Rajmohan Gandhi questions the sengol myth and the ‘official’ documentary
Embarrassingly for the Union government, Rajmohan Gandhi—historian, grandson of C. Rajagopalachari and his biographer—questions the object ever having been Nehru's 'sceptre'
The ‘official’ video shows Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajaji discussing aspects of the transfer-of-power ceremony in 1947, and stars the now almost-mythical sengol that will be part of the Parliament inauguration, destined to reside in the Lok Sabha.
But not many viewers will recognise that the scenes in the 'documentary' are “merely enactments by present-day actors” and will assume they are viewing an actual religious ceremony and actual conversations between Nehru and Rajaji, writes Rajaji’s grandson and biographer Rajmohan Gandhi in an opinion piece published, ironically enough, on the Gautam Adani-owned website NDTV.
The video should have cautioned viewers that they are watching enactments and not historical recordings, he points out. Since the video also has still photographs from the time, the possibilities are high that viewers would assume the enactments to be documentaries.
Even more damning is the eminent historian’s admission that he had never heard this sengol story presented so solemnly by Union home minister Amit Shah. Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (1878–1972), better known as Rajaji, was one of the important members of the interim government and the country’s governor general between 1948 and 1950.
“I had never heard of Rajaji's purported role in the Sengol story. Since the 1947 story is new to many, and not just to me, I hope that documents that confirm the roles in the story ascribed to Mountbatten, Nehru and Rajaji are made public as soon as possible. It would be good for the government's credibility,” he goes on to write.
A fact check by The Hindu, he points out, shows that the sengol was first presented to Lord Mountbatten, then viceroy of India, by the priests in whose keeping it was—and then taken back. It was then taken in a procession to Jawaharlal Nehru’s residence on 17 York Road in Delhi and handed over to him. Contrary to the official claims, The Hindu has also found photographs in its archives which show the priests from Madurai boarding a train in Madras for Delhi.
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Rajmohan Gandhi points out that even if it is accepted and proved that the sceptre was handed over to Nehru at his residence, it would not make it an official function or even a state function. A report in the American Time magazine from that time also records that gifts from all over the country poured into Delhi for the leaders of the Congress and that religious ceremonies were held at their residence too.
“Any ceremony in the private home of a public servant, no matter how elevated, is not a state ceremony or a national ceremony,” writes Rajmohan Gandhi.
BJP leaders have been mocking Nehru for depositing the sceptre in the museum in Allahabad as a ‘walking stick’. Investing the sceptre with historic relevance, it is now planned for a group of priests from Tamil Nadu to hand over the ‘walking stick’ to Prime Minister Modi on Sunday. PM Modi will then pass it on to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla for permanent installation in the new Lok Sabha chamber.
Rajmohan Gandhi signs off by saying, “Finally, would giving this sengol a permanent place inside the Lok Sabha chamber be true to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution?”