Write angle Ziya Us Salam

Colours that unite

A child with the tricolour Photo V.Raju.   | Photo Credit: V_RAJU

This Republic Day there was a news item buried in the inside pages of some newspapers, others choosing to ignore it. Meerut-based Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha boycotted the Republic Day celebrations, preferring instead to observe it as a mourning day. Waving black flags in protest, the body pledged to make India a Hindu Rashtra. The Mahasabha’s action, though despicable, was not surprising. After all, the body had earlier floated the idea of building a temple dedicated to Nathuram Godse! The latest action was in direct contrast to what its ideological partner Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had said earlier this month. The RSS urged the madrasas or Islamic seminaries to hoist the tricolour on Republic Day. For once it seemed perfectly sensible advice. But hang on, isn’t RSS the body which has for years been accused of not flying the national flag on its premises? Coming from the RSS, the advice was rich.

Remember exactly 15 years ago in 2001 three activists of Rashtrapremi Yuwa Dal along with others allegedly entered the RSS premises and forcibly hoisted the national flag there mouthing patriotic slogans. The media then reported that the in-charge of the premises Sunil Kathle first tried to stop them from entering the premises and later tried to prevent them from hoisting the tricolour. The activists, contending that the RSS had never hoisted the tricolour on Republic Day, initially told the RSS men there that they had come to pay homage to the RSS founder Dr Keshav Hedgewar but soon took out banners and flag.

Incidentally, at the time of India’s Independence, the RSS was clearly against the tricolour, preferring bhagwa dhwaj. The RSS then considered the tricolour with three different strands less than auspicious as the numeral three was said to be evil. Its own mouthpiece Organiser had written then, “The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the tricolour but it never be respected and owned by the Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.” Incidentally, M.S. Golwalkar himself had opposed our national flag. In the essay ‘Drifting and Drifting’ in “Bunch of Thoughts”, Golwalkar wrote, “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, had we no flag of our own? Had we no national emblem at all these thousands of years? Undoubtedly we had. Then why this utter void, this utter vacuum in our minds.”

A little after Independence, the body was banned following reports of its activists trampling the tricolour in the wake of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. And Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was quick to take note of the lack of respect shown towards the national flag by some miscreants. In a speech on February 24, 1948, he noticed that “at some places members of the RSS dishonoured the national flag. They know well that by disgracing the flag they are proving themselves as traitors…” Indeed a little later when there was talk of the ban being lifted, our Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel made respect towards tricolour a precondition. He warned anybody who sought to supplant the national flag with any other flag.

Indeed, these statements by our PM and HM had to be made was because historically, the organisation had betrayed little faith in the flag. A passage in “Khaki Shorts Saffron Flags” by Tapan Basu, Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar and Sambuddha Sen, lucidly brings it out while talking of Gandhiji’s Civil Disobedience Movement. “Three months later Gandhi started his Dandi March and the Civil Disobedience Movement was born. The RSS, as usual, remained deafeningly silent – except for a single, though interesting circular issued by Hedgewar as sarsanghchalak concerning the Congress decision to observe 26 January 1930 as Independence Day. The circular audaciously claimed that ‘the Indian National Congress’ too had adopted our goal of Independence’. RSS shakha should therefore celebrate Independence Day – but through ‘worship of the national flag, that is the bhagwa jhanda’. Not, it needs to be noted, the tricolour. 1930, in any case, remained the only year when the RSS celebrated 26 January, even though such celebration became a standard feature of the freedom movement, and often came to mean violent confrontations with the colonial police. The RSS preferred to conserve its martially-trained cadres for other objectives…Hedgewar personally joined the Satyagraha movement, and briefly went to jail, but otherwise the Civil Disobedience of 1930-31 is a non-event in RSS history.”

Incidentally, the flag was not first hoisted by Madam Cama in Germany, as often claimed by some. It is said to be designed by P. Venkayya, a Congressman, though some give credit to Suraiya Tyabjee, arguing that Venkayya’s flag had ‘charkha’ in the centre, not Asoka’s wheel. Either way, the idea of the tricolour was first mooted around 1920; Venkayya is said to have raised the question at various sessions of the Congress. It was initially to have a red strand to represent Hindus, green for Muslims and white as a symbol of peace as well as representation of other religions. Also, Gandhiji was in favour of the white strip at the top and red at the bottom. In the design offered by Venkayya charkha was to cover all three segments. As we inched towards Independence, red was replaced by saffron and also placed on top. The charkha became smaller, now confined to the white middle strip. As Independence beckoned our Constituent Assembly replaced the charkha with Asoka chakra as the former was identified too closely with the Congress. This Asoka chakra in the centre is said to have been designed by Tyabjee. Gandhi ji was persuaded to accept the change, all leaders accepted the tri-colour. Not so the RSS. As “Khaki Shorts Saffron Flag” so eloquently points out. Sectarian allegiances were paramount, spirit of the nation secondary for some.

Today, whether you attend a shakha in khaki shorts or a madrasa in a kurta-pyjama or tehmet, it is imperative for all Indians to follow what Patel said: “The National Flag must be universally accepted.” Are the Mahasabha activists tuned in?

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 12:05:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/Colours-that-unite/article14026841.ece

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