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Updated: March 13, 2010 11:51 IST

Structure for the people

Shyam Ranganathan
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IN THE PUBLIC SPACE: The new Assembly complex is a symbol of the
new approach to governance. — PHOTO: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN
IN THE PUBLIC SPACE: The new Assembly complex is a symbol of the new approach to governance. — PHOTO: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

The new Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly reaches out to all

Valluvar in his Tirukkural lists a number of qualities a good king should possess, and in the sixth kural of Iraimaatchi says: Kaatchik Keliyan Kadunchollan Allanel/Meekkoorum Mannan Nilam. (Where [the] king is easy of access, where no harsh word repels, That land's high praises every subject swells.)

— G.U. Pope, and others

In a representative democracy, where the government is of the people and for the people, it is essential that the seats of executive and legislative power be accessible to the people. By shifting the Assembly complex to its new location abutting an arterial road of Chennai, the government will be better able to feel the pulse of its people.

Madras, for the British, was an important post on the Cholamandala coast, and it was no wonder that the seat of authority in the early years overlooked the Bay of Bengal. After having been the seat of the Presidency during British rule, post-Independence Madras, while it was still forging for itself a new identity as the capital of a new-born State, naturally looked to the 300-year-old Fort St. George complex to house its representatives.

In the current century, however, when the city's heart is moving inward and beats in sync with the latest in technology, when it has expanded so deep into the hinterland that the Marina Beach has become, even for some of its citizens, a tourist spot visited only so often, the old Assembly complex, for all its historical value, is too distant from its people.

A more central location would have been ideal logically, but would have involved a Tughlaqian effort, and hence would have defeated its purpose.

At a time when analysts and laymen alike are bemoaning the political apathy in civil society, all will agree that the institutions of political discourse, if not its terms and forms, need to be constantly in the public eye to remind the people that politics is not the practice of a professional class, but the essence of civil life; that representative democracy is not the writing away of the rights to decide the course of society.Anyone who has visited the labyrinth that was the Assembly complex at Fort St. George will appreciate the need for a modern touch to the institutions that represent the people.

The new Assembly complex is, then, also a symbol of the new approach to governance, and evokes the freedom and the space that has to enter political discourse.

And for those who would have imposing and grand structures rooted in the architecture of the past, the new Assembly complex, apart from the symbols embedded in its design, is built for the present and the future and it is in its function that it will achieve its greatest value. They will do well to remember that Raja Raja I is known now for his innovations — not for his imitations.

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