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Home > 2022 > Flagging independence albeit disengaging Gandhi | Teresa Joseph

Mainstream, VOL LX No 33, 34 New Delhi, August 6, August 13, 2022 [Independence Day Special]

Flagging independence albeit disengaging Gandhi | Teresa Joseph

Saturday 13 August 2022

by Teresa Joseph *

Abstract

The official objectives behind the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign have been clearly spelt out as invoking the feeling of patriotism and promoting awareness about the National Flag. The media overdrive and the exhilaration and exuberance being witnessed as part of the campaign requires some introspection on the issues involved. In the larger context of the historical trajectory of the flag, this article examines the values in effect being promoted through the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign and the invisibility of Gandhi and the ethos of the freedom struggle in the discourses relating to it. 

Keywords: National flag, Har Ghar Tiranga, Mahatma Gandhi, Azadi Ki Amruth Mahatsov, Swaraj Flag, Khadi

Introduction

History is replete with examples of the use of symbolic expressions to mobilise mass movements, garner support for authority, create ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson 2006), and so on. The symbolism of the flag in particular has provided a site for the representation of solidarity, resistance mobilisation or power, and so on. Theodore Herzl, considered to be the founder of modern political Zionism stated that with a flag one could lead men, men who would live and die for a flag. “It is the only thing for which they are ready to die in masses if you train them for it. Believe me, the politics of entire people.... can be manipulated only through the imponderables that float in thin air” (Patai 1960: 27)

Campaigning for Har Ghar Tiranga

In March 2021, the Government of India launched the ‘Azadi Ki Amruth Mahatsov’ (AKAM) programme to celebrate 75 years of India’s independence. As part of it, the Ministry of Culture spearheaded the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ (HGT) campaign in 2022 to encourage people to hoist the tricolour in their homes. The official website states:
Our relationship with the flag has always been more formal and institutional than personal. Bringing the flag home collectively as a nation in the 75th year of independence thus becomes symbolic of not only an act of personal connection to the Tiranga but also an embodiment of our commitment to nation-building. The idea behind the initiative is to invoke the feeling of patriotism in the hearts of the people and to promote awareness about the Indian National Flag.” (Har Ghar Tiranga).

The Facebook page of the Ministry of Culture began an aggressive campaign with the hashtag #MomentsWith Tiranga, #MainBharatHoon, #Our CultureOurPride, #AmritMahotsav, #BadheChalo, #NaachegaSaaraIndia, and so on. Pictures of soldiers with the tricolour were posted with captions reading: “Till the time we have our brave soldiers guarding us, we know we and the Tiranga will stay strong,” “Remember the fighters who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the country. Join us in making the #HarGharTiranga campaign a success”, “the Indian army unveiled the world’s largest khadi tricolour measuring 33,750 sq.ft in Jaisalmeron 15 Jan 2022”, “37ft x 25 ft National Flag unfurled at Tololing Peak by Drass warriors”, “Indian National Flag on top of Tiger Hill in Drass, Kargil” (the last — with the comment “can there ever be a better picture than this!!? AWESTRUCK”). Other posts call out: “What better way to show your patriotism than hoisting our tiranga at our own homes?”, “the tricolour hoisting on every house of India will show the power and strength of the country”. The Ministry also invites viewers to “take a pledge to hoist the National Flag in our homes from 13-15 Aug”, “Show your commitment by pinning a flag”, “click ‘Tiranga Waali Selfie’ and stand a chance to win up to 1 lac’”etc. As days passed the hype increased with posts such as:
“What are you waiting for: visit www.harghatiranga.com today, participate in our #IndependenceDay activities and express your love for...” (picture of the flag).

