On May 28, 2022, the birth anniversary of Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a video message on Twitter, ‘It is Savarkar’s teachings that we have made nationalism the pivot of nation building.’ A year later, on Savarkar’s 140th birth anniversary, the prime minister is set to inaugurate the new Parliament building by installing the 77-year-old Sengol (scepter) – a symbol of sovereignty, strength and righteousness.
Even though the central government’s decision to bring Sengol back to the national capital sparked a debate and discussion about the BJP’s Tamil outreach – by incorporating their tradition and culture into national politics – there are many other reasons behind it. The primary “Hindutva” and “Indian” is controlling the narrative.
The date chosen for the inauguration, the procedures and rituals devised to mark the ceremony are significant and relevant to upcoming political developments, especially the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Senior politicians and experts said it was also an indirect reminder from the government of how the Congress-led government had treated Indian culture in the past and how the party had “misunderstood” Savarkar.
Sanjeev Sanyal, a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India, told News18, “I am very happy that Sengol has been brought back. It marks the transfer of sovereignty to the Indian people after centuries of foreign occupation, and is an ancient It is also a symbol of the continuity of civilization. It is astonishing that all these years most Indians were unaware of its existence.” Sanyal, also a writer, has written several books on Indian history and traditions.
Announcing the Centre’s decision on Wednesday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the decision to bring and install Sengol in the new Parliament House symbolized the “unification of North and South”.
According to political experts, this is one of the many attempts by the government to bring back the focus on ancient Indian traditions, history and civilizational facts and thus, dominate the narrative of “Indianness” and “decolonisation”.
“It is certainly not specific about Tamil outreach, but it is about the national ethos. There used to be different types of kingdoms in ancient India. In the Tamil epic ‘Silappathikaram’, Sengol is mentioned to be celebrated in the kingdoms of Kerala as well. It is a symbol of ensuring the rule of law, the sanctity of government. Sengol should not be limited to language or state, we should not fall into the trap of dichotomizing states, culture and languages. And is immortal. It is about bringing back Indianness and Indian ethos,” said Satchidanand Joshi, member secretary, executive and academic head of Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts (IGNCA).
He said: “This is not only distancing us from history and ancestry, but also a deliberate attempt to put us in an inferiority complex not only by foreign rulers but also by some of our former governments.”
Savarkar, Sengol and ‘Freedom’
For decades intellectuals and politicians have despaired about Sengol’s nondescript location as many of them took to social media to post pictures of it at the museum and vent their outrage.
“Today is Savarkar’s birthday. Vinayak Savarkar was a very important part of our freedom struggle, and this is also a fitting tribute to him,” said Sanyal, who is the author of Revolutionaries: The Other Story of How India Won Its Freedom,
Senior officials in the government are critical members who claim the date was merely a “coincidence, not a conscious decision”; There is another section in the RSS-BJP which feels all these – the date, Vedic rituals, history, tradition and the decision to bring the historic 77-year-old sengol (scepter) – are “inherent”.
“Apart from using ancient symbols and Hindu rituals as the pivot of the process, the government and the new parliament building, it is also a way of dominating the political narrative about Indianness. It is also a part of the process of decolonization and the new government’s efforts to celebrate ‘independence’ in the ‘Amrit Kaal’,” said a senior historian, who is also a member of the RSS.
On a day when 19 opposition parties and the AIMIM separately boycotted the inauguration ceremony, citing the event as an example of “circumventing the high office of the President of India”, Shah presented the gold-plated silver staff. Announced the government’s decision to install – known in Tamil as ‘Sengol’, the official and royal symbol of the transfer of power in southern India – in the new Parliament House.
He also said that Sengol almost disappeared from the sight and memory of the people. It was kept in the ancestral house of former PM Jawaharlal Nehru for years and was discovered in a museum in Allahabad. It was labeled as a “gold rod gifted to Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru”, with several intellectuals sharing its pictures on social media.
He said, ‘There are many such ancient materials and symbols which this government will bring back and present before the people. This is how the process of decolonization will proceed in the ‘Amrit Kaal’,” said a Union minister.