Opinion: What PM's Har Ghar Tiranga Campaign Should Alert Us To

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of India's Independence, millions of households will unfurl the tricolour and salute the numerous martyrs, women and men, who made our freedom possible. For Har Ghar Tiranga to go beyond a slogan or a ritual, it is important to remind ourselves of our own history and what was critical in winning us our independence.

The Tiranga is closely linked to the Constitution of India. It was the Constituent Assembly (CA) which set up a 12-member ad hoc committee in June 1947 to decide on the national flag. Named the "Flag Committee", it was headed by Rajendra Prashad, President, and its members were Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu, C Rajagopalachari, K M Munshi, KM Pannikar, Frank Anthony, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Hiralal Shastry, Baldev Singh, Satyanarayan Sinha and SN Gupta. It was a given that the members of this committee would propose the adoption of the tricolour as the national flag though with an important modification of replacing the charkha with the Ashoka Chakra.

Even though the tricolour was first adopted by the Congress party in its resolution of 1931, in practice, it went beyond the Congress party and became the main banner held by Indians in their battle for freedom. In discussions at the CA, members repeatedly referred to the flag as a symbol of sacrifice for a free India; HK Khandekar said "How many sacrificed their lives, got their children trampled were killed and destroyed. The British Empire used all their power to destroy this Flag, but we the inhabitants of this country always cherished and protected it."

Of course, there were significant streams in the battle for freedom represented by other flags. For example, the Communists and the workers and peasants in their heroic struggles against the British Raj and their native collaborators had held up the red flag which they considered a symbol of struggle and sacrifice. The first time the red flag was unfurled in India was in 1923 at a workers' rally in Madras, which then went to all corners of the country. The Adivasis in all their insurrections and rebellions against the British had their own flags. Jaipal Singh Munda, one of the most inspiring Adivasi voices in the CA said "Each (adivasi) village has its own flag and that flag cannot be copied by any other tribe. If any one dared challenge that flag, 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." Thus while many other flags seen in the national movement remain alive today - the red flag for example is a proud symbol of the continuing struggle against injustice - the tricolour was accepted as the national flag.

Another aspect of the discussion was that the colours of the flag did not represent any particular religious community, it was a secular flag. Jawaharlal Nehru in introducing the resolution for the national flag stated, "Some people, having misunderstood its significance, have thought of it in communal terms and believe that some part of it represents this community or that. But I may say that when this Flag was devised there was no communal significance attached to it." Another member Shiban Lal Saxena said, "We declared it in clear words that the three colours had no communal significance...those who have been maddened by Communalism today should not take this flag to be a communal flag." In the ensuing discussion, there were many creative interpretations of the meaning of the colours in the flag, from renunciation, sacrifice represented by saffron to closeness to nature represented by the green colour, and peace and non violence by the white - but all members were agreed that the flag was not communal. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in his interpretation put it this way: "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.'"

The third aspect in the discussion was of social justice and freedom from oppression and hunger. In describing the flag as a symbol of freedom, Nehru said, "There will be no complete freedom as long as there is starvation, hunger, lack of clothing, lack of necessaries of life and lack of opportunity of growth for every single human being, man, woman and child in the country" and this was echoed in the speeches of many others. 75 years later, it is a sobering thought that Har Ghar Tiranga will exclude millions of families for the reason that they are homeless, landless, with meagre incomes. The economic framework of aggressive capitalism has led to huge inequalities that bely the sentiments expressed in the Constituent Assembly and which require a second freedom struggle.

These aspects - sacrifice for the country's freedom, unity to achieve it and social and economic justice - were the issues in the discussion which were commonly referred to when the tricolour was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on July 22, 1947.

But there was one political formation represented by the RSS which did not accept the tricolour. The RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, in 1947 wrote, "Those who have come to power by a kick of fate, may give in our hands the Tricolour but it will never be respected and owned by 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." The Organisational flag of the RSS was and is the saffron flag and this was the flag that the RSS wanted as India's national flag, just as it wanted the Manusmriti to be the basis for India's Constitution.

Within two days of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of independent India's first terrorist Nathuram Godse, the RSS was banned. A year later, among the several conditions imposed on the RSS for the ban to be lifted, was the acceptance of the national flag. Home Secretary HVR Iyengar wrote to RSS Chief MS Golwalkar in May 1949 stating, "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". The RSS had no choice but to accept this. 

Today, the RSS tells those reminding the nation of this history to stop "politicizing the issue". But it is not prepared to say that it was totally wrong. On the contrary, only recently, an RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat said, "If the Hindu samaj united, the Bhagwa Dhwaj can become the national flag."

The flag represents certain values fundamental to India as a nation which are anathema to the RSS. The values of the freedom struggle were rooted in a patriotism which was linked to secular citizenship across religous affiliation. Har Ghar Tiranga must be a commitment to defend and uphold those values against the all-out assault by those in power and others whose role in the freedom struggle was to strengthen the British policy of divide-and-rule. The hoisting of the flag goes side by side with the preamble of the Constitution and the historic words - not we the members of this or that religion - but "we the people of India"...."hum Bharat ke log."

(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.