Political Line | The stories that make a nation

The sengol chronicle as told by the BJP is part fact, part fiction, as many stories that build the nation are  

June 03, 2023 08:40 pm | Updated October 16, 2023 02:43 pm IST

Illustration for The Hindu

Illustration for The Hindu | Photo Credit: Satheesh Vellinezhi

(This is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George. The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)

Big Picture

The opening of the new Parliament building on May 28 could have been an occasion for reconciliation in India’s fractured political-scape, but that is not how it turned out. Opposition parties boycotted the inauguration, and the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not think they needed to do something about it. The installation of a sengol or golden sceptre gifted to the first Prime Minister of India by a Saivite sect of Tamil Nadu (TN) at the new Parliament building, triggered an acrimonious debate.

The Hindu editorial noted, “The current dispensation has sought to reimagine the founding principles of India’s republican sovereignty,” through the installation of the religious symbol in Parliament. “A sengol symbolised divine right and is now installed in the Assembly of people’s representatives… It is also notable that the day of the inauguration was also the birth anniversary of V.D. Savarkar, the founding father of Hindutva. A quest to transition Indian republicanism to a new iteration was apparent in the style and substance of the ceremony,” it said.

The Sengol was gifted by Thiruvavaduthurai Mutt in Tamil Nadu to the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, on August 14, 1947, and the BJP has now retold that event as signifying the transfer of power from the British to the Congress. This embellishment has no historical basis, but that does not stop the BJP and its supporters.

Regardless of the facts, the sengol has now entered the official narrative of India’s nation building. Facts will fade in the decades to come, and the official narrative will gain the status of absolute truth. Questioning those claims may be possible today, but with the passage of time, it might become sedition. The sect that the sengol came from is not Brahmin. The Saivites in Tamil Nadu were actually aligned with the anti-Brahmin movement in the State. By appropriating a Saivite sect from TN, the BJP has tried to undermine the Dravidian politics in the State. In fact, the two main Dravidian parties did not protest the BJP move.

In a contemporary commentary, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) founder and late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu C.N. Annadurai, had however made a scathing critique of the sengol event that Nehru played along with. “The heads of the mutts, who are afraid that you might seek to implement what you have learnt, will not only give a golden sceptre, but even a sceptre embedded with navaratnas to protect themselves,” Anna wrote, arguing the religious leaders were trying to buy protection from the democratic regime that was taking shape in the newly independent nation.

In this context, a book I would recommend is The Truths and Lies of Nationalism as Narrated by Charvak by Partha Chatterjee. You can listen to a discussion with Prof. Chatterjee here.

Stories build the nation. Most of these stories are half truths. That is the Big Picture.

Federalism Tract: Notes on Indian diversity

Assam and multilingualism

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. File.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. File. | Photo Credit: ANI

In an interview to me, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma discusses identity politics in the northeast, and how Assamese sub-nationalism is changing. “From the core Assamese-language-based society, we are now transforming ourselves to a multilingual State with Assamese as a lingua franca,” he says.

Crossing borders

Labourers from various north Indian States coming to Tamil Nadu for employment was only beneficial and not bad for the State, Chief Minister M.K. Stalin told a Tamil newspaper in Singapore recently, when asked about his views on the increasing number of migrants arriving in Tamil Nadu for employment. In a discussion moderated by journalist Sobhana K. Nair, Sudha Pai, and K. K. Kailash discuss whether there is a clear north-south divide in politics.

Pictures speak

A mural of the Indian subcontinental landmass in the newly inaugurated Parliament building.

A mural of the Indian subcontinental landmass in the newly inaugurated Parliament building. | Photo Credit: Twitter/@JoshiPralhad

A mural in the new parliament building which is interpreted by a BJP leader as showing undivided India, has been criticised by Nepali politicians across party lines; it shows Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, indicating India’s claims over the region.

Penalty strike

Appealing to the southern States to question the delimitation of Lok Sabha seats, the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) working president and Telangana IT Minister, K.T. Rama Rao said they cannot be penalised for controlling their population growth and concentrating on development. He called for political parties in the south to unite against this. Union Minister for Culture, Tourism, and Development of the Northeast Region G. Kishan Reddy said the Centre was in no hurry to go ahead with the delimitation of constituencies and whenever it was taken up it would be done as per the Constitution and law as well as established procedures. That means it will happen as scheduled, after the 2031 census.

A question of inheritance

The 22nd Law Commission has said in its report that sedition needs to be retained but certain amendments could be made for greater clarity regarding its usage. Representative Image

The 22nd Law Commission has said in its report that sedition needs to be retained but certain amendments could be made for greater clarity regarding its usage. Representative Image | Photo Credit: AP

Sedition is a colonial legacy but that cannot be the ground to remove it from the statutes, according to the Law Commission. Most of the Indian legal system is an inheritance of the colonial rule, in any case, the commission points out. The Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dealing with sedition needs to be retained but certain amendments could be made for greater clarity regarding its usage, according to the commission.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.