The Ministry’s website has a page titled “Pingali Venkayya’s Design of the National Flag” wherein it states that Venkayya designed a flag of white, red and green colours with a Charkha in the centre. This was rejected as it represented the colours of religious communities. It further elaborates that the ‘Swaraj’ flag came into existence in 1931, which had a close resemblance to the present National flag. A large number of dots need to be filled into this narrative, which is striking for what it excludes rather than what it includes. The Ministry’s Facebook page carries similar posts. There is no mention of other contributions to the evolution of the flag, including that of Mahatma Gandhi let alone the freedom struggle or the values that symbolised the freedom movement. The focus is centred on the soldiers at the borders.

On 20 July 2022 an office memorandum (F.No.8-14/2022-TS.V) was issued to all State Secretaries of Higher and Technical Education by the Ministry of Education, Department of Higher Education of the Government of India, stating that “the Indian National Flag is a symbol of national pride for the entire nation. To further honour our flag” the Har Ghar Tiranga programme was envisaged and that educational institutions could play a major role in spreading awareness about the programme. It called for motivating “the faculty, staff and students to hoist the National Flag (Tiranga) during the Independence Week” This was followed by a letter issued (D.O. No. 8-14/2022-TS.V dated 21 July 2022) pointing out that the following programmes were proposed as part of the HGT programme:

  • Organise ‘Prabhat Pheris’ between August 11-15, 2022 involving the students as well as local Youth Clubs, volunteers of NSS, NCC, etc.
  • Students may be encouraged to sell flags at their own neighbourhood to at least 5 more households.
  • Hoist the National Flag at the household of all the students, faculty and staff during August 13-15, 2022.
  • Take selfie with the flag and post it in the website https://harghartiranga.com. Simultaneously, one may Pin the Flag on the website as per their geographical coordinates.
  • The websites of the institutions should simultaneously be updated to reflect similar changes and be in sync with the Har Ghar Tiranga website https://harghartiganga.com starting from 22 July 2022.

The letter concludes with a call for support and leadership in encouraging all government officials as well as faculty, staff and students to undertake the above activities and make the HGT campaign a resounding success.

A few days later, the Secretary of the University Grants Commission issued a letter (D.O. No2-69/2022 (CPP-II) dated 27 July) to the Vice Chancellors of all Universities and Principals of all colleges, enclosing a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) formulated by the Ministry of Defence which was to be strictly adhered to by all Higher Educational Institutions for the HGT campaign and thereafter. Besides the protocols to be maintained while hoisting the flag, the latter communication also includes suggestions for a craft project for AKAM. Crafts prepared by schools are to be sent to the Ministry of Defence for onward transmission to the jawans at the border. All craft projects/models would also be showcased on their website with the name of the school.

During his monthly radio programme Mann Ki Baat on 31 July, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi stated that “by becoming a part of this movement, from August 13 to 15, you must hoist the tricolour at your home, or adorn your home with it. The Tricolour connects us, inspires us to do something for the country” (italics added). He further suggested that “from the 2nd of August to the 15th of August, all of us can place the tricolour in our social media profile pictures” (PM’s Address in the 91st Episode of ‘Mann Ki Baat’). There are also references to the roles of Pingali Venkayya and Madam Bhikaiji Cama in shaping the history of the national flag.

Launching the ‘Tiranga Anthem’ and releasing a commemorative postage stamp to mark the birth anniversary of Pingali Venkayya, on 2 August, Home Minister Amit Shah pointed out that “today the world looks at India and its national flag with respect. From 2014 till 2022, our dear Prime Minister Narendra Modi has increased India’s respect in the whole world.” Asking everyone to change their social media display pictures he stressed that India “had woken up from sleep” and was on the way to become “mahaan” (“World Looks at Tricolour with Respect”).

In essence, July and August 2022 witnessed a frenzy of ‘patriotic’ activities not only with the HGT campaign, but also with the Tiranga Utsav and launch of the Har Ghar Tiranga anthem, releasing commemorative postage stamps, making the Tiranga social media profiles, selfie competitions and pinning of the Tiranga on the HGT website, and issuing memoranda to government offices and educational institutions to ‘encourage’ and ‘motivate’ officials, faculty, staff and students to hoist the Tiranga as well as sync their institutional websites with that of the HGT website. Notwithstanding the changes in technology, the world has been witness to such acts of reverence and performative nationalism at various points of history, the most vivid memories being that of Europe during the inter-war period.

