Why sengol, when it was Bapu’s lathi that won us our freedom?

Samajwadi Party MP wrote to speaker to point out that the sceptre or 'raj dand' had no place in Parliament

President Draupadi Murmu ahead of her address to Parliament (photo: PTI)
President Draupadi Murmu ahead of her address to Parliament (photo: PTI)

A.J. Prabal

While party spokespersons and TV anchors have been excitedly discussing the fresh sengol controversy, the fact remains that even the PMO was oblivious about the sengol until 2021, when S. Gurumurthy wrote an article about it in the magazine Tughlaq and Dr Padma Subramanium wrote to the PMO referring to the article.

The sceptre was traced back to the Allahabad museum and brought back to New Delhi and installed in the new Parliament building in May 2023 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It was said by the BJP then that the sceptre was presented to Lord Mountbatten, who ceremonially handed it over to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to symbolise the transfer of power at midnight on 14 August 1947.

N. Ram, editor of the Hindu, described the stories around the sengol as ‘manufactured lies’ and pointed out that the sengol was just one of the hundreds of gifts sent from different parts of the country to the prime minister-designate. There was no way the priests from Tamil Nadu could have met Lord Mountbatten on 14 August, he said, because he was in Karachi on the occasion of transfer of power to Pakistan before flying back to New Delhi at 7.00 pm.

The dubious historical sources cited last year by the Union government had been questioned then but the fresh controversy was triggered by the Samajwadi Party MP’s letter urging the removal of the sengol from the parliament as it represented ‘monarchy’.

“Our Parliament is a temple of democracy, not a place of royalty. I request the sengol be removed and replaced by a large replica of the Constitution.” The MP from Mohanlalganj told a news agency that the sceptre symbolised a raj dand or "raja ka danda [the king’s stick]… Will the country be run by raja ka danda or the Constitution?” he asked.

N. Ram also said at the time that there was no evidence whatsoever of any ceremony involving the sengol in 1947. In the second Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture delivered by Mountbatten, titled ‘Transfer of Power and Jawaharlal Nehru’, at Trinity College of the University of Cambridge in 1968, there was no reference to any ceremony either, he had pointed out.

Ram added that the claim that Nehru sought the help of Rajaji, and representatives of the Thiruvavaduthurai adheenam (monastery) went to New Delhi in a special plane and met Mountbatten before meeting Nehru, was “complete fiction”. In contemporary newspapers, too, there was no mention of any such ceremony or to the sengol.

The adheenam had released an advertisement on page 2 of the Hindu on 29 August titled ‘Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenakarthars presentation of Golden Sceptre to Nehruji’, with three pictures. The Hindu had carried a small news item with a photo of the party deputed by the adheenam to present the golden sceptre before leaving Madras Central Station on 11 August.

Ram pointed out that the present pontiff of the adheenam had also admitted on video that there was no photographic evidence that the representatives had met Mountbatten.

While BJP leaders and its supporters have taken immense pain to claim that the sengol was actually a nyay dand and symbolised justice, not royalty, Opposition leaders have rallied round the Samajwadi Party MP to say the sengol’s rightful place was the museum, not Parliament.

None of the evidence presented by the Union government last year established that the sceptre was symbolically first given to Mountabtten and taken back before being presented to Nehru, thus symbolising the transfer of power. The most ‘ironic’ evidence presented by the government was a blog post titled 'WhatsApp History' written by Tamil writer Jeyamohan, who actually ridiculed this version of events as based on social media forwards.

The best take on the controversy is from cartoonist who said it was only the lathi (staff or stick) of Mahatma Gandhi that secured us independence. Perhaps that stick should rightfully find a place in Parliament as a reminder to the lawmakers.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines