Many countries in the west, including the US, UK and Canada, have no specific law that mandates a code for the use of the national flag. Images of the American flag being burnt across US campuses in protests against the Vietnam War are part of that period's tumultuous history. It was not considered an illegal act. In India, there is a Flag Code in place since 1950, which was amended in 2002. It is quite a rigid code but was adopted without opposition.
This flag code is now in the news because of its flagrant violation at a tribute in Lucknow for Kalyan Singh, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Governor of Rajasthan, which was attended by many top leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and others holding constitutional posts.
The BJP flag placed on the coffin covered almost half of the national flag. It is reported that the party flag was placed over the national flag by BJP president JP Nadda. Photographs show Nadda and the UP Chief Minister paying homage, with the national flag beneath the BJP flag. This is in clear violation of the Flag Code 2002, in which Section 2.2 (i) states: "Whenever the national flag is displayed it should occupy the position of honour and should be distinctly placed."
The BJP flag placed on the coffin covered almost half of the national flag
Have any cases been filed against them? No such action. Imagine if any other party had even unwittingly committed such an illegality and a red flag or the flag of any other party had been placed over the national flag. All hell would have broken loose. A party flag laid over a party leader is the usual way to pay respect but it lies beneath the national flag, not over it. Whether a party chooses to put up the national flag at its party office or not is its choice, but for the ruling party to place its own flag over the national flag is certainly against the law. But the BJP and its leaders are clearly above the law.
If they haven't the decency to issue a public apology, it is because for them, respect for the national flag does not come easily.
In fact, the RSS had never accepted the tricolour as the national flag. RSS mouthpiece Organiser, in an editorial in its issue of 17 July 1947, had demanded that the saffron flag be adopted as the national flag.
On August 14, on the eve of Independence, the RSS publication stated, "The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the tricolour but it will never be respected and owned by the Hindus. The word three in itself is evil and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a psychological effect and is injurious to the country."
As a condition for lifting the ban imposed on the RSS after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, the government asked the group to accept the national flag.
Home Secretary HVR Iyengar wrote to MS Golwalkar in May 1949: "An explicit acceptance of the national flag would be necessary for satisfying the country that there are no reservations in regard to allegiance to the State."
With this history, it is not unusual for BJP leaders, most of them trained in the RSS hate-producing shakhas, to cover the national flag with their party flag.
There is another dimension to this frequent insult to the national flag.
Lynch mobs against Muslims, marauding mobs setting fire to minority homes, often carry the national flag along with saffron flags claiming their acts of hatred against minorities are nationalist acts. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971, Section 2, states: "Insults to Indian National Flag and Constitution of India.-Whoever in any public place or in any other place within public view or otherwise shows disrespect to or brings into contempt (whether by words, either spoken or written, or by acts) the Indian National Flag or the Constitution of India or any part thereof, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both." The law further explains that "comments expressing disapprobation or criticism of the Constitution or of the Indian National Flag or of any measures of the Government with a view to obtain an amendment of the Constitution of India or an alteration of the Indian National Flag by lawful means do not constitute an offence under this section."
There is nothing lawful about the actions of communal forces with the national flag in their hands to subvert the secular nature of the Constitution of India.
Following the Delhi violence in 2020, Kapil Mishra, one of the BJP leaders whose hate speeches had triggered the riots, led a so-called peace rally in the heart of the capital. While his supporters waved the national flag, provocative slogans like "Goli Maaro Saalon Ko" were shouted. No cases were filed.
In September 2015, lynchings on manufactured charges of cow slaughter started with the brutal killing of Mohammad Akhlaq. When one of the main accused in the case died of natural causes, members of the Sangh Parivar brought the national flag to his funeral and wrapped his body in it, declaring him a martyr. Leaders of the Sangh Parivar were present. These are only a few examples.
Many may ask why we should be concerned about an offence relating to the desecration of the flag when we are dealing with major crimes like murder, arson and violence. The anti-minority pogroms of the Sangh Parivar and the Hindutva forces camouflage their violence in the name of a fake nationalism- "fake" because in their outlook nationalism is equated with being Hindu. The use of the national flag in their hate-filled mobilizations against minorities helps their perverse propaganda of what constitutes nationalism and, in a sense, normalises the violence.
The use of national symbols like the flag in acts that target minorities must be stopped; the line must be drawn against every offence.
It is in this context that every example of the BJP's insult to national secular symbols must be opposed.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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