It is difficult to say which of these scenes was more shameful.
One was a picture of a 'Golden Wand' which some Brahmins of Tamil Nadu call sengol, a sceptre, looking down upon a Prime Minister prostrating before it during the inauguration of the country's new parliament. The second image from New Delhi is that of the tricolour lying on the ground near the boots of the police, snatched from the hands of the wrestlers demanding the arrest of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP, accused of sexual harassment. There is yet, another picture of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh entering the Parliament with a cruel triumphant smile on his face in front of media cameras.
On one side, there was the noise of religious chants. On the other, were slogans demanding justice. The smoke from the havan that was being performed in the house of modern democracy, blinded the eyes of the people of India to prevent them from witnessing the struggle of our sportswomen for their democratic rights.
Power Comes From the Public
28 May 2023 will go down in the history of India as one of the most shameful days of Indian democracy. All democratic and constitutional values were flouted in the seat of democracy, that is, Parliament itself. A farce was enacted in which the leader of the ruling party elected by the votes of the people received a ‘sengol’(sceptre) from the hands of the brahmins. The same sengol that was lying in the Allahabad Museum for 75 years. Where else could it be in a democracy?
The source of power in a democracy is the public, that right comes from the public. The ruler obtains his position through the mandate of the people and not by divine order.
In a democracy, the head of the government is the representative of the people, not one anointed by God. He is only a representative of the people and his rule is temporary. The people can withdraw their pleasure and his power goes. No divine authority can protect or restore it.
A monumental lie was fabricated and turned into truth. This manufacturing of lies is shameful, even if not surprising, given the record of Narendra Modi and his party. This time the home minister misused his position to sell a shameful lie. Amit Shah provided an account stating that at the time of Independence in August 1947, Lord Mountbatten asked Nehru if any rituals were being followed in India for the transfer of power.
Nehru then turned to Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, popularly known as Rajaji, who referred to the tradition followed by kings in Tamil Nadu for transferring power by handing over the sengol. Shah maintained that Rajaji arranged for a sengol from Tamil Nadu, which Mountbatten handed over to Nehru to signify the transfer of power from Britain to India.
The Sengol Lie
All the historians have denied this lie. From Rajaji's grandson and his biographer Rajmohan Gandhi to the editor of the Nehru volumes, Madhavan Palat, and others who have studied the transfer of power and written about it extensively, clearly said that this is a lie. The priests of the Adheenam from Tamil Nadu who are said to have given the sengol to Mountbatten who then handed it over to Nehru, themselves have said that they had no proof of Shah's claim.
The truth is that before August 15, some priests from the Adheenam in Tamil Nadu came to Delhi by train with a sengol to express their happiness on this occasion and ceremoniously presented this sengol to Nehru. It was a purely private affair, between these priests and Nehru. It had no political importance. Nehru accepted it in an entirely private event, not in the parliament and that too only out of courtesy.
There was no question of Nehru accepting the sengol as a symbol of the transfer of power. He believed in Republican values. The source of power in a democracy is the public. Its source is not God, nor do Brahmins have the right to validate or authenticate it.
Nehru, who was opposed to linking the state with any kind of religious symbols and was considered an atheist, took this sengol in his hands, respecting the sentiment of those from the Adheenam. He also accepted the shawl given by them, but then sent these so-called symbols of royalty to where it belongs in any democracy: a museum. It was presented to him privately so it could not form part of the state exhibits.
Nehru did all this personally. It was not possible for Nehru to decide on the form and manner of the transfer of power. Because only the Constituent Assembly could take all such decisions. How power should be transferred was decided by the proposal of this Jan Pratinidhi Sabha. Who could have proposed something as foolish as giving a sengol to Nehru through the hands of Mountbatten? 75 years needed to pass for this idea to be concocted by the current regime.
The People are the Sovereign
The women wrestlers are fighting for their rights, which is how democracies live and get life. People have to remain constantly aware that they are the ones who are the sovereign and not the state or the government. Justice does not depend on the sweet will of a king. Rulers securing power through the people can later turn against them saying that above them is a divine power through which they derive their authority and they are not answerable to the people.
The people have then to assert their sovereignty. They do it through struggles the way the women wrestlers are doing. They are following the footsteps of the farmers who forced this government to kneel down, or the Muslim women who led the Shaheen Bagh protests across India, stopping the government in its tracks. Despite all its bravado, the government has not been able to frame rules to implement the CAA.
People, when aware of their rights, aware of the fact that they are the source of power and not a divinity, who fight for them, ultimately win. The wrestlers have faced violence at the hands of a regime who is blinded by hubris. It will be its undoing.
We also have to decide which one is more glorious scene: that of a democratically elected head of a government anointing himself as a monarch or the scene of the battle of the women sportspersons and people from other sections of the society joining them in solidarity fighting for justice and rights. Which scene would we like to part of? Not merely as spectators but also as actors?
The Disturbing Juxtaposition
Narendra Modi wants to give life to this symbol of royalty again. And, along with it, recognizing the authority of Brahmins as validators of the divine power as well. He wants to be considered a king appointed by God. This is not surprising. Because the dream of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the return of the Peshwai after the departure of the British. It wants the coronation of a new Peshwa, Modi being their candidate.
All the MPs of the BJP have reduced themselves to courtiers of Modi and want the people’s representatives belonging to the opposition also to become courtiers like them. They rightly refused and declined to be spectators to this farce, in the name of attending the inauguration of the new Parliament building.
The Parliament building is not just a brick-and-mortar building. It is the voice of the public that gives life to it, not the sound of a religious mantra. Yesterday, while the new building of the parliament was filled with the noise of mantras, the streets leading to it were reverberating with slogans demanding justice for people. The throats from where this sound for justice emanated were throttled.
India's sportswomen have been fighting for 6 months demanding justice against the BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. But the usually talkative Prime Minister has kept his mouth shut on this demand for justice. The 'sceptre' that was consecrated in the Parliament yesterday, rained on the backs of the public at the hands of the police on the streets of Delhi and its surrounding areas.
As we saw with the wrestlers, the power of the people was crushed on the day of the inauguration of the new parliament building. A day will come when this crushed humanity will bring life back to Parliament. And then this sengol will be sent back to where it belongs: a museum.
(The writer teaches at Delhi University. He tweets @Apoorvanand__. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)