Locating the flag in India’s History

As Benedict Anderson (2006: 4) points out nationalism reflects “cultural artefacts of a particular kind. To understand them properly we need to consider carefully how they have come into historical being, in what ways their meanings have changed over time, and why, today, they command such profound emotional legitimacy” Jha (2016: 2) further argues that in the case of India the process of nation making coincided with the resistance against the colonial regime. The multitude of political, social and cultural movements expressed their ideals and principles of new or envisioned order through symbolic practices and the Indian national flag was a crucial component of this process.
Historical narratives of the first designs for an Indian flag range from precolonial symbolism to the more dominant ones on the role of Sister Nivedita, the Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda to Madame Bhikaiji Cama, a philanthropist and social worker, Pingali Venkayya of the National College, Masulipatanam (Andhra Pradesh), the Flag Satyagrahas in Jagalpur and Nagpur in 1923 and so on. Different flags were used for mobilisation in different parts of the region.

Venkayya had published a booklet of flag designs in 1916. He expressed his desire for a flag that would represent all religions and presented his proposals at different sessions of the Indian National Congress. The flag had also become an inevitability for Gandhi in the fight for swaraj. In his writings and speeches relating to the question of a national flag for India, he constantly referred to such a flag as the ‘flag of swaraj’ or the ‘Swaraj Flag’. In 1921 Gandhi expressed his desire to see the flag of swaraj within a year (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, hereinafter referred to as CW, vol.19: 267-8). Although he acknowledged Venkayya’s suggestions for a design for a flag, he “did not find any of them as attractive” as the suggestion of a friend, Lala Hansraj “of having a spinning wheel on the flag of swaraj. I commend this idea to the leaders who will be in charge of the forthcoming Congress session” (CW: 454). A few weeks later, in a detailed article titled “The National Flag” (Young India, CW 19: 561-2), Gandhi wrote:

A flag is a necessity for all nations. Millions have died for it. It is no doubt a kind of idolatry which it would be a sin to destroy. For a flag represents an ideal....
It will be necessary for us Indians—Hindus, Mohammedans, Christians, Jews, Parsis, and all others to whom India is their home—to recognize a common flag to live and to die for. Mr. P. Venkayya of the National College, Masulipatam, has for some years placed before the public a suggestive booklet describing the flags of the other nations and offering designs for an Indian National Flag. But, whilst I have always admired the persistent zeal with which Mr. Venkayya has prosecuted the cause of a national flag at every session of the Congress for the past four years, he was never able to enthuse me; and in his designs I saw nothing to stir the nation to its depths. It was reserved for a Punjabi to make a suggestion that at once arrested attention.

It was Lala Hansraj of Jullunder who, in discussing the possibilities of the spinning-wheel, suggested that it should find a place on our Swaraj Flag. I could not help admiring the originality of the suggestion. At Bezwada I asked Mr. Venkayya to give me a design containing a spinning-wheel on a red (Hindu colour) and green (Muslim colour) background. His enthusiastic spirit enabled me to possess a flag in three hours. It was just a little late for presentation to the All-India Congress Committee.

I am glad it was so. On maturer consideration, I saw that the background should represent the other religions also. Hindu-Muslim unity is not an exclusive term; it is an inclusive term, symbolic of the unity of all faiths domiciled in India. If Hindus and Muslims can tolerate each other, they are together bound to tolerate all other faiths. The unity is not a menace to the other faiths represented in India or to the world. So I suggest that the background should be white and green and red. The white portion is intended to represent all other faiths. The weakest numerically occupy the first place, the Islamic colour comes next, the Hindu colour red comes last, the idea being that the strongest should act as a shield to the weakest. The white colour moreover represents purity and peace. Our national flag must mean that or nothing. And to represent the equality of the least of us with the best, an equal part is assigned to all the three colours in the design.

