Flanked by priests reciting Sanskrit, Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for India’s new parliament building in Delhi last week, part of a lavish $3.5bn overhaul of the heart of the imperial city that marks a symbolic break with the country’s colonial past.
The Prime Minister has ignored critics of the program, dubbed “Modi’s dream”, of which the new triangular parliament forms part.
The grand ceremonial avenue, sweeping from India Gate to the presidential palace, will be redeveloped as Mr Modi casts himself as the architect of a resurgent world power, discarding the shackles of British rule.
Scheduled to open in 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, the new parliament will eclipse the beloved, circular Parliament House, designed by Edwin Lutyens a century ago.
A symbol of British imperial might when it opened in 1927, the old parliament would become the seat of power for a proud, independent democracy two decades later.
At Thursday’s ceremony Mr Modi hailed the new building as the “symbol of a new and self-reliant India”.
Opponents, however, have denounced the work as an expensive vanity project and a desecration of India’s heritage.
The development, which includes an extravagant new residence for Mr Modi, was pushed through without public consultation last year.
Despite the pandemic, which has sent unemployment rocketing and left India facing its worst recession since independence, Mr Modi has rebuffed calls to shelve the project and divert the funds to more pressing concerns.
The actual construction remains on hold, with a petition to block the project still pending in the Supreme Court.
Emboldened by another election landslide last year, Mr Modi, 70, and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have pursued a more aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda since securing a second term. He already has his eyes on a third victory in 2024.
Under his leadership, the BJP has changed the face of Indian politics, marrying nationalism to the tools of modern communication, through social media and instant messaging.
With the new parliament and the revamp of the central vista, however, Mr Modi will put his stamp on the very bricks and mortar of the nation’s capital for generations to come.
That prospect has alarmed his opponents, who fear Mr Modi aims to sweep away India’s secular foundations and establish a Hindu theocracy.
Opposition parties voiced dismay that he performed Hindu rituals at the inauguration last week, excluding other faiths.
Tikender Singh Panwar, an opposition politician, said the development was a “scandal in the making” and added: “I see this as a fascist leader wanting to leave an imprint of his glory on Delhi.”