Revered today as India’s temple of democracy, the old Parliament House has for these nine-and-a-half decades witnessed the imperial rule of the British and its chamber has heard the echoes of bombs hurled by revolutionaries Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt in a bid to attain freedom.
The building has seen the dawn of Independence and its halls have reverberated with the historic ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech delivered by first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on August 15, 1947.
An architectural marvel with its charming circular design and an impressive colonnade of 144 creamy sandstone on the first floor, the old building was opened amid much fanfare at a time when the new imperial capital of the British Raj – New Delhi – was being built at a site in Raisina Hill area.
According to archival documents and rare old images, a grand ceremony was held on January 18, 1927 to mark the opening of the majestic building, then called as the Council House.
Over a century ago, when the nation was still in the making and Independence 26 years away, Britain’s Duke of Connaught had laid the foundation stone of Parliament House on February 12, 1921, and said it would stand “as the symbol of India’s rebirth to yet higher destinies”.
The building, with a diameter of 560 ft and circumference of one-third of a mile, was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who along with Sir Edwin Lutyens was chosen to design the new imperial capital in Delhi. According to the book “New Delhi – Making of a Capital”, Lord Irwin had arrived in his viceregal carriage at a pavilion set up at the Great Place (now Vijay Chowk), and then “proceeded to open the door of the Council House with a golden key, handed to him by Sir Herbert Baker”.
The sprawling edifice covering an area of nearly six acres and its creamy sandstone colonnade, is one of the most distinctive parliament buildings anywhere in the world, and one of the most defining and widely-recognised structures.
The opening of the Parliament House building was much talked about then in both domestic and foreign press, as the new building, built in its vicinity, is being talked about in media now, ahead of its inauguration.
However, the scheduled inauguration of the new complex, whose foundation was laid in December 2020 by Modi, has run into a controversy.
Twenty opposition parties, including the Congress, Left, TMC, SP and AAP, have come together and announced their decision to boycott the inauguration of the new building by the prime minister, saying they find no value in a new building when the “soul of democracy has been sucked out”.
Congress and other opposition parties have questioned as to why President Droupadi Murmu, who is the constitutional head of the country, has not been invited to inaugurate the new Parliament building.
The new complex will also have a grand Constitution Hall to showcase India’s democratic heritage, a lounge for members of Parliament, a library, multiple committee rooms, dining areas and ample parking space.
The last legislative sitting in it before the inauguration was the Budget session of Parliament which concluded in April.
Over the decades, as India evolved into the nation it is today, Parliament House has been witness to many a moment in history from cerebral debates to high-decibel, raucous discussions and the passing of legislations — some landmark and others controversial.
The multi-chequered history of the old Parliament building will now be frozen in time.
The odyssey of the old Parliament building is also the journey of the new capital of India built under the rule of the then monarch King George V, later christened New Delhi by him in 1926, less than a month before the inauguration of the circular landmark.
It was conceived by the British in 1920s after the imperial capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
Lutyens and Baker gave shape to the new imperial capital, with the Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) and the North Block and South Block as the centrepiece of ‘New Delhi’.
Lord Irwin inaugurated the Parliament building in 1927, and for years later led the inauguration ceremony of ‘New Delhi’ which started on February 10 and lasted about a week.
A viceroy in India was the representative of the British Crown in the country, and Lord Irwin was the first to occupy the Viceroy’s House built atop the Raisina Hill. After India turned a Republic in 1950, it became known as the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the abode of the President of India.
Till the Council House or Parliament House as it is known today, was built, the legislature was housed in the iconic Old Secretariat building of the government, which today is home to the Delhi Assembly.
Once the new Parliament building, part of the redevelopment of Central Vista, is inaugurated, India will in many ways, turn a page, since the opening of the old Parliament in 1927.
“Today, you meet for the first time in your new and permanent home in Delhi,” Viceroy Lord Irwin had said, addressing the first session of the third legislative assembly on January 24, 1927.
“In this chamber, the assembly has been provided with a setting worthy of its dignity and importance, and I can pay its designer no higher compliment than by expressing the wish with that the temper, in which the public affairs of India will be here conducted, may reflect the harmony of his conception,” he said.