Fact-Check: The Sengol Was Never Labelled 'Walking Stick', Nor Kept in Anand Bhawan

Examining the misrepresentations, half-truths and the journey of the sengol from Allahabad Museum to the new Parliament building.

New Delhi: Contrary to reports that the sengol, installed in Parliament on Sunday, May 28, was “mis-labelled” as Jawaharlal Nehru’s walking stick, a retired curator of Allahabad Museum, Dr Onkar Anand Rao Wankhede, told The Wire that the item on display at the Allahabad Museum in Uttar Pradesh was simply titled, “Golden Stick gifted to Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru”. There was no mention of “walking stick” as the BJP has been claiming.

The BJP has been falsely claiming that the stick was labelled as “Nehru’s walking stick”. “Even the words Jawaharlal Nehru were not mentioned in the description,” he adds.

Housed in the museum at Allahabad as part of the collection of India’s first prime minister, Wankhede says, “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.”

Interestingly, that it was labelled a ‘golden stick’ and not a ‘walking stick’ by the museum, is borne out by a story done by news agency ANI. On May 26, ANI’s story was carried prominently by several news outlets where the photo of the part of the display where the sengol was originally kept was prominently published.

While the sengol was moved out of the museum November 4, 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.

The sengol was handed over to the National Museum in Delhi on November 4, 2022 after an MoU between the Allahabad Museum and the National Museum. A nod was taken from Uttar Pradesh Governor, Anandiben Patel, who is ex officio chairperson of Allahabad Museum, where the sengol was kept, and not at Anand Bhavan, the home of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Sengol not procured from Anand Bhawan

Addressing the adheenams soon after the ceremony on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated, “The sengol was displayed at Anand Bhavan in Prayagraj as a walking stick…this government has taken it out of Anand Bhavan.”

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 the November ceremony, it had already travelled to Bangalore from Allahabad for the shooting of the slick propaganda film shared by several government handles.

Also read: Parliament Is Not a Temple Where We Worship Gods and Men

Government video not based on facts

On taking a closer look at what appears to be a “disclaimer” at the beginning, the film does not claim to be based on historical facts.  “This video contains a re-enactment of an Event (sic) that took place in August 1947. The Event was widely reported in Indian and international media, and documented in books. The video is based on these reports.”

The video has been produced by IGNCA and the sengol even has a website of its own – “sengol1947ignca.in” – where the words “Government of India” are prominently displayed.

The ‘re-enactment’ of history in present times as per the BJP began with some 20 holy men or adheenams arriving to greet and ‘bless’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. While Nehru had been handed one sengol, the adheenams greeted Modi not with one but with several sengols. “The adheenams greeted the Prime Minister at a reception on May 27 as per their own traditions and some of them gifted him with a sengol,” says IGNCA member secretary Sachidananda Joshi.

In other words, the original sengol of Nehru was not amongst the many sengols that were gifted to Modi by the adheenams as is being made out to be by the media. The original was safely ensconced at the National Museum all the while.

As for the video, it claims the sengol was flown to Delhi in a special plane from what was then Madras. A report in Time magazine from 1947 and other media indicates the adheenams travelled by train, as earlier reported by The Wire. Nor was the sengol first handed over to Lord Louis Mountbatten “in a transfer of power”. Time magazine on August 25, 1947, in a descriptive article about celebrations around Indian independence, said the following:

“Even such an agnostic as Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of becoming India’s first Prime Minister, fell into the religious spirit. From Tanjore in south India came two emissaries of Sri Amblavana Desigar, head of a sannyasi order of Hindu ascetics. Sri Amblavana thought that Nehru, as first Indian head of a really Indian Government ought, like ancient Hindu kings, to receive the symbol of power and authority from Hindu holy men.

With the emissaries came south India’s most famous player of the nadasaram, a special kind of Indian flute. Like other sannyasis, who abstain from hair-cutting and hair-combing, the two emissaries wore their long hair properly matted and wound round their heads. Their naked chests and foreheads were streaked with sacred ash, blessed by Sri Amblavana. In an ancient Ford, the evening of Aug. 14, they began their slow, solemn progress to Nehru’s house. Ahead walked the flutist, stopping every 100 yards or so to sit on the road and play his flute for about 15 minutes. Another escort bore a large silver platter. On it was the pithambaram (cloth of God), a costly silk fabric with patterns of golden thread. 

When at last they reached Nehru’s house, the flutist played while the sannyasis awaited an invitation from Nehru.

Then they entered the house in dignity, fanned by two boys with special fans of deer hair. One sannyasi carried a scepter of gold, five feet long, two inches thick. He sprinkled Nehru with holy water from Tanjore and drew a streak in sacred ash across Nehru’s forehead. Then he wrapped Nehru in the pithambaram and handed him the golden scepter. He also gave Nehru some cooked rice which had been offered that very morning to the dancing god Nataraja in south India, then flown by plane to Delhi.” (Emphasis added)

Note: This article was updated on May 30, 2023 to include new information.