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Explained: What Is Tamil Nadu's Historic Sceptre 'Sengol' That Will Be Placed In New Parliament Building?

Congress leaders have been claiming that there is no documented evidence of Lord Mountbatten, C Rajagopalachari and Jawaharlal Nehru describing the 'Sengol' as a symbol of the transfer of power by the British to India.

Sengol to be installed in new Parliament building
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The day Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the new parliament building on May 28, will also see him installing a historic golden sceptre near the Speaker's seat, Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced at a press conference. The sceptre called 'Sengol' was handed over to the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to mark the transfer of power from British to Indians, the government claims.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah was addressing a press conference on occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi completing nine years in power. “The new Parliament building has been constructed in record time and the PM will felicitate and honour 60,000 workers who built it. The new Parliament building shows PM Modi’s long-term vision,” said Amit Shah.

What is the history of Sengol?

Explaining the history and legacy of the sengol, Shah said that it was more or less forgotten after 1047. "Then, in 1971, a Tamil scholar mentioned it in a book. Our government mentioned it in 2021-22. The 96-year-old Tamil scholar, who was present in 1947, will also be there when it will be installed in the new Parliament building," Amit Shah said.

“A historical event is repeating itself. It is called Sengol in Tamil. It is historical with wealth. It is related to the tradition of the country. Sengol is a cultural heritage. This incident is related to August 14, 1947. This Sengol has played an important role in history. However, it did not come to our notice for so many years. Nehru accepted it from the Britishers on August 14, 1947,” said Shah at the conference. 

The one who receives Sengol is expected to have a fair and just rule, he further said. It holds huge importance in Indian culture, especially Tamilian culture. “Sengol has been important from the time of the Chola dynast. This will be kept in the new Parliament," he said.

Further adding, he said that the transfer of power is not merely a handshake or signing a document and that it must remain connected with local traditions keeping in mind modern needs.

What is the significance of Sengol?

During the Chola period, the Sengol was of great importance during the coronation ceremonies of kings, and was symbolic of transfer of power from one ruler to the next, as the government claims.

According to reports, during the deliberations concerning the symbolic transfer of power from the British to Indian control, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten directed a query to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the inaugural Prime Minister of independent India, regarding an appropriate ceremony that would signify the importance of the event.

Nehru turned to the esteemed statesman C. Rajagopalachari who proposed the ritual rooted in the ancient legacy of the Chola dynasty, where the transfer of power between kings was done after a high priest handed over a sceptre to a new king when he comes to power. 

The Home Minister said that new Parliament building is an example of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's far-sightedness. He said the Prime Minister will honour 7,000 workers (shram yogis) on the inauguration. Shah said invitations for the inauguration of the new Parliament Building were sent to all political parties who were free to act according to their wisdom.

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Was it really a symbol of transfer of power?

A day after Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed a press conference explaining the importance of the sceptre, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressed journalists in Chennai on May 25.

She reiterated that it was the ritual of handing over of this sceptre, made by the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam in Tamil Nadu, to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of Independence that actually symbolised the “transfer of power” from the British to India. 

According to a report by The Hindu, evidence is thin on the government’s claim that this presenting of sceptre was treated by the leaders and the then government as the symbolic transfer of power.

Sitharaman said there were “as many documentary proof” as one wanted and they were included in the docket given to the reporters at the end of the press conference.

However, The Hindu report analyses the "proof" given which showed that the reports from Indian newspapers, including The Hindu, had briefly recorded the presentation of the sceptre, but none spoke about it being a symbol of transfer of power or it being taken on the advice of Rajaji.

The most ironic evidence presented in the docket was a blog post titled “WhatsApp History” written by famous Tamil writer Jeyamohan. In this post, Jeyamohan had in fact ridiculed this version of events as being based on forwards on social media. Stating that the sceptre was likely to be among the many presents sent from across the country during Independence, he , however, said it was a matter of pride for Tamils that the sceptre from the Saivite mutt also reached Nehru, the report also said.

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Responding to media queries, Mr Shah stressed that the Sengol should not be linked to politics. "We want the administration to run by the rule of law and this will always remind us of that," he said. 

What is the debate between Congress and the government?

Congress leaders too have been claiming that there is no documented evidence of Lord Mountbatten, C Rajagopalachari and Jawaharlal Nehru describing the 'Sengol' as a symbol of the transfer of power by the British to India.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has said that the Prime Minister and "his drum-beaters" are using the sceptre for their political ends in Tamil Nadu. "This is typical of this brigade that embroiders facts to suit its twisted objectives," he said.

He claimed that a majestic sceptre conceived of by a religious establishment in the Madras province and crafted in Madras city (now Chennai) was indeed presented to Jawaharlal Nehru in August 1947.

"There is no documented evidence whatsoever of Mountbatten, Rajaji and Nehru describing this sceptre as a symbol of transfer of British power to India. All claims to this effect are plain and simple -- bodgus," he said.

"Wholly and completely manufactured in the minds of a few and dispersed into WhatsApp, and now to the drum-beaters in the media. Two of the finest Rajaji scholars with impeccable credentials have expressed surprise," the Congress general secretary communications said.

Home Minister Amit Shah in response accusing the grand old party of heaping "another shameful insult". The Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam, a holy Saivite Mutt, itself spoke about the importance of the Sengol at the time of India's freedom, Mr Shah said, accusing the Congress of calling the Adheenam's history "bogus".

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At least 19 Opposition parties, including the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Trinamool Congress, the Left, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena on Wednesday said they will not be part of the event.

(With inputs from PTI)

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