But India as a nation can live and die only for the spinning wheel.... And we must resolutely set our face against any scheme of exploitation of the world. Our only hope must centre upon utilizing the wasted hours of the nation, for adding to the wealth of the country, by converting cotton into cloth in our cottages. The spinning-wheel is, therefore, as much a necessity of Indian life as air and water.

Moreover, the Muslims swear by it just as much as the Hindus.... The spinning-wheel, therefore, is the most natural, as it is the most important, common factor of national life. Through it we inform the whole world that we are determined, so far as our food and clothing are concerned, to be totally independent of the rest of it...
It follows that the flag must be made of khaddar, for it is through coarse cloth alone that we can make India independent of foreign markets for her cloth.

Gandhi had linked the notions of swaraj and swadeshi. While swaraj was the end, swadeshi was the means (For a detailed analysis see Iyer 2000). According to Brown (2010:1, 74-6) Gandhi’s “programme of spinning (as practice) and deployment of the spinning wheel (as icon) represents one of the most significant unifying elements of the nationalist movement in India, and a key component of the struggle for swaraj, or self-rule.” The spinning wheel for Gandhi symbolised rural upliftment, with the economics of the spinning wheel becoming the centre of a new, sustainable, employment intensive village economy. Gandhi promoted the spinning wheel not only as a possible solution for the economic problems of the country but also for national unity and freedom. Besides being a symbol of defiance of foreign rule, and a protest against industrialisation and materialism, it also became a means of identifying with the poorest of the poor (Nanda 1989: 149; also see Joseph 2022: 34). The charkha reflected swaraj which was much more than mere political independence.

In 1931, a Flag Committee of the Congress and later the Working Committee made some changes to this tricolour, rejecting the communal interpretations, which could have been due to the impact of the communal tensions of the 1920s. It replaced red with saffron, and the order of the colours were changed to what we see currently see on the flag. It was officially adopted as the Congress flag and it was made clear that the colours on the flag did not have any communal significance. The flag gained increasing significance and momentum with the celebration of Flag Day on 26 April and the organisation of morning processions/Prabhat Pheris.

Yet, as Jha (2008: 106) points out throughout the freedom struggle the hoisting of the flag had the status of a political ritual that often demanded sacrifice of lives and symbolised acts of defiance and courage. Hoisting the flag over official buildings was considered as the realisation of the dream of a free India. Hoisting it on government buildings became a matter of concern for both the colonial government as well as the nationalists. But suggestions of co-hoisting of the Union Jack and Congress flag, or having the Union Jack on the Congress flag were both rejected. Gandhi however had a unique accommodating position on this question. He did not find anything wrong with having the Union Jack in a corner of the Congress flag (CW 88: 375-6). He pointed out that the National Flag “was conceived as a symbol of unity, purity and non-violence. It is the place that we have given it in our non-violence programme that gives it its significance and importance; by itself it has no virtue” (CW 56: 132).

In September 1931 Nehru made it clear that the flag should not be displayed “in a spirit of bravado and defiance but in the ordinary course of Congress activities” (cited in Jha 2016: 150). In an article in Harijan in November 1938, Gandhi responded to the concerns of a correspondent that the enthusiasm of hoisting of the national flag was leading to rivalry and opposition where it did not exist earlier. The correspondent further states: “It seems as if ever so many of the movements for which you were responsible are liable to be misconstrued and misdirected, unless you are always ready to re-explain, re-interpret and prevent misdirection” (CW 68: 48). Gandhi responded by what the tricolour stood for. “The flag has been designed to represent non-violence expressed through real communal unity and non-violent labour which the lowliest and highest can easily undertake with the certain prospect of making substantial and yet imperceptible addition to the wealth of the country” (CW: 68: 48).

He also pointed out that the flag “was designed to represent the essentials of freedom. Its background is khadi. The spinning-wheel covers and sustains it. Its colours show how necessary communal unity is for the attainment of freedom” (CW 68: 175). In later years Gandhi pointed out that he saw “nothing to gloat over in this display of the flag” (Tendulkar 2016:79).

