This August 15 (2022) we are completing 75 years of our freedom from the slavery of British rule. This is a time to introspect and commit ourselves to the movement which got us freedom and to assess whether we are treading the path of dreams of the visionaries of freedom movement. To mark the occasion, the Government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged the people to participate in hoisting ‘Tricolor’ on their houses between August 13 and 15. The occasion has been titled as ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’.
It seems to be another spectacle that is being brought up on the lines of ‘Tali and Thali’ during the Covid epidemic. We, as a country, derive deepest of inspirations from our ‘Tiranga’ and hoist it on our national days and on occasions when we have something to celebrate. Flag hoisting is done every 15th of August and 26th of January to rededicate ourselves to the values that our flag represents. We remind ourselves of the deeper spirit of the ‘Tricolor’ and rededicate ourselves to the goals of the republic which adopted this flag and assess whether we are moving towards achieving those goals or not.
Why is it being done now as we celebrate the 75th Year? On one hand, it is a welcome move to urge people to hoist our National Flag in their homes during this time. But, at another level, we must not forget that this is also the time when the spirit of our Constitution is being trampled upon recklessly by targeting religious minorities, Dalits and women. This is the time when our hunger index is competing with that of Nigeria, unemployment and inflation are skyrocketing, and we are unable to cope properly with regularly-occurring natural calamities like floods.
This is also the time when we are disturbed that so many of our social workers, raising their voice for poor and marginalized are put behind bars for their struggle to uphold values of Indian Constitution and to come to the aid of the victims of violence in particular. Case of arrest of Teesta Setalvad, R.B. Srikumar and putting fresh charges against Sanjeev Bhat is just the tip of the iceberg of the type of politics underway in the society.
So, while all the political moves are at cross purposes with the values which our ‘Tricolor’ represents, what is the purpose of creating this spectacle of ‘Ghar-Ghar Tiranga’? Even we understand that though the BJP-RSS is presently hailing the ‘Tricolor’, it is deeply opposed to the values which it represents. Going slightly back into the past, one recalls that the ‘Tricolor’ had been the one biggest symbol of our national movement, anti-British movement, aiming at the creation of secular democratic India. RSS, the parent organization of BJP, not only kept aloof from anti-British movement, it also did not accept ‘Tiranga’ and vouched affiliation with the ‘Bhagva’ (Saffron flag) for itself. One recalls on the other hand, that when Jawaharlal Nehru became the President of Indian National Congress in 1929, INC gave a call of celebrating January 26, 1930, as a day of total Independence (Purna Swaraj) and hoist the ‘Tricolor’. Even at that time, the RSS Sarsanghachalak opposed the ‘Tricolor’ and appealed people to hoist the Saffron flag (Bhagva) instead.
The Congress’ ‘Tricolor’ was adopted as the national flag with a slight modification that the Charkha was replaced by Ashok Chakra. The then RSS Sarsanghchalak, M.S. Golwalkar had commented, ”Our leaders have set up a new flag for our country. Why did they do so? It is just a case of drifting and imitating….Ours is an ancient and great nation with a glorious past. Then, did we not have a flag of our own? Did we not have a national emblem all these thousands of years? Undoubtedly, we had. Then why this utter void, this utter vacuum in our minds?” And also, while addressing a Gurupurnima gathering in Nagpur on July 14, 1946, Golwalkar had stated that it was the saffron flag (Bhagva) which in totality represented our great culture. It was the embodiment of God: “We firmly believe that in the end the whole nation will bow before this saffron flag.”
A day before India got independence, the RSS’ mouthpiece ‘Organizer’ launched a scathing attack on the ‘Tricolor’. The August 14, 1947, issue of this newspaper also carried an article titled ‘Mystery behind the Bhagva Dhwaj (saffron flag)’, which, while demanding the hoisting of a saffron flag at the ramparts of Red Fort in Delhi on the day of independence, openly denigrated the choice of the ‘Tricolor’ as the national flag in the following words:”The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolour but it will never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word ‘three’ is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce ill psychological effects and will prove to be injurious to the country.”
BJP is a dynamic organization. It did strategize the use of ‘Tricolor’ in due course. Uma Bharati used Tricolor to communalize the Idgah maidan issue in Karnataka. Later, when Murli Manohar Joshi became the President of BJP, he took out ‘Ekatmata Yatra’ to Kashmir and hoisted the Tricolor in Srinagar under the protection of Indian army. In due course of time, those considered to be the ‘fringe elements’ by the BJP, also started using the ‘Tricolor’. They started taking out processions on various occasions, making it a point to take these through Muslim majority areas while waving the Tricolors in an intimidating way.
Tricolor has been a great inspiration to the people of India. Many a times on different appropriate occasions, this flag has been unfurled. One such instance was the Shaheen Bagh movement, protesting against the CAA. The protestors unfurled this flag on the Republic Day with all due honours to give their message of nationalism and patriotism. They asserted their rights too with this act.
Several amendments have been made in the relevant rules and laws for the present campaign planned for August 12 to 15, this 2022. With them comes in the modified norm that Tiranga need not be just made of Khadi. So now, polyester and other synthetic material will be used in abundance with adverse consequences to the environment. Does flag hoisting have anything to do with patriotism or not? When Smriti Irani was the MHRD minister, it was proposed that the national flag of 207 feet height would be unfurled in every central university with due prominence. This was done in the backdrop of student protests on varied issues in various Universities. The idea was to cultivate nationalism among students. All this was done while flouting the basic norms of Indian Constitution, which should be the core marker for our policies. The government wanted to awaken nationalism which actually overlapped the violation of the Constitutional Values. Constitution is the basic foundation of our nation and its values. Mere symbols don’t bring the substance unless values of Fraternity, Equality and Liberty are followed. These need to be highlighted while initiating any genuine campaign. A symbol, no matter however powerful, cannot substitute commitment to Constitutional Values.
(The author taught at IIT Mumbai and is a recipient of the 2007 National Communal Harmony Award)