Today's Editorial

18 April 2018

Spare the national flag

Source: By Deccan Herald

Misplaced hyper-nationalism has seeped into the hallowed precincts of constitutional dignity that is captured and personified in the national flag of India. The ‘tiranga’ (three colours, namely saffron, white and green) with the navy-blue ‘Ashoka Chakra’ (wheel with 24 equally spaced spokes) represents and symbolises the national pride, propriety and decorum that is officially sanctified as a tenet of law.

Adopted in the Constituent Assembly on July 22, 1947, the accompanying elements like the design, material, handling and usage of the flag are clearly defined and sacrosanct. The protocols and privileges concerning the display and usage of the ‘tiranga’ are captured under the Flag Code of India 2002 (successor to the Flag Code-India).

Given the national affection and respect for the symbolism of the ‘tiranga’ that embodies the constitutional character, hopes and aspiration, strict compliance is mandated. The Ministry of Home Affairs issues advisories from time to time to ensure that the provisions contained in the Flag Code of India 2002 and The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, are not compromised, anywhere in the country.

The recent phenomenon of the use of plastics to manufacture the national flag (as opposed to the Bureau of Standards-approved Khadi cloth) is problematic, given that the plastic flags are not biodegradable and can lead to a practical problem of disposing the national flag with the required dignity. Such is the sensitivity that protocols requiring the minutest details are issued routinely by the MHA to various state authorities concerning the flag.

Sample this: the latest letter, dated October 11, 2017, pertaining to the display of the United Nations flag on UN Day reiterates para 3.36 of the Flag Code of India 2002, “When the United Nations flag is flown along with the National Flag, it can be displayed on either side of the National Flag. The general practice is to fly the National Flag on the extreme right with reference to the direction which it is facing (i.e. extreme left of an observer facing the masts flying the flags).”

In recent times, the sensitivity towards protecting the sanctity of the national flag has led to many designers and actors getting pulled-up for misusing or misrepresenting the national flag as clothing or an embellishment; sportspersons have been hauled up for showing unintentional disrespect; a smartphone-maker sacked an employee for tearing up the national flag and throwing it into the dustbin; a leading online retailer had to apologise for selling doormats featuring the Indian flag on its Canadian website.

Although industrialist Naveen Jindal won a landmark case that made flying the national flag every citizen’s right, doing so is subject to conditions of proper usage and maintenance. More recently, the home ministry has allowed Indian citizens to fly the ‘tiranga’ at night as well, provided the flagpole is at least 100 metres tall and the flag area properly illuminated.

Section 5, pertaining to misuse, lays down that, “The Flag will not be used as a drapery in any forms whatsoever except in State/Military/Central Para Military Force funerals, hereinafter provided”. It further clarifies, “The Flag shall not be used as a drapery in any form whatsoever, including private funerals”. However, as a powerful and primary symbol of national identity, the imagery of the national flag is susceptible to being usurped and appropriated by individuals or political causes that are not in conformity with the inherent spirit of our lofty Constitution.

The erudite philosopher and former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had eloquently captured the inherent ‘inclusiveness’ that is embedded in the ‘tiranga’, when he explained, “The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends. The ‘Ashoka Chakra’ in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag”. This profundity of the ‘tiranga’ puts it beyond the narrow confines of political dividessocietal divides or any other divisive attributes that seeks to differentiate one citizen from the other.

New nationalism

Therefore, it is only the avowedly apolitical Indian soldier, who swears no allegiance to any religion, race, caste or political party and ungrudgingly lays down his life to “keep the tricolour flying in its full glory” in the line of action, who is given the privilege of having the coffin draped with the ‘tiranga’ (barring ‘State funerals’ involving certain constitutional appointees as designated, or people of eminence, as declared by the respective states). Sadly, like the imagery of the Indian soldier, which has acquired certain political colours and supposed political preference, the national flag, too, is no longer spared the desired rectitude and reserve.

So, the draping of the ‘tiranga’ on the body of the lynching-case accused in Uttar Pradesh, who died a natural death and got arbitrarily declared a ‘martyr’ by the villagers — to posit and even equalise a communal murder-accused with those in the uniform who make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the ‘honour of the motherland’, is telling of the sad interpretation of the new nationalism.

Even the recent rally in Kathua to defend the accused in the rape and murder of a six-year-old girl, replete with ‘tiranga’ waving and ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ sloganeering was fraught with compromising the constitutional ethos and morality that abhors politico-religious usurpation of national symbols. The national flag belongs to all citizens equally without exception or preference and it cannot be a tool of expressing partisan ownership. For that, specific political flags may be appropriate. The nation’s inviolable Constitution and inclusive soul is not a matter of individual or creative interpretation, and the ‘tiranga’ needs to fly proudly as ordained and mandated.

 

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