Parliament building: Here's what Duke of Connaught said nearly 100 years ago

It has been nearly a century since the foundation stone laying ceremony of the old Parliament house, which then housed the Imperial Legislative Council, was conducted on February 12, 1921 by the visiting Duke of Connaught, Prince Arthur. The Duke had then said, “A great Englishman has truly said — Architecture has its political use; public buildings being the ornament of a country; it establishes a nation; and makes a people love their native country, which passion is the original of all great actions in a Commonwealth.”

The Duke was also accompanied by then Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin, who later, on January 18, 1927, performed the opening ceremony of the House of Parliament as it was originally called by its architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker.

According to the archived account of all speeches made by the Duke and the Viceroy published by the Superintendent Government Printing, Calcutta, in 1921,the Viceroy had said, “…here under one roof and within one circle will be gathered not only the representatives of British India but of India in the wider sense.”

Almost 100 years later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a new Parliament House on Thursday, describing the event as a milestone in India’s democratic history and asserting that the building will become the symbol of a 21st century nation and Aatmanirbhar Bharat, or self-reliant India.

At an event in central Delhi attended by senior ministers, foreign envoys and top industrialists, Modi performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the two-storeyed building amid vedic chants by 12 priests and an interfaith prayer, 93 years after the iconic circular Parliament House was completed.

In 1921, the Viceroy and the Duke of Connaught laid the foundation stone of an edifice comprising within one circle the three separate buildings in which the Chamber of Princes, the Council of State and the Legislative Assembly were to be housed.

“The building is one which makes a special appeal to the imagination of those who forecast the future of our new reformed councils. It is within the walls which will spring up here that the destinies of British India will someday be moulded and that the representative institutions, which have now come into being and are making essay of their first steps, will arrive at their full maturity and strength,” the Viceroy had said.

During his inaugural speech, the Duke noted, “All great rulers, every great people, every great civilisation have left their own record in stone and bronze and marble, as well as in the pages of history.” He cited the examples of the Acropolis of Athens, the capital of Rome, the granite pillars on which Emperor Asoka engraved his imperishable edicts, and the splendid palaces of the Mughal emperors. “Every age has left behind it some monument commensurate with its own achievements,” he said.

“Is it not a worthy ideal that equally noble buildings shall consecrate India’s great achievements in the 20th century; her solemn entry upon the path of responsible Government, which Great Britain and the Self-governing Dominions of the Empire have trod before her? Is there any building in Great Britain, around which cluster so many and such great memories as the stately home of the Mother of Parliaments on the banks of the River Thames ? Have not each of the Self-governing Dominions in the Empire wisely sought to enshrine their new nationhood in a new Capital of which its own Parliament is always the proudest monument?” he added.

“Surely India and her representatives in the new assemblies which it has already been my privilege to inaugurate, will wish that these great institutions should be liberally and enduringly housed.” Thus ended the last public function during the visit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught to Delhi in 1921.

On Thursday, December 10, 2020 addressing a gathering afterwards, PM Modi hoped India would soon be recognised as the “mother democracy” and asserted that Indian democratic traditions predate the Magna Carta, a 13th century English royal charter often considered the forerunner of modern constitutions.

“It is a very historic day. Today is a milestone in India’s democratic history… We, the people of India, will together build this new building of Parliament,” Modi said, adding that the building will be an inspiration when India celebrates 75 years of independence in 2022, the proposed date of completion of construction.

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