Behind the Chola Sengol in new Parliament building, a long-term plan for Tamil Nadu

Behind the Chola Sengol in new Parliament building, a long-term plan for Tamil Nadu

By Praveen S Thampi: India got a new Parliament building complex on Sunday. And that new Parliament building was inaugurated to the tune of Nagaswaram and chants by priests from various Tamil Adheenams.

No, they are not shifting Lutyens’s Delhi to Mylapore, just that PM Narendra Modi and the BJP want this massive new triangular building to be the central brick for the castle the party wants to build in Tamil Nadu.

The installation of a five-foot sceptre in the vicinity of the Lok Sabha Speaker’s chair in the new Parliament building sets the real mood for this massive enterprise.

According to Tiruvaduthurai Adheenam pontiff Sri la Sri Ambalavana Desika Paramacharya Swamigal, the sceptre was gifted to Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru minutes before he delivered his rousing ‘Tryst With Destiny’ speech. Built to resemble a sengol (an ornamental staff handed down from one Chola generation to the next as an emblem of transfer of power), it was meant to signify the transfer of power from the British to Independent India, according to the Adheenam.

READ | Kept in Allahabad museum among Nehru’s items, how Sengol returned to limelight

Nehru, in turn, gifted the Sengol to Allahabad Museum. The Sengol has been brought back to Delhi and will now occupy the pride of place in the new Parliament. The Chola dynasty which ruled peninsular India besides Sri Lanka and parts of modern-day Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia for almost 1,500 years was also the first Indian kingdom to have a blue water Navy. The Cholas are finally getting their due in national memory, and in return, what the BJP wants is a place in Tamil hearts and minds.

Cholas have remained in mainstream conversations in one way or the other since RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwan mentioned Rajendra Chola in his Vijayadashami speech in 2015. He praised the Chola legend as someone who established “a model of good governance in Bharat and had promulgated in South East Asia the benevolent influence of the eternal Bharatiya culture”.

Cut to modern-day Tamil Nadu, before the Sengol were the cultural sangamams (confluence), organised by the BJP in Varanasi first, and then in Saurashtra, all attempts to remind Tamil Nadu of its glorious history of conquests and strong Hindu roots. These were also efforts at mitigating the legacy of Tamil distrust towards all things Hindi.

READ | Crafted in 1947, historic Sengol to take pride of place in new Parliament building | Know its legacy

Historically, Tamil Nadu has been the bastion of Shiva worship, and has produced classical works in Tamil rivalling Sanskrit tomes on Dharma. Buddhists, Jains and Vaishnavites all had their influence, but Tamilians devised a whole new treatise of Shiva worship through Shaiva Siddhanta Padhathi that dates back to the 5th century. What Kashmir is to Tantra, Tamil Nadu is to Shiva worship.

Tamil Nadu today is as much famous for its centuries-old magnificent temples as it is for its hardcore Dravidian atheism. In fact, Hindutva thinkers blame the Dravidian movement for the state turning its back on its Indic knowledge treasure and the evangelical conversion waves that followed, especially in its coastal regions.

But the fact remains that over 87 per cent of Tamil Nadu is Hindu. Today, Thevaram and Thanthai Periyar go hand in hand. Periyar led the state’s ferocious anti-Brahmin movement in the early half of the twentieth century, and his anger spilt over to anything Hindu and Hindi. From then on, the Dravidian movement defined Tamil Nadu, and the offshoots of Periyar’s Dravida Kazhakam such as DMK and AIADMK still rule the roost.

But the vice-like grip they had on the state for more than half a century is loosening with the passing away of M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa. Anti-Brahminism has given way to OBC vs OBC wars and almost everyone vying with each other in further marginalising the Dalit community. The BJP sees a door opening in the land of Cholas, and all it needs is a strong, calculated push.

READ | The Sengol saga: Lost as Nehru’s ‘golden walking stick’, how the historic sceptre was rediscovered

Since 1947, the BJP has won only two Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu, and in the current Assembly, it has four MLAs. But its current state chief Annamalai, a Karnataka-cadre IPS officer, has been unlike any leader the BJP had so far in Tamil Nadu. It’s giving the party high command hope. The state has 39 Lok Sabha seats, and the BJP hopes it can stage a Bengal-like surprise here in the 2024 General elections.

Hence you get to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi wearing a veshti, speaking Tamil to Tamil crowds and quoting Tamil classical poets. Add Kashi Tamil Sangamam, the Saurashtra meet and now the Chola sceptre to that list.

Annamalai had already caused a setback for the DMK when he leaked phone conversations that led to Tamil Nadu finance minister P Thiagarajan losing his portfolio. While the DMK struggles to answer the BJP poser ‘After Stalin, Who?, the AIADMK is a colourless enterprise chugging along, thanks to the left-over goodwill for Jayalalithaa. The BJP has on its side a young, popular and non-Brahmin candidate from the Dravidian heartland.

So will the BJP’s hard work pay off? There’s a hard road ahead, and the Chola sceptre — or Nehru’s Walking Stick as the Allahabad Museum had tagged it — could come in handy.

READ | A classical dancer first brought the Sengol to PMO’s notice. Read what she has to say

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