India’s new triangular parliament building – next to the old round colonnaded structure of British colonial rule – symbolizes India’s efforts to build a country free of the trappings of past foreign domination.
But the inauguration was not easy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi carried a golden scepter as he presided over the opening in the company of Hindu holy men last month. This fueled his detractors, who reiterated long-standing claims that he was staggering India’s secular constitutional democracy and argued that President Droupadi Murmu, the head of state, should have been allowed to open the building. Opposition parties boycotted the ceremony and Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress, Modi’s main nemesis, dismissed it as a “coronation”.
Even after that controversy died down, a three-dimensional map on a mural in the new building caused fresh buzz. The mural features an illuminated outline of the subcontinent without any of its current borders, stretching west to Pakistan and Afghanistan and east to Myanmar. The names are archaic and some of the labeled cities are in other countries, including Purushpur, the Sanskrit name for Peshawar, Pakistan.
Officials and opposition politicians in Pakistan, Nepal and most recently Bangladesh have expressed concern. The Indian Foreign Ministry maintains that the mural depicts the spread of the third-century BC empire, but some members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party had claimed that the map represented “Akhand Bharat” (“Undivided India”), a maximalist conception of a greater India, driven by some Hindu nationalists, encompassing parts of neighboring countries.
Pralhad Joshi, a government minister, claimed “The decision is clear – Akhand Bharat” in a tweet using the hashtag #MyParliamentMyPride on the day of the opening. Manoj Kotak, a BJP MP representing Mumbai, also tweeted about “Akhand Bharat in the new parliament”, adding, “It represents our powerful and self-reliant India”. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry stated that it was “appalled” by the statements made by some BJP politicians, saying it was “an expression of a revisionist and expansionist mindset that seeks to undermine the identity and culture of not only India’s neighbours, but also to subdue his own religious”. minorities”.
Some of the outrage – not least from India’s nemesis Pakistan – may reflect wider tensions, or be fabricated for domestic political purposes. And India isn’t the only country where maps have caused problems with neighbors. Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán enraged Romania and Ukraine last year when he wore a football scarf with the outline of a “Greater Hungary” in the country’s pre-1920 borders. Chinese maps showing the Nine Dash Line, the unrecognized claim on most of the South China Sea, routinely provoke anger in neighboring countries such as Vietnam.
However, the map of India is literally embedded in stone in a building Modi calls a “temple of democracy” in a country that bills itself as a regional leader. “As the greatest nation and economy, India should reach out to its neighbors in a positive way,” said Aakar Patel, an author and government critic. “The map is going in the opposite direction than we should be going.”
None of the card’s critics claim that India has active annexation plans. Some also point out that an imaginary “Greater India” encompassing Pakistan and Bangladesh would be home to a huge non-Hindu population, which is at odds with the BJP’s project to create a Hindu community. rashtra (nation).
Tellingly, the speed with which concerns are beginning to fade in a region where India is the largest economy and a growing foreign investor. Government officials in Nepal and Bangladesh – who have good relations with the Modi government – initially protested, but are now happy to accept the statement that the map was a historical map. Indians will have a chance to judge for themselves when the building opens to the public next month.
Additional reporting by Jyotsna Singh