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The Rediff Special/Amberish K Diwanji

September 15, 2004

Why is the Indian flag in the news?

The Indian flag, known as the Tiranga (or Tricolour) is in the news because the BJP is taking out a Tiranga Yatra. Why it is doing so and the motivation behind it can be gleaned from the news section of!

So, why is Uma Bharti taking out a Tiranga Yatra?

In a nutshell, the story goes back to 1994. At that time, the Karnataka government had imposed a ban on hoisting the national flag at the Idgah maidan in Hubli, the reasons for which remain unclear. The BJP, then in the Opposition in Karnataka and India, claimed that this was a dishonour to the flag and vowed to hoist it at the Idgah maidan on August 15, 1994. The police clamped prohibitory orders, which meant that people could not assemble at the spot.

Nevertheless, Uma Bharti defied the police orders and addressed a vast crowd. A member of theácrowd hoisted the flag. Soon thereafter, communal riots broke out and five peopleáwere killed.

But all that happened 10 years ago? What is the interest now?

Good question! The police slapped a case on Uma Bharti under various sections. The case was soon forgotten as time passed and the Karnataka government, a few years ago, even dropped all charges against her except two: defying prohibitory orders and inciting a mob to murder. And out of the blue, in August 2004, a good 10 years later, the case came up before a Hubli court, which then issued a warrant against Uma Bharti, by now the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. She had no choice but to resign andágo to Hubli to get herself arrested.

Not surprisingly, the BJP smelt a political opportunity (especially with elections in neighbouring Maharashtra round the corner) and raked up the case as one of national honour: Uma Bharti was being arrested for hoisting the national flag, it said. (Actually, the case against her was for defying prohibitory orders and inciting a mob.)

TheáCongress government in Karnataka soon dropped the remaining charges against her, but the damage had been done. Uma Bharti decided to leadáthe Tiranga Yatra from Hubli to Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, claiming that the Italy-born Congress president Sonia Gandhi does not understand the value of the Tiranga.

The flag was in the news for other reasons, wasn't it?

Quite right. In fact,áthree years ago, Naveen Jindal, a scion of the Jindal family, one of India's leading industrial groups,áfiled a case against the Government of India demanding that every citizen should have the right to fly the Indian flag. He won the case and has now moved into a career in politics by getting himself elected as a Congress member of the Lok Sabha from Haryana in the May general election. Read his story here.

You mean ordinary Indians could not fly the national flag?

Surprising as that sounds, it is true. Ordinary Indians could only fly the flag on Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15), and Gandhi Jayanti (October 2) even though it was ordinary Indians who won India's independence.

Worse, our politicians and bureaucrats (who during the freedom struggle remained loyal to the British) had the right to fly the flag when and where they pleased. Many might be justified in asking whether these two sections, who shoulder much of the
blame for India's backwardness, deserved such a privilege.

Why such an unfair rule?

It was believed that ordinary citizens might abuse the flag or not maintain it. One must remember that the Indian flag entails huge responsibility upon its citizens, known as the Flag Code, such as, it must be maintained well; it must not be torn; when the flag is hoisted, all must stand at attention; likewise when it is pulled down, and so on.

But rules to respect the flag do make sense.

They certainly do. The Supreme Court now wants the government to take a second look at the Flag Code and make new rules if needed. The Flag Code explicitly bans using the Indian flag for commercial activities.

Why is our flag called the Tiranga when it has four colours?

First, three colours clearly dominate --ásaffron on top, white in the middle, and dark green at the bottom. There is a blue Ashok Chakra, a wheel with 24 spokes, in the centre of the white band.áWhen the Indian freedom struggle was on, a charkha (spinning wheel) was placed in the white band to symbolise the spirit of swadeshi. This was the Congress party's flag.

But the reason the flag is called the Tiranga is historic. The first flags flown by Indian revolutionaries invariably had three colours (often from saffron/orange, red, white, green, blue gold) that were superimposed with symbols and/or words (often in different colours). Thus, the idea that India's flag would be a tricolour took root early and this itself was inspired by the idea of revolution and freedom. Visit this site to look at the history and evolution of the Indian flag.