In early July 1947 the Ad Hoc Committee which was constituted in the Constituent Assembly and chaired by Rajendra Prasad discussed the design of the national flag. An important change from the Congress flag was the replacement of Gandhi’s charkha with the Ashoka chakra. On 22 July 1947 the design of the National Flag was unanimously approved by the Constituent Assembly of India. Moving the Resolution, Jawaharlal Nehru stated:

Resolved that the National Flag of India shall be horizontal tricolour of deep Saffron (Kesari), white and dark green in equal proportion. In the centre of the white band, there shall be a Wheel in navy blue to represent the Charkha. The design of the Wheel shall be that of the Wheel. (Chakra) which appears on the abacuse of the Sarnath Lion Capital of Asoka (Constituent Assembly of India Debates, 22 July 1947).

Nehru made it very clear that the colours of the flag did not have any religious significance. He stated that
when this Flag was devised there was no communal significance attached to it. We thought of a design for a Flag which was beautiful, because the symbol of a nation must be beautiful to look at. We thought of a Flag which would in its combination and in its separate parts would somehow represent the spirit of the nation, the tradition of the nation, that mixed spirit and tradition which has grown up through thousands of years in India (Constituent Assembly of India Debates, 22 July 1947).

Referring to the replacement of Gandhi’s charkha by the Ashoka Chakra in the Flag, Nehru further clarified:

It will be seen that there is a slight variation from the one many of us have used during these past years. The colours are the same, a deep saffron, a white and a dark green. In the white previously there was the Charkha which symbolised the common man in India, which symbolised the masses of the people, which symbolised their industry and which came to us from the message which Mahatma Gandhi delivered.... Now, this particular Charkha symbol has been slightly varied in this Flag, not taken away at all. Why then has this been varied? Normally speaking, the symbol on one side-of the Flag should be exactly the same as on the other side. Otherwise, there is a difficulty which goes against the rules. Now, the Charkha, as it appeared previously on this Flag, had the wheel on one side and the spindle on the other. If you see the other side of the Flag, the spindle comes the other way and the wheel comes this way; if it does not do so, it is not proportionate, because the wheel must be towards the pole, not towards the end of the Flag. There was this practical difficulty. Therefore, after considerable thought, we were of course convinced that this great symbol which had enthused people should continue but that it should continue in a slightly different form, that the wheel should be there, not the rest of the Charkha, that is the spindle and the string which created this confusion, that the essential part of the Charkha should be there, that is the wheel. So, the old tradition continue in regard to the Charkha and the wheel (Constituent Assembly of India Debates, 22 July 1947).

Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan also explained the significance of the colours and the chakra in the Constituent Assembly thus:

The Asoka’s wheel represents to us the wheel of the Law, the wheel Dharma. Truth can be gained only by the pursuit of the path of Dharma, by the practice of virtue.... The red, the orange, the Bhagwa colour represents the spirit of renunciation.... Our leaders must be .... be people who are imbued with the spirit of renunciation which that saffron, colour has transmitted to us from the beginning of our history.... That spirit of detachment that spirit of renunciation is represented by the orange or the saffron colour and Mahatma Gandhi has embodied it for us in his life and the Congress has worked under his guidance and with his message.... The green is there—our relation to the soil, our relation to the plant life here on which all other life depends. We must build our Paradise here on this green earth. If we are to succeed in this enterprise, we must be guided by truth (white), practise virtue (wheel), adopt the method of self-control and renunciation (saffron). This Flag tells us ’Be ever alert, be ever on the move, go forward, work for a free, flexible compassionate, decent, democratic, society in which Christians, Sikhs, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists will all find a safe shelter’ (Constituent Assembly of India Debates, 22 July 1947).

