Passing the baton of democracy: 6 key facts about old Parliament building
The Parliament House has stood for over 96 years as a sentinel of time and a repository of India's democratic journey
The Parliament House, which will soon hand over its position as the country’s hallowed legislature to a new complex inaugurated four months ago, has stood for over 96 years as a sentinel of time and a repository of India’s democratic journey.
The government on September 13 listed a special discussion on the Parliament’s 75-year journey, starting from the Samvidhan Sabha, on the first day of the five-day session beginning on September 18. The session will see the proceedings of Parliament move from the old building to the new complex in its vicinity which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 28.
Once legislative businesses move into the new state-of-the-art building, India will, in many ways, turn a page. Here’s a look back at the old Parliament building that has been witness to nearly a century of the modern history of India.
1. Witness to many historic events
Opened on January 18, 1927 by Lord Irwin, the then viceroy, amid much fanfare, the landmark has witnessed colonial rule, World War II, the dawn of Independence, the adoption of the Constitution, and the passage of many legislations — some landmark and many controversial.
“This is a landmark building that witnessed the dawn of free India, its famed chambers heard the echoes of first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech and where the Constituent Assembly sat, discussed and adopted the Constitution,” noted conservation architect and urban planner AGK Menon told PTI.
2. ‘Architectural jewel of Delhi’
Historians and conservation architects describe the old edifice as a “repository of India’s history” and its “democratic ethos”, and an “architectural jewel” of Delhi.
The historic building, with its circular design and an impressive colonnade of 144 creamy sandstone on the first floor, was opened at a time the new imperial capital of the British Raj — New Delhi — was being built at a site in the Raisina Hill area.
3. Began its existence as the ‘Council House’
According to archival documents and rare old images, a grand ceremony was held to mark the opening of the building, then called the Council House.
4. The golden key
The building, with a diameter of 560 feet and circumference of a 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 by Malvika Singh and Rudrangshu Mukherjee, 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”.
5. One of the most distinctive parliament buildings in the world
The opening of the Parliament House building, revered today as India’s temple of democracy, was much talked-about then in both the domestic and the foreign press.
The sprawling edifice covering an area of nearly six acres is one of the most distinctive parliament buildings anywhere in the world and among the most defining and widely-recognised structures.
The last legislative sitting in the building till the end of August was the Monsoon session, which concluded on August 11. The session provided 17 sittings over 23 days.
The multi-chequered history of the old Parliament building will be frozen in time if the proceedings move to the new complex during the five-day session.
6. Birth of the Constituent Assembly and the Constitution
The Constituent Assembly had its first meeting on December 9, 1946, in the central chamber (Central Hall) and adopted the Constitution on November 26, 1949.
The Constitution came into effect on January 26, 1950, signifying the birth of the Republic of India.
Anil Krishna (74) recalls his late centenarian father Kewal Krishan, who was part of the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly, and his association with the old Parliament building.
“I visited Parliament as a child with my father. The two places I vividly remember are my dad’s office and the Parliament canteen. We are reading that the Parliament will soon shift to the new complex, which was needed as more space and facilities were required with time,” he told PTI.
Krishan, who would have turned 110 in July, died a few months ago, his son said.
An old sepia-toned image of a group photograph taken in February 1948 with BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution, sitting in front at the centre and Krishan standing behind him is part of the family’s well-preserved archives, Krishna said.
Another family has preserved archival pictures associated with the Parliament and the Constituent Assembly.
A group picture of the members of the Constituent Assembly, taken on the Parliament premises, was shot by AR Datt & Sons Studios, one of the oldest studios in Delhi.
Studio founder AR Datt's grandson Anuj Datt told PTI, “My grandfather used a panoramic camera to capture such a large number of people in one frame.”
The next step
When discussions will be held on “Parliamentary Journey of 75 years starting from Samvidhan Sabha — Achievements, Experiences, Memories and Learnings,” the legacy of the old Parliament building will, in a way, come full circle before it slips into the pages of history, handing over the baton to the new complex.
The new triangular-shaped four-storey building has a built-up area of 64,500 square metres.
It will also have a grand Constitution Hall to showcase India’s democratic heritage, a lounge for MPs, library, multiple committee rooms, dining areas, and ample parking space.
Several MPs from different parties shared their thoughts on the old building and the new complex.
The TMC's Derek O'Brien said, “As a parliamentarian, I have found no better place in the Parliament than the Central Hall. For fellowship, for friendship, for sharing thoughts, for bonding.”
KC Tyagi of the JD(U) said, “I prefer the older Parliament (building) more. I have been a part of it. I just came back from London and their parliament building is 200 years older than ours. So, old is gold.”(With agency inputs)