Ahead of Independence Day in 1997, Sahib Singh Verma-led Delhi Government had organised the "March of the Nation" from India Gate to Vijay Chowk. The event organised late in the evening to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of India's Independence, got tremendous popular response. People of all hues landed there, with small Tricolours in their hands and patriotic songs playing in the background. It looked as though the whole nation was marching.
While walking on the majestic Rajpath, I sensed a sudden commotion. An elderly gentleman, as also a young man firmly holding the hand of his three or four-year-old daughter was standing on the grass and was arguing with some men. It just so happened that one of the flags — being held by this group — had been fixed upside down on the small plastic stick. The older man sounded very passionate and emotional — how can you hold our National Flag like this, he asked. It was a matter of our collective pride. All those who gathered around quietly listened to him and the person who held that particular flag said "sorry" and fixed it, with saffron on top.
The matter ended there.
We discussed the emotional outpourings of that old man for a while and walked towards the finish to watch a "grand show" that was to follow . That small incident left a lasting impression. It had also happened around the time industrialist Navin Jindal's petition to allow any citizen to hoist the National Flag at any time during the year at private establishments was pending before the Supreme Court, and had sparked off huge public debates around the subject. Jindal won the legal battle and the Union (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) government brought out a revised Flag code in January 2002.
On Thursday, a meeting held by Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani with 39 Central universities at scenic Surajkund — on the outskirts of Delhi — adopted a resolution that to instil nationalism and pride, all Central universities will henceforth mandatorily hoist the Tricolour of a specified size that would be visible from a distance. The flag will remain unfurled permanently. It was a resolution, which beyond the publication of news shouldn't have sparked off a debate. But, it did — the intent, timing, minister's credentials and the RSS connect on the National Flag was questioned through impassioned debate, in broadcast, print and digital media.
This was taken as a fresh flashpoint by the self styled progressives and liberals, unleashed by a "shameful, opportunistic and ill-intentioned" Narendra Modi government. The cover is convenient — they are not against the National Flag and its hoisting, but against government. But what's the issue against the government in this matter? Is it because it has ordered the hoisting of the National Flag at a time when the nation — in the wake of the 9 February incident at JNU and subsequent events at the Press Club of India in Delhi, and Jadavpur University in Kolkata — is fiercely debating the national/anti-national debate? The timing of the order is thus suspect and evil-intentioned, they argue.
And yes, that argument against hoisting the National Flag at universities goes to a completely different level — why did the RSS headquarters in Nagpur fly a saffron flag, and not the National Flag for several years? How could this BJP government, with RSS as its ideological fountainhead issue a decree of any kind on the National Flag?
But the impassioned critics tend to forget three things:
First, the issue here is the Tricolour and not the Modi government.
Second, the issue here is a unanimous resolution adopted at a meeting of vice-chancellors of Central universities and not a unilateral decree of the HRD ministry. But their bias against Smriti Irani (granted she is no scholar like her recent predecessors like MM Pallam Raju, Kapil Sibal, Arjun Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi et al) is such that they tend to look at anything related to her as wrong.
Third, the issue here is about the unfurling of the Tricolour, instilling nationalism and pride not ideological sermons by the Modi government.
One must remember the man who fought for the individual's right to hoist the National Flag Jindal later became a Congress MP and the government that revised the Flag code was led by Vajpayee with LK Advani as home minister. The revised Flag code was issued during the pendency of the matter in the apex court, but much before the final judicial verdict on the subject was given.
While Section 2 and Section 3 of the Flag Code 2002 do not specifically mention Central and state universities, they do talk about educational institutions and important government buildings:
The National Flag may be hoisted in educational institutions (schools, colleges; sports camps, scout camps, etc) to inspire respect for the Flag... Subject to the provisions contained in Section I above, it shall be mandatory for all Governments and their organisations/ agencies to follow the provisions contained in this Part
The central park of New Delhi's Connaught Place is attracting a lot more visitors and attention for the past two years. Over that period, the country's biggest flag — a 60 feet by 90 feet Tricolour of made of polyester silk weighing 35 kg and hoisted on a 207-foot-tall steel pole — was hoisted there (now Jharkhand has this honour). One wonders how the debate would have progressed if the same decision — placing the biggest flag in the most visited public place — had been taken now.