Tricolour controversy: Any attempt to call it Gandhi’s or Nehru’s flag deserves contempt

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We the people of India have given ourselves the flag and we should all be proud of it

It would be necessary for Indians — Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Parsis and all others to whom India is home — to recognise a common flag to live and die for.”

—Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi       

On 22 July 1947 a resolution was moved in the Constituent Assembly for the adoption of the Tricolour, as we see in the present form, as the National Flag. The discussion on the flag, which was initiated by Jawaharlal Nehru, had several members expressing sentiments, each defining what the flag meant for them.

While it would be a tall order to recall all, some very representative thoughts must be considered especially in time as the hoisting of Tricolour has become part of politics. Soon after Nehru introduced the resolution for adopting the Tricolour, erudite scholar Dr S Radhakrishnan made a beautiful exposition about the make-up of the flag.

The learned intellectual, who later became the second President of the republic, said, “In these difficult days it depends on us under what banner we fight. Here we are putting in the very centre the White, the white of the Sun’s rays. The white means the path of light. There is darkness even at noon as some People have urged, but it is necessary for us to dissipate these clouds of darkness and control our conduct-by the ideal light, the light of truth, of transparent simplicity which is illustrated by the colour of white.

“This wheel (Ashoka Chakra) which is a rotating thing, which is a perpetually revolving thing, indicates to us that there is life in movement. Our Dharma is Sanatana, eternal, not in the sense that it is a fixed deposit but in the sense that it is perpetually changing. Its uninterrupted continuity is its Sanatana character. So even with regard to our social conditions it is essential for us to move forward. The Bhagwa colour represents the spirit of renunciation it is said: Sarve tyage rajadharmesu drsta. All forms of renunciation are to be embodied in Raja Dharma.

“The Green is there as 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.”

Seventy-five years later a lot of noise is being made about saffronisation, considering saffron in a negative perspective, which it’s not as mentioned earlier by Radhakrishnan, it would not be out of place what a leading Muslim member of the Assembly, Mohomed Sherrif from Mysore (now Karnataka) had to say.

Sherrif said, “I am sorry that some controversy has been created about the resolution about the question of the consideration of the Indian Flag. Some gentlemen suggested that there should be some variation in the colours represented on this Flag. Sir, the white, the saffron and the green colours, signify renunciation, purity or sacrifice. Great spiritual significance is attached to them. These colours are venerated by all persons, whether they are Hindus, or Muslims, Christians or Parsis. The Chakra which is there in the centre of the Flag symbolises motion, progress and advancement and from aesthetic and other considerations also, it suits the genius, tradition and culture of India. As was said by Chaudhuri Khaliquzzaman, it is a Flag which deserves the respect of everybody who lives and has his being in India. With these words, Sir, I have very great pleasure in supporting the Resolution.”

Similar speeches were made in support of the Tricolour by prominent members of other communities. Two of them being most relevant. The first to find mention here should be the observations made by Jaipal Singh, the captain of the gold medal winning hockey team at 1932 Olympics. Jaipal Singh represented the Adivasis (indigenous population).

An articulate speaker, Singh made very crisp speech saying, “I would also say a few words on behalf of the 30 million Adivasis, the real owners of this country, the original sons of the soil, the most ancient aristocracy of India, who have been fighting for freedom for the last six thousand years. On behalf of these people, I have great pleasure in acknowledging this Flag as the Flag of our country in future. In the melas, jatras and festivals in Chota Nagpur, whenever various tribes with their flags enter the arena, each tribe must come into jatra by a definite route by only one route and no other tribe may enter the mela by the same route. Each village has its own flag and that flag cannot be copied by any other tribe. If anyone dared challenge that flag, Sir, I can assure you that that particular tribe would shed its last drop of blood in defending the honour of that flag. Hereafter, there will be two Flags, one Flag which has been here for the past six thousand years, and the other will be this National Flag which is the symbol of our freedom. This National Flag will give a new message to the Adivasis of India that their struggle for freedom for the last six thousand years is at last over, that they will now be as free as any other in this country. I have great pleasure. Sir, in accepting and acknowledging on behalf of the Adivasis of India the Flag that has been presented to us.”

The spirit of freedom soared as Sarojini Naidu, the Nightingale of India, rose to make the concluding speech. She did not speak just as a woman member but as a representative of people of India. Bulbul-e-Hind, as some members referred to Naidu, said, “On the day when peace was signed at Versailles after the last war, I happened to be in Paris. There was great rejoicing everywhere and flags of all nations decorated the Opera House. There came on the platform a famous actress with a beautiful voice, for whom the proceedings were interrupted while she wrapped around herself the flag of France. The entire audience rose as one man and sang with her the National Anthem of France – the Marseillaise. An Indian near me with tears in his eyes turned to me and said, “When shall we have our own Flag?” “The time will soon come,” I answered, “When we shall have our own Flag and our own Anthem.”

Thus to politicise whether it is Gandhi’s, Nehru’s or somebody else’s flag deserves contempt. It is the flag of the Indian Nation, given to us by the people of India represented through the members of the Constituent Assembly. We the people of India have given ourselves the flag and we should all be proud of it.

The writer is an author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice. Views expressed are personal.

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