By Pon Vasanth B.A
Chennai, May 27 (The Hindu): None of the evidence presented said the sceptre was first symbolically given to Mountbatten and taken back before being presented to Nehru, symbolising the transfer” Photo: Screengrab from a video posted in https://sengol1947ignca.in/ that puports to reenact the handover event.
“None of the evidence presented said the sceptre was first symbolically given to Mountbatten and taken back before being presented to Nehru, symbolising the transfer” Photo: Screengrab from a video posted in https://sengol1947ignca.in/ that puports to reenact the handover event.
A day after Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed a press conference in Delhi explaining the importance of the sceptre (sengol) to be installed in the new Parliament building, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressed journalists in Chennai on May 25, explaining how it is a matter of pride for Tamil Nadu.
She reiterated that it was the ritual of handing over of this sceptre, made by the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam in Tamil Nadu, to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of Independence that actually symbolised and sanctified the “transfer of power” from the British to India.
The Frequently Asked Questions section in the website (www.sengol1947ignca.in) launched by the Union government says the handover of this sceptre was “the defining occasion that actually marked the transfer of power from British to Indian hands…The ‘order’ to rule India was thus received, suitably blessed”.
The government’s assertion is that Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, asked Nehru if there was any procedure to signify transfer of power. Nehru in turn consulted C. Rajagopalachari, the last Governor-General of India, who in turn had the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam prepare the sceptre, seen as the sacred symbol of power and just rule. Those who presented the sceptre were flown in a special plane to Delhi, the government said.
There is ample evidence that a delegation sent by Sri la Sri Ambalavana Pandarasannadhi Swamigal, the head of the Adheenam, presented the sceptre to Nehru, accompanied by the recital of hymns from Thevaram. However, evidence is thin on the government’s claim that this presenting of sceptre was treated by the leaders and the then government as the symbolic transfer of power.
In this image released by the Ministry of Home Affairs, former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is seen holding the ‘sengol‘ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
When asked about the documentary evidence, Ms. Sitharaman said there were “as many documentary proof” as one wanted and they were included in the docket given to the reporters at the end of the press conference.
A perusal of these documents, however, did not establish the claims of the government. The documentary evidence included a list of references from books, articles, and reports in the media. It also included social media and blog posts from individuals.
The reports from Indian newspapers, including The Hindu, had briefly recorded the presentation of the sceptre. None spoke about it being a symbol of transfer of power or it being taken on the advice of Rajaji. Importantly, a picture carried in The Hindu showed the delegation at the Central Railway Station, Chennai, on August 11, 1947, before leaving for Delhi. This indicates the delegation had most likely travelled by train and not by a special plane.
Other evidence referred included an article in the Time magazine on August 25, 1947. Speaking on the happenings on August 14, 1947, it says, “From Tanjore in south India came two emissaries of Sri Amblavana Desigar [the head of Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam], head of a sannyasi order of Hindu ascetics. Sri Amblavana thought that Nehru, as first Indian head of a really Indian Government ought, like ancient Hindu kings, to receive the symbol of power and authority from Hindu holy men”. While it speaks about the head pontiff’s idea of the sceptre as symbol of power, it does not speak about Nehru reciprocating the same idea or seeing its presentation as the symbol of power transfer.
The book Freedom at Midnight, cited as evidence, also says something similar. “As once Hindu holy men had conferred upon ancient India’s kings their symbols of power, so the sannyasin had come to York Road to bestow their antique emblems of authority on the man [Nehru]… To the man who had never ceased to proclaim the horror the word ‘religion’ inspired in him, their rite was a tiresome manifestation of all he deplored in his nation,” it says.
Other evidence cited included the excerpts from Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Linguistic States, Perry Anderson’s book The Indian Ideology, and Yasmin Khan’s Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, all of which were critical of certain religious rituals in which Nehru participated, but none about the use of sceptre as a symbol of power transfer.
Importantly, none of the evidence presented said the sceptre was first symbolically given to Mountbatten and taken back before being presented to Nehru, symbolising the transfer. The exception is the article that appeared in Thuglak magazine, written by its editor S. Gurumurthy in 2021. The article records everything the government has said as the version shared by Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi, the 68th head of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitam, from his memory to a disciple in 1978.
The most ironic evidence presented in the docket was a blog post titled “WhatsApp History” written by famous Tamil writer Jeyamohan. In this post, Jeyamohan had in fact ridiculed this version of events as being based on forwards on social media. Stating that the sceptre was likely to be among the many presents sent from across the country during Independence, he , however, said it was a matter of pride for Tamils that the sceptre from the Saivite mutt also reached Nehru.
The document also mentioned the annual policy note prepared by Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department in Tamil Nadu for 2021-2022, stating the sceptre “signified the transfer of power”. Officials from the department could not clarify on the source for this statement when contacted on May 25. The reference has been removed from the department’s policy notes in 2022-23 and 2023-24.