HomeMiddle EastThe scepter of 'King' Modi and the fighters without rights

The scepter of ‘King’ Modi and the fighters without rights

On May 38, 2023, the Indian capital New Delhi witnessed two dramatic scenes that unfolded within a 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) radius of each other.

Just as a new parliament building was inaugurated, police officers were roughing up some of the country’s best wrestlers who had brought home medals from the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

The wrestlers have been on the streets for the past month demanding an investigation into Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, president of the All India Wrestling Federation, who has been accused of sexually abusing them and other wrestlers, including a minor. That day they tried, with their supporters, to march peacefully towards the new parliament building, but were blocked by the Delhi police, whose officers pushed, dragged and lifted them against their will, before arresting them and pressing charges.

Meanwhile, Singh, the leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a member of the same parliament, triumphantly entered the new building waving to the cameras.

It is this same police that was reluctant even to register a complaint by the fighters against the legislator. An order from the Supreme Court was needed for the Delhi Police to perform this basic and mandatory function. But this is in line with the behavior of the Delhi Police Department, which reports to the central government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Over the past eight years, it has repeatedly refused to register complaints against BJP leaders when they have openly incited violence, as well as against organizers or rally participants who call for violence against Muslims. It has begun to behave like an arm of the ruling party.

That Sunday, the strange and the horrible were combined. It was comical to see a prime minister, elected through a democratic process, turn the inauguration of a new parliament building into a ceremony that felt like the inauguration of a new republic with a majority monarchist overtone. Priests from the southern state of Tamil Nadu flew in on special planes to conduct a ceremony that resembled the anointing of an emperor.

These priests presented Modi with a golden scepter, which was taken from a museum that it had been in for the past 75 years. He had been sent there by the office of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, who had been given this scepter, called a sengol, by the priests of Adheenam or Mutt, part of the Shaivite religious sect of Tamil Nadu.

These priests had arrived in Delhi by train on the day in August 1947 when India was to be declared free and the constituent assembly was to seize power from the British monarch.

The sengol is a symbol of divine power. Some variant of this exists in almost all societies. Recently, King Charles III was seen holding a scepter after being anointed as the new monarch of the United Kingdom.

Nehru, the democrat, could not allow this sengol to be part of the official inauguration ceremony of a secular democracy. An agnostic himself, he accepted it from the priests in private, at his residence, as a gesture of respect. As historians noted, it was placed in a museum like many other gifts he had received.

The Modi government then spun a lie around it. He claimed that Hindu priests had handed over this sengol to Britain’s Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, who then handed it over to Nehru, signifying the transfer of power from the British to the Indians.

According to the BJP government, the sengol represents the continuity of divine power from ancient times, which was held by a succession of Hindu kingdoms in its name. That continuity was broken for 1,300 years, during which Muslims ruled India and then a brief interlude of British rule. After the departure of the British, power should have returned to its rightful owners i.e. the Hindus. By not placing the sengol in the seat of power, the parliament, and instead sending it to a museum, the BJP claims that Nehru did not respect it or the ancient Indian tradition.

Historians immediately debunked the lie in this supposed sequence of events. But it was propagated by the print and television media, as well as by the ruling party, as an act of historical injustice towards Hindus, which Modi was now correcting. Therefore, the spectacle around the inauguration of the new parliament building was intended to suggest the restoration of Hindu power.

The scepter was handed over to Modi with Hindu religious chants. Holding it in his hands, Modi entered the parliament building followed by his parliamentarians and the speaker of the chamber. He then placed the sengol near the speaker’s seat, where it is supposed to remain as a reminder of that divine power.

What Modi did was not new. He has been performing similar symbolic acts for the past eight years, effectively presenting himself as a new Hindu monarch even if he was elected through a democratic process. He conducts religious ceremonies and unveils temples in his official capacity.

In August 2020, Modi led a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Ram Temple on a site in the city of Ayodhya where the Babri Mosque stood for over 500 years before it was demolished by mobs mobilized for years. -campaign spearheaded by Modi’s party and its affiliates. Modi himself was active in that campaign.

Modi has made no secret of his contempt for India’s secular character. After his second election victory in 2019, he bragged to lawmakers from his party that he had effectively banished the word secularism from Indian political discourse. The inauguration of the new parliament building once again served to give an Indian color to the highest seat of power in India.

Opposition parties had boycotted the ceremony, blaming the Modi government for violating parliamentary rules and accusing it of violating constitutional principles. It was a Modi show. India’s president, the incumbent head of state on whose behalf the government functions, was not invited. The vice president, who also chairs the upper house of parliament, also did not participate.

This ceremony was broadcast live by the country’s main television outlets, largely blocking scenes of violence against the wrestlers and their supporters. They were condemned as those who had marred a sacred occasion with their selfish demands.

This contrast represents the truth of what Modi calls “New India”. For one thing, it involves the use of symbols like the sengol to try to usher in a Hindu nation. However, in reality, the scenes of women fighters being beaten in the vicinity of the new building make it abundantly clear that this nation can only prosper by stripping all citizens, including Hindus as the main fighters, of their rights.

As Mehbooba Mufti, former prime minister of the now abolished state of Jammu and Kashmir, said, Hindus should not make the mistake of thinking that they are the masters of this nation. The new India, he said, was forced to follow Kashmir in its repression, where it is difficult even to breathe free.

What is being built is a state where no one can claim their rights. Those who try will be repressed. Like the fighters.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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