Sengol a crass electoral gambit to gain votes in TN: historian Madhavan Palat

Historian Madhavan K. Palat has joined Rajmohan Gandhi in saying there is no record, no evidence, no photo of a ‘sengol’ being formally handed to PM Nehru in 1947

PM Modi surveys the new Parliament building (left); the 'sengol' (sceptre) set to be installed there on May 28 (photos courtesy PMO & GOI)
PM Modi surveys the new Parliament building (left); the 'sengol' (sceptre) set to be installed there on May 28 (photos courtesy PMO & GOI)

NH Digital

Hundreds of gifts were routinely given to Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister of India, and the so-called sengol (sceptre)—now to be installed in the new parliament building at the Lok Sabha speaker's right hand—was in all probability just another such gift that Nehru accepted on 14/15 August 1947.

That's the best-case conjecture, suggest Madhavan K. Palat in a video interview to the NewsMinute, because as he notes, there is no official record, no photograph and no mention of it in biographies, autobiographies or letters. There are photographs of Lord Mountbatten swearing in Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister, he points out. But there is no photograph showing Mountbatten handing over a sengol, as is being claimed by the present Union government.

Like Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (governor general of India between 1948 and 1950, who took over the mantle from Lord Mountbatten), Palat is also a distinguished historian and an authority on Jawaharlal Nehru, having edited 41 of the 100 volumes of the first prime minister’s selected works. His familiarity with the archival materials is therefore beyond question.

The full interview can be accessed here:

There was no question of Nehru having accepted a royal sceptre by way of transfer of power, Palat says, because India had resolved to be a democracy and a republic, which it finally became in 1950. Even if the sengol had been a gift from the British, it would be inappropriate and it would have been wrong for Jawaharlal Nehru to have accepted it, says Palat. It does not make any constitutional sense and seems to be a far-fetched piece of fiction cooked up by the present government.

What is more, Nehru would never have dreamt of receiving a symbol of power from a priest, the historian insisted. “Who was [the priest, in the context of the political state] and by what authority would the priest have handed over the symbol of sovereignty and power?” Palat wondered.

Reminding the interviewer that Nehru had publicly opposed President Rajendra Prasad when he expressed a desire to attend the foundation or installation of the reconstructed Somnath temple in 1951, Palat insists that while politeness would have prompted Nehru to accept it as a gift, it is far-fetched to believe that he saw it as a symbol of ‘transfer of power’.

Indeed, Pandit Nehru had little patience with the priestly class and would often lecture them on religion and culture. “Those priests would not have given any lecture to him; he would have lectured them on dharma,” the historian quips.

The crass attempt by the government, he says, appears to be to gain some votes in Tamil Nadu. The Cholas were indeed the most influential royal dynasty in Tamil Nadu, and by placing a symbol of Chola sovereignty in the new parliament building, the ruling party is merely playing an electoral gambit.

Whether this will actually influence voters or not remains to be seen, but in a democracy, the parliament does not require a royal sceptre to represent the authority of the people, who are the rulers. What next? A crown?

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