Referring to the change in the charkha, Gandhi stated at a prayer meeting in July 1947 that “if the charkha had a place in the hearts of the people, then it would not matter whether it was placed on the flag or not” (CW 88:400). Under the title ‘The National Flag’ Gandhi wrote in Harijanbandhu in August 1947: “The modified Flag has value only if it carries the significance attached to it.... When the original conception is kept intact there is no harm in making a concession to art” (CW 88: 438-40).

However, Gandhi’s disappointment with the removal of the charkha was evident in his statement: “I must say that if the flag of the Indian Union will not contain the emblem of the charkha I will refuse to salute that flag. You know the National Flag of India was first thought of by me and I cannot conceive of India’s National Flag without the emblem of the charkha” (CW 89: 10). However, he acceded that Nehru had pointed out that, “the sign of wheel or the chakra in the new National Flag symbolizes the charkha also” (CW 89: 10). A few weeks later he wrote: “If we neglect the charkha — that is, constructive activities like khadi, village industries, etc., after the attainment of freedom, we will be acting like a man who remembers God in sorrow and forgets Him when He showers happiness (CW 89: 484).

On 31 July 1947, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly announced in the Assembly that a notice of a resolution by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur about Khadi being used for the National Flag could not be placed before the House as it came at a time when a meeting of the Steering Committee could not be called. He therefore informed the House that “so far as this Constituent Assembly is concerned, there will be no Flag used which is made of anything else but Khadi.... that is to say, of hand-spun and hand-woven cloth, whether it is of cotton, of wool, or silk or of any other material” (Constituent Assembly of India Debates, 31 July 1947). Yet, as Jha (2016: 169-71) points out, the historical context of inclusions/exclusions in the design of the flag also needs to be viewed from the perspective of the politics of Gandhi’s marginalisation in the 1940s.

On the other hand, the removal of the charkha was lauded by V. D. Savarkar, although he refused to recognise the new flag as the national flag based on the argument that the state of the Indian Union and the Constituent Assembly were British creations and did not reflect the free choice of the people. He refused to accept any flag “other than the Bhagwa with the Kundalini and the Kirpan inscribed on it” (Jha 2016: 179, 141). The Bhagwa flag (that used by Shivaji and Maratta rulers) had come to be revered after the formation of the RSS in 1925 by Hedgewar.

Flag Codes and Performative Nationalism

After independence, detailed stipulations pertaining to the display and design of the flag were governed by the Emblems and Names (Prevention and Improper Use) Act, 1950 and succeeding Acts and instructions including the Flag Code-India. Later, all the existing regulations and stipulations were incorporated into the Flag Code of India, 2002.

In 1992, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi’s decision to hoist the national flag in Srinagar on Republic Day, and the 2017 Tiranga Yatra organised by the youth wing of the BJP as part of its Bhaarat Jodo Abhiyan (United India Campaign) were major instances that brought the politics of the flag to the fore, with both campaigns focusing on hoisting the flag in Jammu and Kashmir. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that “These Tiranga Yatras have generated a groundswell of support and are integrating people towards working for a New India by 2022” (“What is Tiranga Yatra: Know About PM Narendra Modi’s initiative for New India,” 2017). Jha (2016: 226) points out that the Tiranga Yatra could be seen as having “brought together Uma Bharati, the BJP, the saffron flag and the tricolour as a single coherent political ensemble. The issue of the dignity of the flag was projected to garner mass support for each of them.”

Until 2002, citizens of India were not allowed to hoist the national flag in their homes. However, with effect from 26th January 2002, the Flag Code of India allowed citizens to hoist the tricolour anywhere and at any time, provided the protocol for the same was strictly adhered to. The stipulation that “the national flag shall be made of hand spun and hand woven wool/cotton/silk khadi bunting” (Flag Code of India) remained in the code. However, an amendment to the Flag Code of India 2002 was again made on 30 December 2021, allowing the use of machine made flags as against the existing hand spun ones and permitting polyester flags, as against the existing rule that only khadi cotton or silk flags could be used (https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/FlagCodeE_21072022.pdf.).

