Symbolism: Sceptre & substance, staff and responsibilities

Dr John Mohan Razu

Symbols are necessary because they convey a number of meanings in nuanced and candid ways. Symbolism is nothing but imageries portraying something deeper in its content and essence. For the last few days we have been shrouded with controversies and polemics over sengol or scepter that the current dispensation has decided to keep adjacent to the Lok Sabha Speaker in the newly constructed India’s parliament. The ruling party offers a number of justifications for keeping the sengol in the Indian Parliament which is the Soul of India’s constitutional democracy.

The ruling government and some say that the sengol, or scepter, from Tamil Nadu that was presented to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 has become a symbol of how India has overtaken the erstwhile colonial ruler UK not just in economic size, but other areas as well. Even in the coronation ceremony of King of UK, sceptre seemed have played a major role because it is symbolic that represents responsibilities, tradition, power, royalty, and authority. In our case, more than the inauguration of new parliament, keeping the scepter has perhaps received enormous praise as well as controversies.  Above all, sengol represents an underlying promise which ought to be translated without which it is just an over-decorated staff.

India’s Parliament is the heart and soul of democracy that carries the promise of democratic governance and practices. The functioning and deliberations of the parliament are dependent on the quality and depth of debates and discourses being carried out on issues leading to passing on the laws in democratic manner. In recent times, what we have been witnessing show just the opposite. We have come to a point that democracy is all about brute numbers that could bulldoze the entire opposition thereby failing to recognize the fact that others also have points that should also be considered. Carrying others along enjoined by reason and logicality should be the prerogative of the majority or the ruling dispensation.

The discussions and debates taking place on diverse issues and problems in the parliament will have elevate those who represent the electorates in the parliament. The smoothness of parliament functioning and the quality of debates and discussions will undoubtedly become the hallmark and in the process influence the present and the future. It is not just the Parliament sessions; it is also the way with which the parliamentarians conduct themselves in the parliament as well as outside. People of India especially those belonging to older generations still remember the levels of debates and views were expressed and the maturity with which problems had been approached and sorted out. India’s parliamentary performance has fallen short of its decency. 

India’s parliamentarians should take lessons of the recently held coronation of UK’s monarchy. Having spent millions of pounds of tax-payers money, many have started to raise questions about the functionalities and contributions of the British monarchy in return. Likewise, the money spent in constructing the new parliament that too during corona-virus’ times when millions of people were running helter-skelter for basic survival needs shows the callousness of the government. The pomp and regalia that go behind these mega-events irks the ordinary citizens and tax-payers. If we start peeling the symbol layer by layer we may find the underlying substance, leading to caricature.  Hence, symbolism should sustain its substance for which it stands for.

In the parliament and in other conversations we have increasingly been witnessing self-goals displaying one’s ignorance and bankruptcy of ideas India is at a critical moment, wherein people within and across the world watching what’s happening in India. Sceptre in sum means governance which should be couched with righteousness – uprightness, fairness, straightness, and justice. If we say parliament is the temple of democracy, then it is our bounden duty to respect those voices that represents people. Our parliamentarians have stooped too low in their words and actions. Symbols that promote equality, dignity, fraternity, justice, and rightness are all very good, but those symbols that are divisive, spewing venom and hatred should be shunned. More than symbols, a parliament that stands for love, peace and humanity is much better. 

Similarly, the crosier of the bishop especially Anglicans and CSI tends to symbolize or denotes as a symbol of his/her responsibilities. A traditional shepherd’s crosier typically has a large hook at one end. Crosier is also called as pastoral staff with a curved top – a symbol denoting as ‘God’s shepherds’ and is carried by bishops. The crosier or “stick” symbolizes his/her office as recognition of their pastoral responsibilities. Scepre - an ornamental staff carried by ruler on ceremonial occasions as a symbol of sovereignty. Likewise, CSI and Anglican bishops carry the staff along with them reiterating that their duty is ‘shepherding’ – nurturing and guiding their flocks spiritually and ethically. Staff also signifies their uprightness, integrity, and accountability and thus be prepared to sacrifice their lives as shepherds while trying to save their sheep prepared to give away their lives as well. 

Sengol symbolizes the straight stick -- which is supposed to be straight and not to be bent. If it is bent the sovereign ruler or king or queen or bishop has slipped from being straight. Therefore, sengol denotes righteousness and so a righteous king or queen or ruler or bishop shall never indulge in unrighteous deeds. Whether we keep the sengol next to the Lok Sabha speaker or not, or bishops carry their staff or not, they are supposed to be just and fair before God and people. Symbols do transmit symbolic messages that undergird long-cherished and ever-living ethical values and moral principles. 

Those who represent these symbols should exhibit exemplary character as they demand. If they fail, they remain as mere symbols and in course of time people would certainly make them as redundant. We, especially those who carry all these paraphernalia should ponder over Napoleon Bonaparte’s maxim: “More glorious to merit a scepter than to possess one.”