The fraught relations between the government and the opposition have only worsened over the unveiling of the National Emblem atop the new Parliament building, part of the grand Central Vista project of the Modi government that has been mired in controversy since its inception. The Opposition has accused the government of distorting the emblem, adapted from the Lion Capital of the Ashoka pillar at Sarnath, saying that while the original emblem depicts the four lions as graceful and regally confident, the new emblem, a 6.5 metre high bronze structure weighing 9500 kg, is unnecessarily aggressive with the lions’ teeth bared. The Opposition’s charge that the sanctity of the National Emblem has been tampered with has been roundly dismissed by the BJP which says the enormous scale and size of the sculpture atop the new Parliament building has led to an evolution, not distortion, of the original at Sarnath. Describing it as making a mountain out of a molehill, the BJP trotted out several explanations of two-dimensional and three-dimensional angles, but the truth is that this controversy does not augur well for the launch of the new Parliament complex which is slated to be ready by 2024.
The opposition also questioned the Constitutional propriety of the prime minister unveiling the emblem. The opposition said the Constitution clearly separates the three wings of Indian democracy – the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – and asserted that the unveiling should have been done by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. They also questioned why no opposition leaders were invited to the unveiling of the emblem which will grace the roof of the building that represents the heart of Indian democracy, forgetting their boycott of earlier functions. The third issue that was flagged as unconstitutional was the puja conducted by the PM at the unveiling ceremony, as the Constitution clearly stipulates that the state does not profess or practice any faith or religion. Ruling party spokespersons were quick to attribute political motives to the opposition's charges. However, there is no gainsaying the fact that there is little room for balanced discourse and a little give-and-take by the political class on key issues of the day. An occasion which should have been celebrated as another milestone in India’s hallowed democracy was instead marred by charges and counter-charges.
As the BJP eyes Tamil Nadu, another southern citadel that it has been unable to breach so far, the elevation of Edappadi K Palaniswami as the supreme leader of the AIADMK is almost complete, barring any last-minute twists in his leadership battle with O Paneerselvam. EPS’ rise which began after the 2021 Assembly elections when the party faced defeat at the hands of the M K Stalin-led DMK coincided with the downfall of OPS, once the trusted lieutenant of the late party supremo J Jayalalithaa. The dual power centres of EPS and OPS, which came into being after her death in a bid to offset Jayalalithaa's trusted aide VK Sasikala, were clearly becoming untenable. EPS began to work to win the confidence of the party cadre and projected himself as a man of action who could deliver. With 66 MLAs, the AIADMK is a credible Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly and much of the credit of that is given to EPS. OPS, on the other hand, lost the trust of his followers and was becoming increasingly inaccessible even to close supporters. However, there is no denying his clout in the Thevar community which constitutes about 10 per cent of the electorate. With the Madras High Court refusing to stay the convening of the AIADMK General Council, EPS managed to get his supporters together and outmanoeuvre OPS, expelling him and removing him as treasurer while getting himself elected as general secretary, a post held by the late MGR and Jayalalithaa.
The BJP is watching closely as it is keen to piggyback on its ally to secure as many seats as it can in Tamil Nadu in the 2024 poll battle. However, EPS has his task cut out if he wants to pose an effective threat to the DMK- led government. Though the prime minister tried to end the raging row on the alleged imposition of Hindi by saying all languages will be accorded equal respect, the language debate has the potential to ignite tensions. AIADMK cadres are wary of any alliance with the BJP, which is seen as a north Indian party, and would want to go it alone or tie up with regional allies in the 2024 general election. EPS also has to outsmart the wily Sasiskala, who is waiting in the wings and has accused the current AIADMK leadership of being a weak Opposition with not enough heft to take on the Stalin-led DMK. Interesting times are ahead as the Dravidian rivals prepare to lock horns.