May 30, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Sengol should be placed in the new Parliament of India. We also look at the decrease in liquor sales in Andhra Pradesh, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Should the Sengol be placed in the new Parliament of India?
It’s not every day that a country gets a new Parliament. When it does, it’s more than just an infrastructural upgrade. It’s a symbolically charged environment signifying victories and visions for democracy. It’s a performance of protocol, duties, and values of the Indian State. The fact that at least 20 parties refused to attend the new building’s inauguration is, perhaps telling, of the discord between the visions of the ruling party and other political leaders in the state.
One flashpoint between the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Centre and the Congress party is the use of Sengol in the Parliament’s inauguration, among other religious rituals. While the Centre claims it represented the transfer of power from the British to Indians in 1947, the Congress disagrees. So do a lot of media publications, like The Hindu and The News Minute.
Well, what is a Sengol? It’s a 5-foot-long gilded sceptre with Nandi, Shiva’s sacred bull, adorning its head. Its origins lie in the monarchical traditions in pre-modern Tamil Nadu. The Sengol was used before and during the Chola period, where the transition of power from one king to the other was sanctified by high priests and symbols of power handed over to the monarch.
Just like crowns and tiaras, sceptres have been used as symbols of monarchy in various parts of the world. It’s a royal insignia.
In ancient Egypt, it was typically a long staff with an animal atop its head. In the United Kingdom, Sovereign Sceptres are handed over to the monarch during their coronation to symbolise their divine power.
The very basis of a monarch’s authority is vested in the divine rights principle – that they are touched by god, closer to god, and thus, above the realm of humans.
This much about the Sengol and the sceptre is verified. It’s also public knowledge that before the new Parliament, the Sengol resided in the Allahabad Museum in Uttar Pradesh. But problems materialised when the Centre decided to use this symbol of the divine rights of the monarch near the Lok Sabha speaker’s seat in the new Parliament.
Something about an ancient symbol of absolute power in a building that houses leaders of Indian democracy didn’t sit well with some.
Then there’s the contention over the Centre’s claims about what the Sengol signifies. On 24 May, a few days before the Parliament’s inauguration, Home Minister Amit Shah got into why the Sengol is an essential symbol for India. He claimed that handing over the gilded sceptre is a sanctified ritual that denotes the transfer of power.
He then presented a version of post-Independence history from an official docket, which many contend is fabricated. The Centre said that at the time of Indian independence, Lord Mountbatten, the Dominion of India’s first Governer-General, asked Jawaharlal Nehru about an Indian ritual for transferring power that they could conduct.
At Rajaji’s behest, the Sengol was chosen, brought to New Delhi, given to Mountbatten, and passed on to Nehru.
Some people see it differently. There’s even a nuanced discussion on Wikipedia over whether Sengol’s Wikipedia page should be deleted. You see, there wasn’t much known about the Sengol before the Union government announced its place in the Parliament. Whether the present evidence is proof enough for a page is debatable.
Recently, the General Secretary of the Congress, Jairam Ramesh, openly criticised the Centre’s claims. So did political scholars, who argued it was never a symbol of transition from British rule to self-rule. But does that mean that the Sengol shouldn’t be in Parliament?
VIEW: It’s a symbol of power
The Centre’s account of events did not appear out of thin air. Parts of it have historical veracity. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in Freedom at Midnight have described the handing over ritual. They wrote that priests laid the golden sceptre in Nehru’s arms, along with splashing water from the Ganges on him, presenting him with a Pitambaram, and spreading ash on his forehead.
There’s also proof that such a sceptre was requested, although it’s unclear by whom. Its makers, Vummidi Ethirajulu and Vummidi Sudhakar from Chennai’s Vummidi Bangaru Chetty Jewellers are still alive. They remember making it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his inaugural address, said that its installation in the Parliament is the Centre’s way of giving it the respect it deserves.
The Centre has argued that there is not much historical documentation of the Sengol and its importance as a symbol of the transition of power due to the devastation of the Partition. It’s possible that political leaders and government officials were too busy dealing with the after-effects of the Independence to record it officially.
COUNTERVIEW: A far-fetched claim
No historical sources describe the Sengol as a symbol of the transition from the British to the Indians. The only part of the Centre’s story backed by historical evidence is that the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam mutt conferred the sceptre on Nehru. As for the rest, they seem to be nothing more than a story picked up from a 2017 Facebook post by the Shaiva mutt.
