Tue. May 28th, 2024


The progressive journey of a nation towards the future should not result in the oblivion of its cultural history and heritage. There must be a synergistic blend of modernity and tradition. This crucial amalgamation not only safeguards historical continuity but also infuses modern advancements with the invaluable wisdom of the past, hence preserving the nation’s identity amid rapid progress.

One of the striking examples of this balanced confluence can be found in the narrative of Salman Rushdie’s renowned novel “Midnight’s Children”. The narrative artfully interweaves the deep-rooted cultural richness of India with the transformative forces of modernity. The characters, while emblems of India’s diverse culture, are also influenced by the tides of modern change. This intricate interplay presents a profound metaphor for the dynamics that operate in nations striving to progress without sacrificing their cultural heritage.

An apt parallel can be drawn from India’s recent endeavour to construct a new parliament building. This architectural marvel, while symbolizing India’s relentless progress and modern sensibilities, also echoes the country’s profound cultural and historical heritage. Much like the characters in “Midnight’s Children”, the new parliament building embodies a fusion of tradition and the future – reflecting the nation’s history while symbolizing its modern aspirations. This striking blend serves as a powerful testament to the fact that heritage and progress are not adversaries but can harmoniously coexist, guiding the nation toward a future that is firmly rooted in the wisdom of the past. The forward march towards modernity can and must be underpinned by the reverence and preservation of cultural history and heritage.

The new parliament building embodies modernity while paying homage to its historical predecessor and the architectural heritage of the central vista. Its design echoes the existing parliament building, incorporating a facade inspired by the architectural language and material of the current structure. The 90 pillars gracing its exterior are reminiscent of the grandeur of the old building. This new edifice pays homage to tradition by using red and white sandstones for external cladding, in line with the existing parliament building and other historical structures dotting the central vista. The architectural strategy seeks a harmonious coexistence between the old and the new, creating a dialog between the past and the future. Certain embellishments draw from the rich traditions of Indian architecture, including jalis, plinth bands, door bands, and intricate carvings. The interiors further contribute to this historical continuity with the use of marble, granite, terrazzo, and wooden flooring. In essence, the new parliament building, while moving toward the future, keeps one foot firmly planted in the heritage of the past.

Volumes have been dedicated to India’s pressing requirement for a new parliament building, particularly considering the pronounced infrastructural challenges presented by the old building. However, the defining moment of the inauguration of the new building was undoubtedly the Prime Minister’s ceremonial installation of the Sengol. This act added a unique layer of significance to the event, marking a distinct shift in the symbolism in the heart of Indian democracy.

The British parliament, among other global legislative bodies, maintains a tradition of possessing a mace, a symbol of royal authority without which neither house can assemble or enact laws. This mace, a silver-gilt ornamental club approximately five feet in length and dating from the reign of Charles II, is carried daily to the chamber at the forefront of the Speaker’s procession by the Serjeant at Arms. This emblem, akin to a bared sword of a charging knight, signifies a bygone era of domination and conquest.

Historically, the Indian parliament had no such equivalent. However, with the inauguration of a new building, a transformation has occurred. The Prime Minister has placed the Sengol near the Speaker’s chair.

The Sengol, unlike the mace, is not a symbol of royal authority or an emblem of battle-hardened prowess. Instead, it is a revered symbol more akin to an olive branch, a testament to law, justice, and time-honoured traditions. This change in symbolism is like the mighty sun electing to dwell among the common stars, upholding the cosmic order, rather than asserting solitary supremacy in the sky.

The Sengol conveys the concept that power is not inviolable or absolute. It suggests that the one who wields power is not an uncontested ruler, but a servant guided by the higher precept of Dharma.

Moreover, the Sengol symbolizes a peaceful transition of power. The metaphor is akin to the changing of the seasons, each one receding in its own time, making way for the next to bring in a new cycle of growth, beauty, and prosperity. There is no upheaval, no battle for dominance, but a tranquil acceptance that power must transition from one to the next, all in the service of the great mechanism of democracy.

The Sengol is a steady reminder of the genuine spirit of democracy. It underscores the responsibility of those in power to serve as stewards of the trust placed in them by the people. This symbol encourages adherence to the path of Dharma, akin to a river that remains faithful to its course, guided by the steadfast riverbed below. The introduction of the ‘Sengol’ in the Indian parliament marks a subtle yet meaningful shift in symbolism that is more reflective of the democratic ideals that our country upholds.

In this powerful journey of blending the old and the new, India stands at a crossroads, marrying modernity with cultural history and heritage. It is a delicate, yet crucial balance that safeguards the nation’s identity while bolstering its progressive stride. As the Sengol finds its place in the heart of the Indian parliament, the symbolism of this act reverberates beyond the walls of the new building – it resonates in the hearts of every Indian, serving as a stark reminder of our collective responsibility to uphold the principles of democracy.

Let the echo of the Sengol be a clarion call, not just to those within the chambers of parliament, but to every citizen of India, to weave our diverse cultural threads into the vibrant tapestry of modern India. Let us stride towards the future, hand in hand with our past, etching an indelible path of a nation unafraid to progress without forsaking its roots. In this dynamic interplay of the old and new, tradition and modernity, heritage and advancement, we truly build a nation of dreams – strong in its diversity, united in its vision, and bound by the inviolable principles of democracy.

Bibek Debroy is the Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) & Aditya Sinha is Additional Private Secretary (Policy & Research), EAC-PM.

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.


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