By Rupam Jain
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian opposition political parties said on Wednesday they would boycott the inauguration ceremony for the new parliament building to be conducted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sidelining the country's president.
In a joint statement, 19 national and regional opposition parties said Modi's decision to dedicate the building on Sunday without President Droupadi Murmu taking part was not just a grave insult but a direct assault on democracy.
India's president is an appointed, non-party executive with only ceremonial powers, but is considered the country's first citizen and is the highest constitutional authority.
"When the soul of democracy has been sucked out from the Parliament, we find no value in a new building," the letter stated.
The building is the centrepiece of a $2.4 billion project aimed at relocating some prominent institutions out of heritage, British colonial buildings into bigger, modern facilities.
The new parliament is part of the nationalist Modi's flagship initiative to reshape the architecture of the capital and assert a modern identity, signalling a departure from a building built by the British to tighten their grip over India.
Critics of the new parliament see its construction as not just an attempt by Modi to bolster Hindu nationalism and historical revisionism but also an opportunity to disregard official protocol by sidelining the president.
A communications officer in Modi's office said the prime minister has not shown any form of disrespect to the president and her executive authority.
A minister in Modi's government said the new parliament was dedicated to the people of India and will serve as an institution of modern democratic values.
"We urge the opposition to join the inauguration ceremony," said Pralhad Joshi, a minister of parliamentary affairs.
The president's office declined to comment.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain; editing by Mark Heinrich)