Sengol not for House of Democracy

The flood of sentiments over the sceptre, a symbol of monarchy, can obfuscate serious discussions on democracy.
Sengol not for House of Democracy


Kochi | Amidst all the uproar over who should inaugurate the new Parliament building comes up a new issue of the historic Chola-inspired ‘sengol’ or sceptre. It has pride of place in India’s history. What Home Minister Amit Shah said was it was being introduced in the august House as a significant ‘hisorical’ symbol of Independence. It was a representation of power transfer from Britain to India. Before midnight on August 14, 1947, the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru accepted the sengol from the last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten through Hindu saints from Tamil Nadu.

That this sceptre went to the museum in Allahabad and was displayed there as “Golden walking stick to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru” and has now been retrieved after descriptions of its making, 100 sovereigns of gold that went into it, how the government then paid Rs 15,000 and how it was packed and shipped to Delhi for the momentous “tryst with destiny” have been doing big rounds now.

All this raving of history, tradition and a glorious past only blur the controversy of sidelining the President for the inauguration of the new Parliament building. And to that extent, the powers-that-be have succeeded.

Paradoxically, the sengol is a symbol of monarchy being placed in the temple of the world’s largest democracy. It was the representation of the might, legitimacy and control of the Chola kings over their realm. Over 565 princely States were merged into the Union of India after Independence, purging out any vestige of kingship. Presidents and Prime Ministers are elected democratically and never anointed as in a monarchy.

It is a fact that any symbol associated with religious sentiments shatters the secular fabric of the country. It is a fact that Nehru was coerced to accept the last Governor-General C Rajagopalachari’s suggestion to receive the sengol during the transfer of power. It was Chola tradition to have a high priest anoint the new king giving him a sceptre. Rajaji, as he was popularly called, contacted a Shaivite mutt then to know more about the tradition and this mutt arranged the sceptre. Perhaps, that made Nehru relegate it to the museum. Now too, prior to bringing the sengol centrestage, consultations were made with Shaivite mutt leaders which go against a secular tradition of the country already being torn down by religious bigotry from various quarters.

The sengol, like any other artefact, is of prime importance in the country’s long and rich history replete with the rules of several dynasties, though attempts are on to deliberately obliterate some of them. Such artefacts, why even those associated with Mahatma Gandhi or BR Ambedkar or Sardar Patel who strived for our freedom, should get proper display in a museum. The sengol could rightly be in the Parliament’s museum where the public can have easy access and know more about a glorious past.

The high values of the ‘temple of democracy’ can be upheld by making it a place for serious debates and solutions to the innumerable problems people here face. A degeneration has set in over the past few decades, not just in Parliament, but across every sphere. That should be arrested and that is what this new House should do.

Unfortunately, the word ‘sceptre’ evokes images from the lines of James Shirley’s poem ‘Death The Leveller’:

“The glories of our blood and State

Are shadows, not substantial things;…..

Sceptre and Crown

Must tumble down,

And in the dust be equal made

With the poor crooked scythe and spade….

Only the actions of the just

Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.”  

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