The inauguration of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 28, 2023 by placing a Sengol, or sceptre, near the chair of the Lok Sabha Speaker, is anchored in utterly false claim and narratives. The inauguration was marked by a boycott by 21 opposition parties, exclusion of the President of India and Vice President of India who is ex-officio chairman, Rajya Sabha, and wilful suppression of the truth that the Sengol was never presented to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru by Lord Mountbatten, symbolising the transfer power from the UK to India, on August 14, 1947.
False narrative from Amit Shah
Union home minister Amit Shah spun the story that Mountbatten asked Nehru about a ritual or practice followed in India for transferring power. Shah forcefully asserted that to ascertain the practice, Nehru looked up to Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), who apparently referred to the practice of Chola rulers transferring power to another king after the priest of the royal court handed over a Sengol to the successor king. Shah affirmed that Rajajaji organised a Sengol from a Shaivaite monastery and that was handed over to Nehru by Mountbatten. Shah’s narrative was repeated by Modi in his speech while inaugurating the new Parliament building.
An ad on the Sengol
In the morning of May 30, in several WhatsApp groups, the first page of The Hindu newspaper from August 29, 1947 was being circulated and it had on the top two large-sized photographs. The photograph at the top has the picture of the chief priest of the Saivaite mutt and on its side there is picture of a Sengol. Below it is written that the chief priest presented the Sengol to the first premier of free India, Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of independence at 10 pm and showered his blessings on him at his York Road residence.
Just below that photograph, there is another one showing priests of that mutt standing at Central Station, presumably in Madras (now Chennai). The WhatsApp message with those two photographs had the text : “The Hindu which rigorously fact checked other evidences and articles on Sengol using Zoo Bear creatures, failed to fact check their own newspaper headline published on August 29, 1947 Madras edition.”
The photographs and the aforementioned text appeared highly credible and convincing. I also circulated it in several other WhatsApp groups with a caveat that it has to be scrutinised and analysed to ascertain its veracity. Therefore, I booked a micro film reader in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) and requested The Hindu newspaper of August 29, 1947. I told the officials of NMML that I need to check the first page of The Hindu of that date to see if those two photographs were really published or not. On reaching NMML, I was immediately taken to the micro film reader and to my horror, I did not find those photographs on the first page of The Hindu dated August 29, 1947. The first page contained only advertisements. So I thought that possibly, the first page being shared with those two photographs is manipulated.
I was proven right as I moved from the first to the 10th page, the last page, where I found those two photographs. That page also had only advertisements, and I thought that the two photographs might have been published as advertisements as well. Scanning the photographs closely, I found that on the right side, at the bottom, four small letters – “Advt”, an acronym for advertisement – were published. To my utter dismay, I realised that those two photographs published as ads on August 29, 1947 were used and placed in the first page of that newspaper which I received on WhatsApp.
Later, I saw a tweet from Malini Parthasarathy which is wroth quoting:
This claim of @Bobbycal, being widely circulated, is absolutely bogus, based on a photoshopped version of the original page. The real reference to the gifted Sengol was an advertisement on an inner page of the said issue! NOT A NEWS ITEM. Now tweeting here, the ORIGINAL PAGE!!! https://t.co/KDe3ZNZH7c pic.twitter.com/7r5Qs0ezTx
— Malini Parthasarathy (@MaliniP) May 30, 2023
Sengol associated with royalty and divine right to power
The point is that the advertisement is taken as gospel truth, and based on it the prime minister of the country, while inaugurating the new Parliament building, confidently transmitted the false message that the Sengol has been salvaged and given an honoured place in the new Parliament building.
The Sengol is associated with royalty and represents the divine right to power, in contrast to people as a source of sovereignty and authority in our constitutional scheme of governance. By no stretch of the imagination is it of any significance for our Parliament, which represents the supreme will of our people and in the words of former President of India K.R. Narayanan, “The head and front of our body polity.” To defend the indefensible, the Modi regime has manufactured a narrative based on an advertisement issued in The Hindu.
Annadurai’s warning on the Sengol
The inauguration of the new Parliament building with the Sengol placed inside it by scripting a false narrative that it represented transfer power amounts to its consecration by falsehood. While the President of India and Vice-President have been excluded from its inauguration, now it is conclusively proved that even truth has been banished in the context of the Sengol, the presentation of which to Nehru was objected to by the founder of the DMK, Annadurai. In a August 24, 1947 article in Tamil, he had cautioned the new government of independent India, and especially Nehru, about the motives behind, and the socio-political implications of, the ‘gift’ of the Sengol, which he characterised as a self-serving appeal for protection by the exploiters of the people.
Placement of Sengol in parliament part of majoritarian agenda
The inauguration of the Parliament building by Modi was dominated by rituals and the recitation of mantras deeply associated with Hindu religious practices. Modi marching with monks of several Saivaite monasteries from Tamil Nadu to place the Sengol near the Speaker’s seat. All such activities unmistakably demonstrated the predominance of majoritarianism and the attendant politics flowing from it, even as a all-faith prayer meeting was conducted on the occasion.
It reminded me of the lamentations of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, who had said almost a hundred years back in 1928 that “Politics in India is nothing but theology in action.” The prime minister prostrating at the feet of those monks and marching on the floor of the newly constructed Lok Sabha in the company of the monks reciting mantras clearly proved Ambedkar right. His prescription was that the progressive secularisation of society and politics is being negated with clear intent to further the process of majoritarianism and polarisation. The inauguration of Parliament on V.D. Savarkar’s birth anniversary and with unrestrained celebration of religious rituals associated with the Hindu faith is demonstrative of an accentuation of stirrings in favour of majoritarianism.
Alvin Toffler in his book Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century observed: “…religious stirrings are part of the gathering attack on the secular assumptions that underpinned democracy in the industrial era and kept a healthy distance between church and state.”
Shockingly, India in now confronting a crisis caused by the religious stirrings at the behest of the leaders ruling India.
Gandhi’s vision of Parliament House
As early as November 3, 1917, M.K. Gandhi while speaking at the Gujarat Political Conference presciently talked about the future Parliament building of India and remarked, “The freedom to err and the power to correct errors is one definition of swaraj. Having a parliament means such swaraj.”
If the Modi regime exercised its freedom to err while inaugurating the new Parliament building, it has the power to rectify it. Its errors are obvious. These have to be rectified to restore the sanctity of the new Parliament building and consecrate it with secular and democratic values.
S.N. Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K.R. Narayanan.