The BJP’s claim that the handover of a “Sengol” — a sceptre anointed by Hindu religious leaders — represented the transfer of power from Britain to India in 1947 has been called into question by the Congress, C. Rajagopalachari’s grandson and biographer, and a historian who is an authority on the freedom struggle.
The Congress described as “bogus” the claim about the Sengol, which the Narendra Modi government now plans to install in the new Parliament.
Aditya Mukherjee, who retired as a professor of contemporary history from JNU and has written seminal works on the freedom struggle and the building of a new nation, told The Telegraph he couldn’t find any historical evidence of the Sengol being anything more than a gift from a religious institution to Jawaharlal Nehru.
“This is an effort to Hinduise the whole phenomenon as if a Hindu Rashtra was established in 1947, when the exact opposite actually happened. It is a symbol of what the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha wanted India to be, which the Indian people rejected,” Mukherjee said.
Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “Is it any surprise that the new Parliament is being consecrated with typically false narratives from the WhatsApp University? The BJP/RSS ‘Distorians’ stand exposed yet again with Maximum Claims, Minimum Evidence.”
Union home minister Amit Shah has claimed that Jawaharlal Nehru had on C. Rajagopalachari’s advice been given a Chennai-made Sengol in keeping with an ancient Chola tradition of handing over such a sceptre to a new ruler, symbolising a transfer of power.
The subtext of Shah’s account was that the Sengol symbolised a continuity with ancient Indian tradition that the Congress had played down and which was now being given due recognition.
“There is absolutely no evidence either in the newspapers of the time or in the writings of the leaders in question, that this was a symbol of the transfer of power…. There is no reference to Rajaji being consulted,” Mukherjee said.
“The video released by the government suggested these were historical facts. It seems like a story, and a bad story because the transfer of power from Britain, the main imperialist power, to an independent democracy of India was the biggest event of the 20th century that broke the back of imperialism.
“It was not a transfer of power from one king to another that was mediated by priests. There is nothing to suggest that it was so either in the Constitution or in (Nehru’s) ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech.”
Ramesh tweeted: “1. A majestic sceptre conceived of by a religious establishment in then Madras province and crafted in Madras city was indeed presented to Nehru in August 1947. 2. There is no documented evidence whatsoever of Mountbatten, Rajaji & Nehru describing this sceptre as a symbol of transfer of British power to India. All claims to this effect are plain and simple — BOGUS.
“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 Rajajischolars with impeccable credentials have expressed surprise.”
Ramesh attached to the tweet a news report that suggested that a purported piece of documentary evidence that finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had provided was unconvincing.
Ramesh added: "3. The sceptre was later kept for display at the Allahabad Museum. What Nehru said there on December 14, 1947, is a matter of public record despite whatever labels may say.
"4. The sceptre is now being used by the PM & his drum-beaters for their political ends in Tamil Nadu. This is typical of this brigade that embroiders facts to suit its twisted objectives. The real question is why is President Droupadi Murmu not being allowed to inaugurate the new Parliament?"
Shah retorted: "Why does the Congress party hate Indian traditions and culture so much? A sacred Sengol was given to Pandit Nehru by a holy Saivite Mutt from Tamil Nadu to symbolise India's freedom but it was banished to a museum as a 'walking stick'.
"Now, Congress has heaped 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. Congress is calling the Adheenam's history as BOGUS! Congress needs to reflect on their behaviour."
However, neither the RSS nor BJP stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee or L.K. Advani had ever raised the subject of the Sengol. The Allahabad museum where the sceptre was kept, comes under the Centre, which the BJP has led for nine years. The Centre has said that the rediscovery of the Sengol's history came to light after dancer Padma Subrahmnayam wrote the PMO, sending an English translation of an article on the subject published in Tamil-magazine Thuglak in May, 2021.
Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and Rajaji and biographer of Rajaji, has in an article published on Friday by ndtv.com asked the government to provide evidence to establish its claim.
"According to the story, Mountbatten, the last British viceroy, asked Jawaharlal Nehru whether there was a suitable Indian ceremony of transferring power," Gandhi wrote, referring to the government's claim.
"Nehru, the story goes, in turn sought the advice of Rajaji, who was one of Nehru's senior colleagues in the interim government. After due research, Rajaji, it is said, recommended an old practice of South India's ancient Chola kingdom of handing a jewelled sceptre, the Sengol, to a new ruler, along with advice to be just.”
Gandhi, a research professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the US, added: "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.
"The video that Shah released has a scene where Nehru is draped and anointed by religious leaders as well as multiple scenes where Nehru and Rajaji discuss the question of a transfer-of-power ceremony. Not every viewer will recognise that the scenes are merely enactments by present-day actors."
Multiple commentators suggested on Friday that the documents presented by the government did not support the claim that the Sengol symbolised the transfer of power.
The Hindu reported that one of the documents, a blog post, which was based on social media forwards, ridiculed the claim. The blog post, titled 'WhatsApp History', was written by Tamil writer Jeyamohan. Jeyamohan wrote that the sceptre was likely to have been among several presents sent from across India at Independence.