If there has been one single day in the nine years of Modi government that has most tellingly encapsulated the essential character of the regime and its future game plan, it was May 28, 2023, the day Narendra Modi inaugurated the new Parliament building and India’s ace women wrestlers protesting against sexual harassment by a BJP MP were pulled and dragged by the police on Delhi’s Parliament Street. The Modi government now stands squarely exposed as being completely antithetical to the fundamental tenets of our constitutional democratic republic and must be voted out in the coming elections.
The new Parliament building is part of the Modi government’s Rs 200 billion Central Vista Redevelopment project which was planned and launched completely unilaterally by the Modi government even as India was reeling under the Covid19 pandemic. Prime Minister Modi first laid the foundation and now presided over the inauguration of the new building as an Indian emperor of yesteryears without caring for the constitutional propriety of giving the President of India, who under Article 79 of the Indian constitution constitutes an integral part of Parliament along with its two houses. Indeed, this time round the inauguration of the new Parliament building was virtually turned into a coronation of an emperor complete with the ceremonial blessing of the king by a set of priests with a sceptre which has now been installed inside the Parliament next to the seat of the Speaker.
The sceptre in this case is a Sengol used in Tamil monarchical traditions, especially during the longest-ruling Chola dynasty. The Sengol was handed over to the PM by a group of 21 Adheenams or monastic heads from Tamil Nadu specially flown in to Delhi for this purpose who also conducted a puja during the inauguration. According to a newly concocted version of the Modi government, as advised by Rajagopalachari, the last Governor-General of India before the enactment of the Constitution on 26 January 1950, the Sengol had first been given to Lord Mountbatten who in turn handed it over to Prime Minister Nehru to symbolise the transfer of power from British to Indian hands. While Nehru did receive a Sengol from the Adheenams, there is absolutely no evidence to support this new-found claim of the Sengol as a symbol of transfer of power. In fact, Rajagopalachari’s grandson and biographer, renowned historian Rajmohan Gandhi has publicly contested this claim.
A write-up by Annadurai from that period, published in the weekly Dravida Nadu on 24 August 1947, tells us that Annadurai had warned Nehru about the real symbolism of the Sengol and the purpose of the Adheenams in giving this gift to Nehru which was to protect their own power and privileges. Annadurai too did not mention it as a symbol of transfer of power by the British rulers to India. Nehru had rightly kept the Sengol in a museum along with other items of his memorabilia. The Modi government now blames Nehru for insulting the Sengol by terming it a walking stick (it was preserved in the museum as a golden stick and not a walking stick as mischievously and falsely claimed by Modi and Shah) and boasts of returning it to its due place of pride.
Regardless of what role the Sengol may have played during the events of 14-15 August 1947, there are two indisputable facts which are most pertinent. A sceptre, in this case the Sengol, is a monarchical symbol and hence it can rightfully only be kept in a museum in a republic. The transfer of power marked the beginning of a transition which was consummated with the adoption and enactment of the Constitution with ‘we the people of India’ resolving to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic (with the epithets socialist and secular having been inserted by a subsequent constitutional amendment in keeping with the original spirit and orientation of the Constitution). India is now a Constitutional republic and the Parliament is governed by the Constitution and the Sengol therefore has no business to be occupying a prime place in the Parliament.
The real interest of the Sangh brigade in the Sengol lies not in its association with the historical tradition of Tamil Nadu. The Sangh is a sworn enemy of India’s diversity and looks for every opportunity to impose its Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan brand of uniformity over India’s kaleidoscopic social and cultural canvas. It is interested in the Sengol because it belongs to a period prior to the colonial and Muslim rulers, and hence perfectly in sync with the strategic Sangh goal of India as a Hindu Rashtra and the new-found Sangh narrative of presenting the constitution as a Hindu civilisational product.
The date chosen for the inauguration was the 140th birth anniversary of Savarkar. 2023 is also the centenary of the publication of Savarkar’s defining work on Hindutva (published as the Essentials of Hindutva in 1923, a year before he was released from the Andaman cellular jail after a series of mercy petitions, and reprinted as Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu? in 1928). Ahead of celebrating the centenary of the foundation of RSS as an organisation, this has thus been the Sangh-BJP way of commemorating the centenary of the Hindutva ideology. We have seen how Savarkar was made the central figure in the official Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav campaign of the Modi government. Incidentally, the worship of Savarkar has now also reached the cinematic route where Savarkar is being presented as the inspiration behind Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose!
It is instructive to note that Savarkar had started begging for mercy soon after his arrest in 1911, and it was perhaps only after his explicit espousal of Hindutva ideology in place of his earlier advocacy of militant Indian nationalism during which phase he had celebrated the 1857 revolt as India’s first war of independence that the British rulers began to trust him fully and release him from the Andaman jail. Savarkar’s Hindutva was the earliest expression of the disastrous two-nation theory backed by the colonial rulers which eventually led to India’s partition. Savarkar had used the term fatherland for India and mixed it up with the concept of ‘holy land’, insisting that a true Indian must also accept India as the holy land by following a religion born in India (thereby rendering the followers of Islam and Christianity as lesser Indians or second-grade citizens).
There is of course more to the new Parliament building than worship of Savarkar, resurrection of old symbols and ceremonial repackaging of Narendra Modi or the Indian Prime Minister as a Hindu emperor (they have long been calling him the emperor of Hindu hearts). One of the justifications being offered for the new building is an impending increase in the size of the Parliament following the next round of delimitation. There is a growing buzz about the delimitation leading to a substantial increase in the number of MPs from North India with the numbers from the South remaining effectively stagnant because of India’s evolving demographic pattern. The domination of the BJP which is essentially rooted in North and West India and has managed to spread in the eastern and northeastern regions but not in the southern region has already accentuated the political underrepresentation of the southern region. Will the new Parliament building seek to institutionalise this imbalance? Is this the formula on the basis of which the BJP is dreaming of ruling India for fifty years? The Modi government is already systematically bulldozing India’s federal framework and the threat of growing centralisation can only imperil the unity of India.
The lethal cocktail of communal polarisation, centralisation of power and all-pervasive corporate control can only be sustained by increased coercion. May 28 also revealed the ugly coercive colours of the Modi regime which unleashed brute power in a desperate bid to silence the women wrestlers’ demand for justice. This drove the award winning wrestlers to the extreme measure of contemplating not returning but immersing their medals in the Ganges. The united farmers’ movement managed to stop them at the last moment and the onus is now on us, the people of India, to lead the battle of India’s women wrestlers for justice to victory. The Modi regime and the Sangh brigade are out to transform secular democratic republican India into a regressive monarchy by creating a false narrative of the freedom movement. We must invoke the great legacy and potential of the freedom movement to turn India into a robust democracy, staunchly secular, vibrantly diverse and inspiringly socialist. The new Parliament building should serve as a constant reminder of this challenge facing the people of India.