TRIANGULAR: The new parliamentary building is triangular, some say much like a coffin! The old parliament was more like a symbol of democracy and equality for all being in circular shape.
By Rajan Narayan
During the first transfer of power in 1947 from the UK to India it is being claimed that the Sengol was given to Nehru, only senior constitutional experts and MPs were present. In sharp contrast, the new parliament was inaugurated in the presence of several saffron-clad godmen. The saffron brigade got priority even over the members of parliament…
INDIA’s first Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru received the Tamil Chola kings’ symbol of power – the “sengol” — from Lord Mountbatten, on August 14, 1947. It symbolized the transfer of power from Great Britain to free India. The sengol or Chola kings sceptre is reported to have been suggested to Lord Mountbatten by C Rajagopalachari who succeeded Lord Mountbatten as the governor-general. The sengol is said to date back to the Chola kings who used it as symbol of transfer of power. The late Prime Minister Nehru did not attach much importance to such ceremonial shows of power as this was more a continuation on the lines of British royal tradition. He offered the sengol to the Allahabad Museum for display and safe-keeping since the museum is run by the Nehru family.
However, on May 28, 2023 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented the sengol to himself it was not a transfer of power as we understand it. Excepting perhaps it was a transfer of power to himself as the prime minister of India. It was a declaration that he intends to continue as prime minister or the supreme boss of India for his lifetime. Significantly, the installation of the sengol and the inauguration of the opening of the new parliament or Central Vista was centred entirely around Narendra Modi.
It was Narendra Modi who installed the sengol next to the parliamentary speaker’s place in the new parliament. Before that in a “havan” ceremony he prostated himself fully before the sengol. The only other member of parliament who was allowed to share the limelight with him was speaker Om Birla. Even Modi’s confidant and executioner Home Minister Amit Shah was anywhere near by at the solomn ceremony. Nor were the other members of the cabinet or the leader of the opposition as should have been appropriate for the opening of the new parliament. Narendra Modi was next to the speaker’s chair while delivering his speech on the significance of the new Indian parliament. All other BJP MPs, ministers and special invitees were part of the audience to witness the ceremonial function.
THE biggest insult was that President Dropadi Murmu , the constitutional head of the nation, was not invited for the inaugural function of the new parliament, let alone allowed to participate in any way. Which is strange because in order of precedence constitutionally it is the president who is the constitutional head of the country, followed by the vice-president and then the prime minister. Some have disgusted suggested that President Murmu was not invited because she hails from a low caste background and this would be inauspicious, perhaps cast a shadow on Modi’s ambitions.
Again, the new parliament has been built in a mighty hurry of something like two-and-a-half years as per Hindu religious vaastu guidelines which reportedly indicate that the old parliament was inimical to Narendra Modi. We believe there was a certain symbolism to the old parliament which is circular in nature. A circular structure does not permit hierarchies. The new parliament on the other hand has a triangular structure. An aerial view of the new parliament complex reveals it to be somewhat like a coffin. As in the case of a coffin the new parliament is broad at the centre and narrows down just like a coffin. Admittedly, the new parliament is in many ways an improvement on the old one in that it is bigger and more spacious. Unlike in the old parliament ministers and MPs will not have to share benches. It is a British tradition that the prime minister and senior ministers occupy the first benches in parliament. In the old parliament there was no elbow room for the ministers and members of parliament.
Technologically, the new parliament has been built for the digital age. Every member of parliament has a separate, spacious chair, in front of which there is a computer. The MP can also charge his phone, send messages and use the other electronic features of his new seat in parliament. The capacity of the new parliament is much larger than the old parliament. The capacity of the Rajya Sabha, totally ignored during the inauguration of the new parliament, is also larger in capacity. At first glance however the new parliament lacks the intimacy and warmth of the old parliament to which of course a lot of history and memories are attached. Nobody knows yet to what new purpose the old parliament would be put or if it will be demolished.
COMING back to the sengol and the politics of the sengol it first came in a tweet by Narendra Modi wherein he says that the sengol will be part of the new parliament. At that time nobody knew what a sengol was. Only later it was learnt that the Chola kings’ sengol of power is a five foot long gold-plated silver mace or staff used for transfer of power from one Chola king to another. There are many such symbols available in the craft tradition of this country.
There are two arguments about why the prime minister chose the sengol to be the new parliament’s symbol. It is possible that Narendra Modi is wooing the population of Tamil Nadu which has not voted for any of the national parties including the BJP. For the last three decades the two main regional parties controlling Tamil Nadu politics have been the DMK and AIDMK which have ruled Tamil Nadu alternately.
The other interpretation for Modi picking the sengol to declare his supremacy is that with its installation it is another opportunity to advance the Hindutva agenda of the BJP. In 1947 there were no priests or holy men preceding the sengol in a procession to hand it over to Nehru. In the case of the new parliament opening it is the holy community of priests who led the procession even before the elected members of parliament. The image of parliament and even the front benches of parliament full of holy men is disturbing. Particularly because it is the holy men only of Hinduism. Clearly, the message that the Narendra Modi’s government is committed to Hindutva is absolute and there will be no compromise.
Ironically, the installation of the sengol by Narendra Modi and the inauguration of the new parliament suggests to us a Putin moment. Like Russian premier Vladimir Putin is Narendra Modi declaring himself as prime minister for life? The question now is not whether Narendra Modi will win the 2024 parliamentary elections. The question is whether Modi like the late prime minister, Indira Gandhi, will dissolve parliament and declare himself prime minister for life. He will join the likes of Putin who has been Russian president for over two decades.
India unfortunately does not have a limit on the number of tenures for a prime minister. Even in the UK you can only be prime minister on two occasions in succession. There’s a similar rule in the United States. In the case of the Indian constitution there is no such limit. The belief rules that the prime minister is the elected representative of the people.