As the red sandstone of the new Parliament House in India gleamed under the bright Indian summer sun, the symbolic act of its consecration on May 28, 2023, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked a significant milestone. It signified the sunset of an era where Jawaharlal Nehru’s ideologies held sway and the emergence of a new India — a transformation as profound as it is fascinating. In a historic move, Prime Minister Modi consecrated the new Indian Parliament with the installation of the Sengol, a symbol of power transfer from the Chola era, in the new Lok Sabha chamber, marking a step towards a new India rooted in its ancient heritage.
The Sengol, a beautifully crafted golden sceptre, was first received by Nehru, symbolising the transfer of power from the British to India in 1947. It was presented to Nehru by the pontiff of the Thiruvavaduthurai Aadeenam, following a tradition dating back to the Chola era. Seventy-five years later, the same ceremony was repeated, marking another transformative moment in the country’s history. This new India manifests itself in many forms, one of which is symbolically represented by the installation of the ‘Sengol’ in the newly inaugurated Lok Sabha chamber. In this context, the Sengol, a traditional Indian sceptre signifying authority and power, reflects the evolution of India from its colonial past towards a more self-reliant, and intrinsically Indian future.
However, the installation of the Sengol has been met with two primary objections: First, it is considered a symbol of monarchy, and second, its ceremonial consecration is deemed antithetical to secularism. These criticisms, however, are fallacious on various levels. These objections, upon closer examination, appear unfounded when compared to the usage and acceptance of the Indian National Emblem.
The Indian National Emblem is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka, an ancient sculpture dating back to 280 BCE during the Maurya Empire. It features four Asiatic lions, symbolising power, courage, confidence, and faith, standing back to back. Below the lions is an abacus with a wheel, the Dharmachakra, in the centre, symbolising the progress and evolution of human civilisation. The emblem is used by the Union government, many state governments, and other government agencies, and appears on official documents, currency, and passports. The emblem was adopted by the Government of India on January 26, 1950, the same day that India became a republic.
Despite its Buddhist origin, found at a place where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, the emblem is accepted and revered across the nation, regardless of religious or secular viewpoints. Despite the emblem’s roots in Buddhist symbolism, it is widely accepted and revered as a national symbol, never raising questions about secularism. Why then, one might ask, is the ceremonial consecration or the Sengol held up to such scrutiny?
The objections to the Sengol, therefore, seem inconsistent when one considers the widespread acceptance of the National Emblem, which itself carries strong religious and monarchical connotations. The first objection is the assertion that the Sengol signifies a shift towards monarchy. It is important to understand that symbols carry the meaning we imbue them with. The Sengol, in this case, is a representation of sovereign authority. It does not propose the establishment of a monarchy but instead redefines the Parliament as the sovereign authority of the Republic of India — an institution with the power to enact laws and govern.
The second criticism pertains to ceremonial consecration, viewed as a breach of secular values. However, this perspective is inherently flawed, as it limits secularism to mere religious neutrality. In its true sense, secularism goes beyond the mere absence of religious favouritism to embody respect for all religions, a principle India has always upheld. Secularism in India is as much about celebrating the diverse traditions and cultures of the nation as it is about ensuring no single religious group enjoys an undue advantage. The consecration of the new Parliament should be seen in this light — not as an infringement upon secularism but as an acknowledgement of India’s rich cultural heritage.
The inauguration of the new Parliament and the installation of the Sengol mark a step towards eradicating colonial vestiges from the nation’s capital. It is a testament to a resilient India, gradually extricating itself from its colonial past while retaining its rich heritage and diversity. It signals a shift from an era largely influenced by Nehruvian thought to a new age where Indian ethos find their deserved place in the national narrative.
As the sun set on the day of the inauguration, the new Indian Parliament stood tall and resolute, symbolic of an India that is steadily making strides towards reclaiming its identity. It is the beginning of a new chapter, one that will hopefully see an India that embraces its past, celebrates its cultural diversity, and moves forward with renewed vigour and confidence. The consecration of the new Parliament by Prime Minister Modi on May 28, 2023, and the installation of the Sengol have heralded a new era. They mark the symbolic sunset of Nehru’s India and herald the dawn of a new India — one that is gradually wiping away stains of colonialism from the nation’s capital inch by inch, and unapologetically carving its path towards a future steeped in its inherent diversity, resilience, and strength.
The writer is the former CEO, Prasar Bharti. Views expressed are personal.