Here's why it's befitting to install the Sengol in the new Parliament

The Sengol added a new twist to the controversies that have been raised about the new Parliament building since the foundation stone was laid.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi installs the ‘Sengol’ at the new Parliament building (Photo | PIB)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi installs the ‘Sengol’ at the new Parliament building (Photo | PIB)

In the new Parliament building inaugurated on May 28, the Sengol (Tamil) -- also known as sceptre (English) or Dharma dand (Sanskrit) -- has been installed next to the Speaker’s chair. The Sengol added a new twist to the controversies that have been raised about the new Parliament building since the foundation stone was laid.

When the Modi government decided to construct a new Parliament building in a span of about three years at a cost of about Rs 1000 crore, the need for such a building was questioned. The Indian administration in terms of the number of states and districts has expanded manifold since the 1970s; however, the strength of the Lok Sabha remains the same. About 100 crore people elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha now, which has been the case since the 1970s, when the population was 60 crore. The legislative representation did not increase in keeping with the population, although the demands of voters on their representatives have increased. A new Parliament building will help accommodate more Lok Sabha members when the delimitation exercise is carried out after 2025, and an increase in the number of Lok Sabha MPs is essential for the effective functioning of democracy.

The next question raised by the opposition parties is why the President has not been asked to inaugurate the building. Hardly any government project has been inaugurated by the President at the national level or by the Governor at the state level for a very long time. Instead, the PM and the CMs have been doing the honours. Those who argue over who should inaugurate the new Parliament building forget the nuances between a democratic country and a republic. India is both a republic and a democratic nation, whereas China calls itself the People's Republic of China, and the UK is a democratic country but not a republic. If there is no monarchy or titular head, which is essentially hereditary, any country can claim to be a republic, irrespective of whether it elects the government through the election process or not, as in the case of China. However, to be a democratic country, elections need to be held at the end of each term. The President of India is the first citizen of the Indian republic and the Prime Minister is the chief of the Indian democratic set-up. As the Parliament houses representatives elected both directly (Lok Sabha) and indirectly (Rajya Sabha), it is more of a democratic institution than a republican institution, and it is befitting for the Prime Minister, the chief of a democratically elected government, to inaugurate the new Parliament building. The matter went to the Supreme Court as a PIL and the SC rightly dismissed it.

If these issues are not enough, some people questioned the government’s move to bring back the Sengol that was lying in the Nehru Museum at Prayagraj as the "golden walking stick gifted to Jawaharlal Nehru". It is not surprising that the Congress still calls the handing over of the Sengol "bogus". Nehru might not have taken such an event as seriously as it deserves, essentially due to his extremely poor opinion of the culture, tradition and social and economic practices of Indian origin. He was one of the Indians who believed that India had hardly anything to imbibe and follow from our own tradition. That is how our economy followed the public sector-oriented planned economy model of the then USSR in the belief that the entrepreneurial spirit had been non-existent among Indians since time immemorial.

The Sengol has been quoted in Tamil literature extensively for various attributes it represents. The essential meaning of righteousness refers to a ruler's dispensation of justice to his citizens without fear or favour, even if it is detrimental to the king or his kith and kin. Like the modern Supreme Court, the ultimate appeal for justice was made to the king in a monarchy. If the king fails in his duty either due to failure to cross-verify the facts, deliver justice in haste, overlook the facts before him, or due to circumstantial evidence or sheer human error, he is bound to fall from the grace of the people, and he is also expected to face the punishment for failing to give justice, which must be imposed on him by himself. This is where the king is expected to have the grace of the Almighty in acquitting himself while delivering justice in even extremely complicated cases.

There were times when, to know the truth, the king prayed to the Almighty to give a clue of what went on at the crime scene, and when he got the clue, he gave the right judgement. A lady was pierced with an arrow and died when she was under the tree with her husband. The husband noticed a hunter with a bow and arrow, and he accused the hunter of killing his wife with his arrow. But the hunter firmly denied shooting the arrow. The king came to know the truth with Divine Grace: the arrow had pierced one of the leaves of the tree earlier, and when the couple was resting under the tree, it fell on the lady, and thereby the lady lost her life.

When the king delivers a wrong judgement, even an ordinary citizen may reach out to him in his assembly and raise the wrongdoing of the king with evidence. Whenever the king fails to deliver the right justice, the question posed by the ordinary citizen is: Does the Sengol that the king wields still stand erect (meaning justice prevailed) or bend towards one side (meaning injustice is done)?

When Kannagi's husband was wrongly executed by the then Pandya king for stealing the anklet of the queen, she proved before him that her anklets were made of rubies, whereas the queen’s anklets were made of pearls. The questions posed by Kannagi were: "Who was the thief? Her husband or the king? Did your Sengol still stand erect or fall?" The Pandya king realised his mistake, fell from his seat, and died instantly after uttering, "I am not the king and I am the thief".

In another instance, the son of Chola king Manuneedi Cholan trampled a calf under the wheels of his chariot and killed it. Manuneedi Cholan had a built-in justice bell in the palace for anyone who wanted to seek justice from the King. The affected cow pulled the bell. The king, after learning about the crime that was committed by his son, gave him the same punishment by trampling him under the wheels of his chariot. The statue depicting the event is still there in the Madras High Court premises to highlight to the current judiciary how impartial the ancestral justice system was in India. The Sengol also gave dutiful power to the king to punish those who disturb the peace in society and those who resort to heinous crimes of theft, robbery and murder.

The lyrics written by Sangam poet Avvaiyar indicate the prosperity angle of the Sengol. In her lyrics, she said, "When the paddy field embankment height increases, the water level in the field rises, thereby the paddy crop grows well, resulting in a high yield, which will raise the economic condition of the citizens (farmers in particular), and as a result the Sengol rises and ultimately results in an increase in the status of the king himself." In a democratic set-up, we rule ourselves; the king refers to the citizenry, and hence, as the paddy field embankment rises, the Sengol rises and the country and its citizenry prosper.

The Sengol embodied authority, might, legitimacy, good governance, prosperity, justice, fairness, unity, safety, security, integrity and sovereignty. It is befitting on the part of the Indian government to bring back the Sengol from the Prayagraj Nehru Museum and install it next to the Lok Sabha Speaker in the new Parliament Hall.

(The author is a public policy analyst. Views are personal.)

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