As is well known, the fabric of the tricolour - Khadi was a symbol of nationalism and freedom, but with a single stroke the already incapacitated handloom industry which has been badly affected by the pandemic has been hard hit. Together with spinning and the spinning wheel, khadi was probably the most important Gandhian political symbol. Parel (1969: 517-9) elucidates that khadi aided the realisation of certain values which had immediate political relevance: economic self-sufficiency, mastery over machinery, social and political harmony between the rich and the poor; and the value of swaraj or national independence. It was also a symbol of protest against the ever-increasing desire for material comforts and pleasures, and represented a spirit of empathy between India’s rich and poor, the rural and the urban classes (see Joseph 2022: 35).

As Gonsalves (2010: 63) avers, Gandhi believed that an alternative clothing system, would promote “an economic self-sufficiency (swadeshi) powerful enough to establish self-government (swaraj).” Thus, abstract political ideas, such as struggle against colonial rule assumed concrete form for ordinary people. Wearing khadi symbolised “opposition to colonial rule, identification with the poor and the exploited and an assertion of the spirit of self-reliance, of freedom” (see Kishwar 1985: 1695). In essence, khadi came to represent what the entire freedom struggle stood for (Joseph 2022: 36).

Gandhi had argued in Young India in 1924 that he was “not interested in freeing India merely from the English yoke. I am bent upon freeing India from any yoke whatsoever. I have no desire to exchange King Log for King Stork” (CW 24: 227).

Conclusion

The symbolic space of the flag is a contested one as reflected in its historical trajectory and continues to be so in a much more aggressive manner. As Jha (2016: 16-8) points out it is important to understand the politics of the flag and realise how symbols are represented, perceived and acted upon. Questioning the rationale of the postcolonial state’s scriptures over the use of the flag, Jha argues that “between the politics of an object and the values breathes a desire to fashion the visual public space in a particular manner.” Shashi Tharoor (2020: 195) observes that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is “now seeking to appropriate the freedom struggle for its cause.” The re-invention of the history by the BJP “is not anchored in a reverence for the past, but in the desire to shape the present by reinventing the past” (Tharoor 2020: 195). Romila Thapar (2016: 191) further argues that “the political requirements of today cannot be imposed on the history of the past.”

Gandhi had in fact emphasized the fact that “real swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words; swaraj is to be attained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority” (CW 26: 52).

G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of Culture, Tourism and Development of North Eastern Region, lets the cat out of the bag in his write up in The Hindu of 2 August 2022, wherein he states: “Since its launch, the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign has been resonating across India. This is not only because of the inherent patriotism embedded in every Indian but also because we feel that the nation is heading in the right direction” (Reddy 2022).

In this context it would also be relevant to revisit Gandhi’s views on the questions at hand. Gandhi wrote: “For me patriotism is the same as humanity. I am patriotic because I am human and humane. It is not exclusive” (CW 19: 427).

Critical of the aggressive nationalism of the time, Gandhi pointed out that “it is not nationalism that is evil, it is the narrowness, selfishness, exclusiveness which is the bane of modern nations which is evil” (CW 27: 255). He points out:

I have come deliberately to the conclusion that love of one’s country, namely nationalism, is perfectly consistent with the love of those whose rule, whose domination, whose methods we do not like.... Is hatred essential for nationalism? You may not love, but must you also hate? The answer, as I have said before, in the minds of many people is undoubtedly that you must hate..... My love, therefore, of nationalism, or my idea of nationalism is that my country may become free— free that if need be the whole of the country may die—so that the human race may live. There is no room here for race hatred. Let that be our nationalism (CW 28: 125-7).

At a public meeting in Rangoon in 1929, Gandhi again reiterated:

My patriotism is not an exclusive thing. It is all-embracing and I should reject that patriotism which sought to mount upon the distress or the exploitation of other nationalities. The conception of my patriotism is nothing if it is not always in every case, without exception, consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large (CW 40: 109).
The HGT campaign in its present mode could be a hydra-headed monster that could lead to promoting dissent as ‘otherness’ or the possibility of a further polarisation of the country between those ‘with us’ and those ‘against us’, with opponents being deemed less patriotic or anti-national, especially when some official speeches reiterate that we “must hoist” the flag.

