New Delhi: Days after Narendra Modi’s claim that Jawaharlal Nehru had insulted the ‘holy sengol’ gifted to him on August 14, 1947 by calling it a ‘walking stick’ and storing it at Anand Bhavan, his family home in Allahabad, fresh evidence has emerged of the prime minister taking liberties with the facts.
The Wire has accessed a page from what is called the ‘General Accession Registrar’ of the Allahabad Museum that effectively busts this ‘walking stick’ claim.
At serial number 896 and in the column ‘Short Description with inscription if any, size, weight, etc’ is mentioned ‘Stick (138.4 cms) covered with thin brass sheets with golden polish. 3 pieces’. The entry is undated and is right below the undated entry for the trowel used for the foundation laying ceremony for the museum at the Bharat Kala Bhavan in Varanasi in 1950. Below it is the entry for a ‘metal tray’ dated April 2, 1947. Nehru donated his collection to the museum between 1947 and 1952. The entry in the GAR was made by the museum’s first curator, S.C. Kala, who described it as a golden stick. The fact that the three entries on the page are in reverse chronological order suggests they were made in one go, presumably as part of a larger cataloguing process.
In the remarks section for the ‘golden stick’ is a recent entry dated 12/7/2021, which says, “This is [a] momento (sic) like object, description as follows: ‘Shri Kailash Lingaye Thiruvadunthurai Monastry (sic) 20th Saiva Siddhanta Jagdguru Mutt presented on the occasion of Indian independence festival Long live- 47’ in four pieces. This object is permanently transferred to National Museum, New Delhi on loan.” Below this is the signature of the then curator, Onkar Wankhede, with the date of 29/11/2022.
From this entry, it would appear that the sengol was handed over to officials of the National Museum in November last year. Wankhede was not available for comment but sources familiar with the museum’s records have confirmed that the document is authentic and is indeed a page from the GAR of the Nehru Gallery.
The BJP has been on an overdrive calling the sengol a symbol of transfer of power, which was first handed to India’s last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and then to Jawaharlal Nehru by priests from Tamil Nadu. The political agenda behind the prominence given to this rediscovered golden stick became clear on Sunday when Union home minister Amit Shah told a public gathering in Vellore, Tamil Nadu that he expected the state to “elect over 25 MPs from the NDA as thanks for the sengol installation”.
In the media blitzkrieg that followed the Shah’s first public claims about the sengol on the eve of the new parliament building’s inauguration, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts released a propaganda film describing in detail the story of the sengol as the government saw it. The film says the event captured the imagination of the country and noted that even Nehru had submitted to the religious ceremonies accompanying its handover.
To buttress its claims, the IGNCA film quotes from, amongst others, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Speeches and Writings, Volume 1: “Did not Prime Minister Nehru on the 15th of August 1947 sit at the yajna to celebrate the event of becoming the first Prime Minister … and wear the Raja Danda.” But Ambedkar has not only been misquoted, he’s also been quoted out of context because what he said was, “Did not Prime Minister Nehru on the 15th of August 1947 sit at the yajna performed by the Brahmins of Benares to celebrate the event of a brahmin becoming the first Prime Minister of free and independent India and wear the Raja Danda given to him by these Brahmins and drink the water of the Ganges brought by them.” Ambedkar was speaking about the north versus south divide within India in chapter five. The Wire’s reportage of some of the other mislabels and myths can be read here.
BJP leaders had tweeted a picture of the display in the museum along with a caption that described the sengol as a “Golden Walking stick gifted to Pt Jawaharlal Nehru”. Prime Minister Modi too, a day ahead of the inauguration of the new parliament, had in a scathing attack on Nehru said, “It would have been better if this sengol had, after independence, got its due respect. But this sengol was displayed at Anand Bhavan in Prayagraj and called a walking stick. Your sevak (servant) and our government had pulled this stick out of Anand Bhavan.”
The fact that the sengol was labeled a golden stick and not a ‘walking stick’ was reported by the news agency ANI. On May 26, ANI’s story was carried prominently by several news outlets where the photo of the cupboard where the sengol was originally kept was prominently published. While the sengol was moved out of the museum in November 2022, a placard describing it as “Golden Stick gifted to Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru” has been retained. The photo of the placard is also embedded in the ANI story.
In fact, the 4.6-feet-long sengol arrived at the new Parliament complex from the National Museum where it has been housed since November 2022. Interestingly, even before the ornament was handed over in November, it had already travelled to Bangalore from Allahabad for the shooting of the slick propaganda film shared by several government handles.
However, the then curator, Onkar Wankhede, had told The Wire as reported on May 29, “It is not the job of a curator to interpret an object. Our job is simply to describe what is on display. And so the sengol was labelled a ‘golden stick’. The job of interpretation is that of a historian or other experts. Which is why our first curator and later director, S.C. Kala, who received the gifts as they arrived at the museum from about 1948 to 1952, simply recorded them in the register as golden stick. Henceforth, that is the name that has stuck in all official records.”
The Wire reached out to concerned officials at the IGNCA for a comment. This article will be updated when they respond.