Ever since the French Revolution, when the Tricolore was first unfurled, the notion that three colours represent a revolution has stayed. By showing three colours, Indians too were implying a revolution against the British Raj. An anecdote goes that when Raja Ram Mohan Roy first saw the French flag in the 1830s (this was even before the 1857 War of Independence), he was moved to cry 'Glory, glory, glory!' Clearly, the notion of three colours was deeply ingrained.

When was a tricolour first flown?

One of the first nationalist movements was the demand to undo the partition of Bengal in 1905. Trouble was brewing in Calcutta after the viceroy, Lord Curzon,ádecided to partition the giant province. The protestors who gathered to protest on August 7, 1906, unfurled a tricoloured flag ľ green, blue, and red, with eight lotuses on the green stripe, Vande Mataram on the blue stripe, and a sun and crescentámoon on the red. This flag was hoisted at the Parsi Bagan Square in Calcutta.

But the person most remembered for hoisting a tricolour, that too at an international platform, is the indomitable Madam Bhikaji Cama. She flew a tricolour in Stuttgart, Germany, during the International Socialist Conference in 1907. Incidentally, her flag, which is quite different from India's flag except that it too showed three colours, was inspired by, among others, 'Veer' VinayakáDamodar Savarkar, who has also been in the news of late.

Do the colours represent Hindus, Muslims, and others?

That isátheácommon perception. After all, saffron is important to Hindus and green to Muslims. So it is believed that saffron and green represent the Hindus and Muslims, respectively, while white represents all other communities.

In 1921, Mahatma Gandhi asked Pingli Venkayya to devise a flag with two colours, for Muslims and Hindus. Thus was born a flag with green and red, and a charkha on the red. But when Gandhi saw it, he felt that other communities must also be represented and asked Venkayya to add white. Thus came the first Congress flag: white on top, green in the middle, and red at the bottom.

By 1930, the Congress had started disliking the communal interpretation of the colours. A committee comprising some of the luminaries of India's freedom struggle then designed a new flag with saffron on top, white in the middle, and green at the bottom, with a charkha (spinning wheel) in the white band. The colours now stood for values: saffron for courage and sacrifice; white for truth and purity; green for peace and prosperity; and the Ashok Chakra (which replaced the spinning wheel) for the Laws of Dharma (righteousness, not religion).

Why was the charkha replaced witháthe chakra?

In June-July 1947, with independence just weeks away, a committee formed to finalise the design of the Indian flag decided to replace the charkha with the Ashok Chakra, taken from the Ashok pillar at Sarnath. One reason was that many felt the spinning wheel showcased India's backwardness rather than a forward-looking country.

Another reason was that other political parties did not want the Congress party's flag to become India's flag and this was a way out. Mahatma Gandhi was not very happy when told that the spinning wheel, the symbol of India's battle for economic and political freedom, was being replaced. But he welcomed the idea of a Wheel of Righteousness that spoke the universal values of upholding truth and the right path.

For more on the story of the Indian flag, please visit these web sites:

Image: Uday Kuckian

The Rediff Specials

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Number of User Comments: 22

Sub: Know Yor Tiranga: What a load of selective Bullshit

Amberish K Diwanji does not present the true version of events about the creation of the Indian Tricolour. The Indian National flag has its origins ...

Posted by Bharar Prashar

Sub: Tiranga....

This is really an informative article. Articles of such importance should be included in the website often to educate the so called "Westernized Indians" who ...

Posted by Prasad

Sub: Misleading information

In the article the author says that 'our politicians and bureaucrats (who remained loyal to the British)', can you please enlighten us on the source ...

Posted by Aravind

Sub: Let BJP first accept the essence of flag

Every Indian respect our national flag. Its an attachments deep within our hearts. But BJPs present thamasha has no relevance with honouring the flag. Reasons ...

Posted by Vinay

Sub: Biased View

It started out as a article about Tiranga, but soon one gets the view that author's main purpose has been BJP bashing and Congress praise. ...

Posted by Ashish Gupta


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