Indian opposition MPs, social activists and historians have accused prime minister Narendra Modi’s government of “gravely distorting” the look of the national emblem installed on top of the parliament building.
They state that in its new cast, which Mr Modi inaugurated in New Delhi earlier this week, the four majestic lions, peacefully sitting back-to-back on a circular abacus in its original version, looked “unnecessarily aggressive and muscular”.
The lions emblem dates from Indian emperor Ashoka who renounced war and conquest and embraced Buddhism and pacifism in 250 BC. It was formally adopted as the country’s insignia in 1950, symbolising courage, pride, power and confidence.
However, Trinamool Congress Party MP Jawhar Sircar said the “snarling, disproportionate lions” were “Modi’s version” of the emblem, and demanded that the 6.5m tall sculpture, which weighs 9.5 tonnes, be immediately replaced.
Historian Irfan Habib concurred. “Meddling with the national emblem was totally unnecessary and avoidable”, he said, adding that there was no reason for the lions to “snarl, look ferocious and full of angst ... This is not the national symbol we adopted decades ago,” he told the India Today television news channel on Wednesday.
Another prominent historian, Nayanjot Lahiri, observed in the Indian Express that the “creators [of the new emblem[ had imbued these lions with qualities that they associated with our modern day rulers”. She was referring to Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda and pervasive intolerance of dissent.
Furthermore, activist lawyer and former politician Prashant Bhushan tweeted: “Angry lions with bared fangs; this is Modi’s new India.”
BJP spokespeople dismissed all such criticism as “invalid” and “unfounded” and claimed that the sculpture, which will prominently adorn India’s new parliament building, scheduled for completion later this year, was a “perfect replica” of the original, except for its size.
They also justified the sculpture’s look, claiming that it had been cast after detailed research, and that there was no deviation from the original at Sarnath, which was Ashoka’s capital some 860km southeast of New Delhi, and the spot where Buddha preached his first sermon after attaining enlightenment.
Sunil Deora, one of the two sculptors who took nine months to cast the emblem, told reporters that the perceived difference in the lions’ demeanour was due merely to its larger proportions.
Mr Modi, for his part, was severely criticised in the media and by opposition leaders for presiding over the emblem’s installation in contravention of constitutional propriety, which demanded that it should have been inaugurated by the parliamentary speaker. The prime minister was also castigated for presiding over a Hindu religious ceremony, in a multi-religious country, to mark the event and for not inviting opposition MPs to the occasion.