“India needs hospitals and not the Central Vista, (it needs) more houses for the poor and not a mansion for the PM.” These were the strong words that reverberated at a public meeting on Saturday in Maharashtra Sadan, New Delhi.
The meeting was called by a group from Mumbai called ‘Central Vista Virodhi Bharat’. It comprises different secular political parties, civil society groups and such others championing the cause of people’s issues in varied ways.
The meeting launched the Delhi chapter of the campaign and it was decided that such chapters would be formed in different parts of the country. These chapters will spread the message that the PM Modi-led Central Government is more interested in vanity projects like the Central Vista rather than mitigating the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also decided that there will be a large mobilisation of the people at the August Kranti Maidan – from where the Quit India movement call was given by Mahatma Gandhi – in Mumbai on August 9, Similar demonstrations are expected to be held in other parts of the country the same day.
The meeting was initiated by Vandana Chavan, the Rajya Sabha MP from the NCP, who welcomed the delegates and said that despite the fact work on the Central Vista Redevelopment Project continues in Delhi, people across the country face the pinch of this “wasteful expenditure”. She added that with the Monsoon Session of Parliament from July 19, an appropriate day will be decided on for other MPs to raise their concerns as well.
At its inception, Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi, who had recently filed a petition in the Delhi High Court recently seeking the court’s intervention to stop work on the Central Vista given the pandemic invoking sections of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to ensure that the workers were protected. They were fined by the court for filing the petition. The petitioners explained how the petition was for protecting the lives of the workers who were “forced to work as bonded labour” during the deadlier second wave of COVID-19.
Sohail said it was "unclear" how artifacts – some as old as 5,000 years – from the National Museum would be stored and displayed in the North and South blocks, according to the plan.”Or do they want to destroy it? All of this belongs to us and speaks of the diverse civilization that we have inherited,” he said. He said there was fear that there is a “concerted effort” to ensure that all the material that is available in the museum and the archives may get damaged in the process.
In an earlier piece, this author had laid bare some reasons behind the project: “One of the primary reasons for the move, which the government does not pronounce openly, but is fully convinced by, is that the parliament building is cursed and that, as a result, successive prime ministers and other leaders did not live for longer.Hence, a new building, one that is triangular in shape instead of circular, must be built.”
The driving force for this project is the PM himself, who is being guided by a vastu prophecy that a circular parliament building means he cannot return to power since the circularity of the current building means a zero. The project will also take away people's spaces and a massive 16.5 lakh square metres of land area will be constructed upon. The project also has an ideological presupposition and that is that the government wants to build structures where it remains at a distance from the people, thus showing its sheer power.
Anything connected to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi is also an eye-sore for this government, which intends to lay it to waste. It is why Jawahar Lal Bhavan which houses the Ministry of External Affairs, built at a cost of more than Rs 220 crores in 2010 is also being razed to the ground.
Nilotpal Basu, former CPI(M) MP, said this was a “people’s fight” and they would have to come forward to reclaim their spaces. He added that the government was indulging in wasteful spending while people have been demand basic health facilities.
Dr. Ashok Dhawale, president of the AIKS, pointed out that while the movement began from Mumbai, it must be spread out to different parts of the country using social media and other means to “expose this government for its sheer hypocrisy”. He said that a single-day protest must be held at Jantar Mantar in Delhi after July 19 when the Parliament begins its session, adding that the demand to cancel the project can be raised all over the country on August 9.
Rajya Sabha MP Fauziya Khan said the project is linked to the larger failure of the government. “Loot, jhoot aur phoot ki sarkar nahi chalegi” (A government of loot, lies and one that divides people should not be allowed to continue). She said that the project was against what India stood.
Hardik Patel, leader of the Congress from Gujarat, said that the people of the state know of the ‘Gujarat Model’ of PM Modi, one based “on lies, which draws its strength by fattening corporates and creating fissures amongst the people,” adding that he was interested in beginning the Gujarat chapter of the movement. He said that the people must be guarded against the PM's “tricks”, said that with the new parliament building could also come the advancement of the the delimitation exercise in the country, even before the next general elections, he said. “What PM Modi wants to do is to increase the number of seats in the north vis-a-vis the south, and especially in the Hindi speaking states. Through this Modi wants to create a divide between the north and south,” he said.
Abu Asim Azmi, SP MLA, and one of the people behind the campaign from Mumbai, said that his party will initiate efforts to ensure that this campaign grows in different parts of UP.
Suneet Chopra, vice president of AIAWU (All India Agricultural Workers' Union) drew a comparison between developments in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the current rise of the Sangh in India. He said Hitler projected that he campaigned “for the Nation” and it was what has been happening in India, where the “present regime is creating a binary between those who support the decision as ‘nationalists’, and those who oppose it as ‘anti-nationalists”.
Vidya Chavan, ex-MLC from Maharashtra another person behind the campaign, gave an outline on how it began and stressed on the need for a nationwide campaign “to expose the thoroughly anti-people nature of the Modi regime.”
Other prominent speakers included AAP MLA Vinay Mishra, NAPM leader Sunilam, Lok Sangharsh Morcha leader Pratibha Shinde, AIDWA general secretary Mariam Dhawale, SFI joint secretary Dineet Dhinta, DYFI Delhi state treasurer Anusha, recently released UAPA detenu Asif Iqbal Tanha, DSMM Maharashtra convenor Shailendra Kamble, Gurmeet Singh and others.
The meeting concluded with the following resolutions.
1. Forming chapters of Central Vista Virodhi Bharat in Delhi and in different states.
2. To hold protest demonstrations both inside and outside Parliament on a given date which will be finalised soon.
3. To unleash a mass campaign to ensure that this government's “blatant lies” are exposed.
4.To include the demand for scrapping the central vista project in the nationwide protests on August 9.
The writer is former deputy mayor of Shimla. The views are personal.