As Romila Thapar (2020: 11) points out “those in authority generally see themselves as the established Self, and they are the ones who set up the dichotomous identity of the Self vis-à-vis the Other. Generally, it is the one who questions the Self that is described as the Other. This binary determines Otherness, helps crystallize status and power, and distances those without either.”

It is time to critically review the need to consider the necessity of public display of one’s nationalism or patriotism and whether the true spirit of patriotism lies in symbols or in substance; whether in reality the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign “reflects the embodiment of commitment to nation building” as is being argued. We need to ponder over the question of whether it is militaristic nationalism or patriotism that is being inculcated; whether the campaign actually reflects the power and strength of the country and if so, what kind of power is being referred to; what is the rationale for students to make and send crafts to be given to the jawans at the border? Why this emphasis only on the soldiers and the sacrifices they are making?; whether the effort is to ‘unite’ the country against a so-called common enemy; whether sufficient efforts have been made to generate an awareness about the Flag Code and the grave implications of violation?; whether the Tiranga Yatra of 1917 which was claimed to integrate people towards working for a New India by 2022 achieved its aims.

Other questions loom large — as to whether the focus of attention is being diverted from the burning issues for the common man - of unemployment and price rise; whether such a flag hoisting (with its code of conduct) is possible for the homeless or less privileged, thereby only reflecting the inequalities in society; whether the cheaper polyester flags will be much more in demand, causing increased carbon emissions and contributing to climate change; whether sufficient awareness has been created about the Flag Code given the grave consequences of its violation.

Somewhere along the way to promoting the HGT campaign, the significance of 75 years of independence has been reduced to flag hoisting performances, the appropriation of patriotism and accompanying symbolism. There has been an enhanced and visible disengagement with Gandhi and the ethos of the freedom struggle, as well as the nation that he dreamt and fought for. The flag reflected certain ideals. The India of Gandhi’s dreams was well elaborated by him:

I shall strive for a constitution which will release India from all thraldom and patronage, and give her, if need be, the right to sin. I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony.

There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability or the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. Since we shall be at peace with all the rest of the world, neither exploiting nor being exploited, we should have the smallest army imaginable. All interests not in conflict with the interests of the dumb millions will be scrupulously respected, whether foreign or indigenous. Personally, I hate distinction between foreign and indigenous. This is the India of my dreams (CW 47: 389).

Moving the Resolution for the National Flag of India in the Constituent Assembly, Nehru had stated:

There will be no complete freedom as long as there is starvation, hunger, lack of clothing, lack of necessaries of life and lack of opportunity of growth for every single human being, man, woman and child in the country. We aim at that. We may not accomplish that because it is a terrific task. But we shall do our utmost to accomplish that task and hope that our successors. when they come, have an easier path to pursue. But there is no ending to that road to freedom (Constituent Assembly of India Debates, 22 July 1947).

It is time to seriously reflect on the notions of patriotism, nationalism and independence, and dissociate it from militaristic, hyper-nationalistic exercises, when the very fabric of freedom and democracy in the country are under dire threat, and the ethos of the freedom struggle is being misappropriated. We need to understand the politics of the construction of various discourses. The campaign under discussion seems to be one of political manoeuvre, with Gandhi’s name standing conspicuous by its absence, reflecting the continuing practices of the powers that be to disengage with him and proceed along the path of aggressive, jingoistic, and performative patriotism devoid of substance.

(Author: Dr. Teresa Joseph is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Director, Centre for Gandhian Studies, Alphonsa College, Pala, Kerala. She is the author of the book Mahatma Gandhi and Mass Media: Mediating Conflict and Social Change (2022), Abingdon and New York: Routledge).

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