Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach. In a similar vein, a country relies for moral as well as mundane sustenance on institutions and their symbols. In democracies parliaments embody both the institution and the symbol. That’s why they must be treated with deep respect. And that’s why it’s heartbreaking to see our politicians doing their best to deprive it of dignity.

The government has insisted, against the call of propriety, that the Prime Minister will inaugurate the Parliament building. The opposition has insisted that it will boycott the inauguration. Neither side has shown the institution the respect it deserves. Both sides are guilty of the most egregious obstinacy and indecorous conduct which, instead of making it a moment of pride, is turning it into an hour of shame for the people of India. They are watching helplessly as this unseemly drama plays out. The government should have known that in our parliamentary system, which is borrowed from the British, sovereignty resides in the Head of State, namely, the President. That’s the Constitutional fact. Sometimes, however, it is argued that it resides in Parliament. This question had first come up during the Emergency (1975-77). But then it was forgotten. Recently, however, it’s been raised again in a different context. Thus, the issue has not been settled and until it is, if ever, we have to proceed on the traditional view that sovereignty resides in the President. That’s the main import of the Westminster model. It is by that token that the new Parliament building should have been inaugurated by President Droupadi Murmu. The government has been very remiss in this regard because there is widespread suspicion that it is Narendra Modi and not the Prime Minister who will inaugurate the building.

That said, the Opposition has been equally delinquent. Boycotting what is an event dedicated to the 142 crore people of India is a sign of extreme pique and immaturity. Thankfully the BJD has decided not to join the boycott demonstrating its understanding of constitutional issues. Since it’s not too late even now one must hope that other parties will see the wisdom of not using a solemn occasion for scoring petty political points. All in all, this is a sordid episode that brings no credit to either the ruling party or the Opposition.

The correct course of action for the Opposition would be to attend the inauguration and register their protest over the absence of the President by some other means like a walkout or a blindfold or a mask over their eyes. That would still be undignified but at least not an insult to the people of India who are watching in bemused silence. They would be well within their rights to say “it’s our Parliament so who are you all to treat it in this cavalier manner.”