) was discovered by then Speaker Manohar Joshi in 2002. Joshi’s fear was spurred by the deaths of 13 MPs, including Speaker GM Balayogi in a helicopter crash, and the terrorist attack on Parliament a year earlier. After taking Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee into confidence, Joshi hired the services of a vastu expert, Ashwinie Kumar Bansal, to ascertain the “doshas” and suggest remedies. Bansal made two visits to the Parliament House, found “serious flaws” and handed a detailed report to Joshi. But it was kept under wraps fearing backlash from the Left-liberal sections of the political class, who consider vastu “mumbo jumbo”.
Bansal’s report, among other things, said that the “string of tragedies, friction inside the House between members and political parties, and the inability of the political leadership to make the right decisions to take the country forward, are the results of negative energy emanating from the building”.
The vastu expert claimed that the trouble with the Parliament building “begins from its circular shape itself, which is good for a stadium but not for a legislature. The Gandhi statue (erected in 1993) aggravated the bad effects”. He suggested barricading the area around it and putting up water fountains to absorb the negative energy. Conceptualised by Herbert Baker, the 92-year-old circular structure comprises three semi-circular chambers for the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and the Central Hall crowned by a high dome.
Bansal also faulted the seating arrangement inside the House saying that “the Lok Sabha chamber is shaped like a ‘D’, which is not good in vastu. The PM sits in the northwest, the zone of air and air has the quality of movement which creates pressure”. The PM should sit in the middle, he suggested. The Speaker’s chair is right under the press gallery and that is why the presiding officer is unable to control the members, he said.
Two years later, when the UPA 1 government took office and veteran Marxist leader Somnath Chatterjee became the Speaker, the vastu report was quietly junked. But in 2009, his successor Meira Kumar revisited the issue, not from the point of view of vastu, but “safety” of the building due to wear and tear.
She constituted a parliamentary committee comprising leaders of major political parties and domain experts to examine the proposals for renovation, alteration, modification or constructing a new complex. However, the move did not resonate with many lawmakers, including parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who felt the huge cost to the exchequer was unwarranted. Interestingly, in July the Telangana High Court, hearing a clutch of petitions, stalled chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s plan to demolish the secretariat building – that he felt is not vastu-compliant – and construct a new complex at a cost of Rs 500 crore even as the state has been reeling under severe agrarian crisis with nearly 4,000 farmers reportedly committing suicide in the last four years.
What the central government eventually does remains to be seen. And only time will tell whether recurring turmoil in Indian Parliament can be healed by exorcising any resident demons with vastu shastra.
(The author is a senior journalist and political commentator. Views are personal)