The Centre’s docket is clumsy in its memory. The sceptre wasn’t flown into Delhi. It travelled from the Central Railway Station to Delhi. It’s extremely doubtful that Mountbatten would perform the ceremony in 1947, even though he was the Governor-General of the Dominion of India until 1950. Per Collins and Lapierre and a Time magazine article, the ritual in question wasn’t an official ceremony but a part of many gifts conferred by religious figures from across India to Nehru at his residence. At best, it was a courteous gesture for India’s first prime minister.
Lastly, there are concerns over whether a symbol of divine rights in the parliament is an anachronism. It’s deemed as another one of the BJP’s tactics to paint Modi as a symbol of righteousness, made possible by the presence of the sceptre and the absence of the President and Vice President. After all, their attendance would accord more importance than the prime minister, per protocol. In a multi-religious society, it’s also concerning when the state accords supremacy to symbols of one religion. Some wonder if it’s also a part of the BJP’s appeasement plan for Tamil Nadu voters in 2024.
- ‘Sengol’ to be installed in the new parliament: Significance of the sceptre, first given to Nehru – The Indian Express
- The Many Holes in the Union Government’s Claims Around the Sengol – The Wire
- What to Know About the Orb and Sceptres Crown Jewels – Harpers Bazaar
- Sengol symbol of transfer of power, but was kept as walking stick at Anand Bhawan: PM Narendra Modi – The Economic Times
- Sengol and the transfer of power to Nehru: Why Modi govt’s claim is flimsy – The News Minute
- PM Narendra Modi installs Sengol in new Parliament building amid religious rituals – Telegraph
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Sengol should be in the new Parliament of India.
b) The Sengol should not be in the new Parliament of India.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Mission Niramaya progress (Uttar Pradesh) – As the Mission Niramaya is in full swing to improve paramedical education in the state, the state government claims to have reformed the medical education system. 702 institutions were evaluated for quality, over 1,000 affiliation applications cleared, and 20 defaulter institutions penalised. 12 mentor institutes have been recruited to guide 110 mentee institutes with the first phase having a five-day training program.
Why it matters: Since coming to power in 2017, the Yogi Adityanath government claims to have strengthened the health and medical infrastructure in the state. Despite this, there is a shortage of healthcare workers. Less than 3% of nurses recruited by the State Public Service Commission reached the minimum basic knowledge benchmark. Mission Niramaya was launched last September to plug this gap.
Decrease in liquor sales (Andhra Pradesh) – Liquor sales in the state have declined over the past few months, with a 55% decrease. The Andhra Pradesh Beverages Corporation Limited (APBCL) said it’s due to a shortage in the supply of beer, while for other types of liquor, the supply is constant. Liquor sales continued to rise throughout 2022 but began to decline starting this January.
Why it matters: The worker’s strike in major breweries could be one reason for the low beer supply, but the decline of Indian Made Liquor (IML) by more than 50% is unusual. There hasn’t been a decline in sales in bars, which have increased by 15%. The data was provided by the Chief Minister’s dashboard which updates in real time.
Praise for Bori-Bandh (Jharkhand) – During his recent Mann ki Baat address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the state’s Bori Bandh initiative in the rebel-hit Khunti district. It involves building small dams by filling sand and soil in cement bags that are stacked on each other to prevent water from flowing into local rivulets. It helps maintain the water table and ensures year-round irrigation.
Why it matters: Most of the region’s farmers could only grow kharif crops due to inadequate water supply. This changed in 2019 when the Sewa Welfare Society and the Gram Sabha began the bori-bandh initiative. There are more than 275 low-cost bandhs in the district. It has benefitted over 8,000 farmers in more than 70 villages.
Keeping a check on the noise (Goa) – The state government has chosen a Pune-based company that uses Polish technology to help monitor noise levels on 12 beaches. The government has entered into a 5-year contract with Velan Technologies which will install equipment to meet the US and European Union norms. The installation will take a couple of months, and the company will help with monitoring.
Why it matters: The Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) has received repeated complaints of excess noise at beach events. Goa Tourism and the Goa Tourism Development Corporation have hotels in most of the state’s coastal areas. Now, there’ll be a screen displaying the noise levels thanks to the new equipment.
Recognition for Gorkhas (Nagaland) – The state government declared Gorkhas of the state as non-indigenous non-Naga local residents. The notification was made for their contribution to the state and for helping develop Kohima as a township. Speaking on the occasion, Governor La Ganesan said people from Kohima have a history of sacrifice for the country.
Why it matters: Gorkha settlers in the state, especially in Kohima, go back almost two centuries. According to the Governor, they might’ve come to the Angami region probably as recruits for the armed forces. When the community grew, the British government established two Gorkha villages named Chandmari and Aradhura.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
90% – According to a PwC report, Unified Payments Interface (UPI) transactions will account for 90% of all retail digital payments in India by 2026-27.