HRD Minister Smriti Irani has just handed JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar the best story of his life, one that he will recite with amusement some day to his grandchildren.
On 18 February 2016, the HRD Minister announced that all centrally-sponsored universities shall henceforth fly the national tricolour flag on a minimum 207-ft-high mast within their premises. The decision was announced after Vice Chancellors of 46 central universities, who had gathered for a meeting at the behest of the HRD Ministry, passed a unanimous resolution in favour of flying the tricolour at their campus premises. It was one among 12 resolutions passed that day.
Though the Minister would like to deny it, the trigger for the decision has been the controversial event at JNU that resulted in JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar being arrested by Delhi Police on charges of sedition. But what makes the decision historic is that it came after 68 years of independence, a decision that even Sardar Patel, India’s Iron man, couldn’t enforce post our gaining freedom. And therein lies the irony and perhaps a reason for Kanhaiya to smile someday, as he looks back at the events unfolded on 8 February and thereafter.
A Day to Rejoice!
Irrespective of the reasons behind the decision, it’s one that must make all Indians, without exception, proud. And why can’t the same be applied to all academic and research institutions across the country, public or private? After all, it’s our flag and the very symbol of our existence and unity as a nation. So, yes, we must thank Smriti Irani for having taken this bold decision and one that must be welcomed by all.
But Has It?
The thing about politics is that very often opposing the ruling party overrides national logic, pride and interests, and all parties are guilty of it at some point or the other.
Several political parties, including the Congress, have come out with some statement or the other questioning either the intent or the decision to go ahead. The fact remains, that irrespective of the reason or intent, flying the flag with pride should be welcomed by all and without exception.
Questioning it is Just Politics
Having said that, hoisting or holding the flag must come from the heart and must not be made mandatory. The moment you make it mandatory there will always be individuals or groups of people that will use it to offend the establishment or another set of individuals or groups, and policing this could become a nightmare. Insulting the flag must be a zero tolerance affair but making it mandatory is ill-advised.
In America, many homes fly the flag and they do this voluntarily and with pride. In fact, most institutions, public or private, have the flag flying prominently and here lies a lesson for India. It took Rajya Sabha MP Navin Jindal to take up a legal fight in the Supreme Court and win the right to fly the flag and this came through only in 2002.
And Now the Tricky Part….
It is true that the government has been on a sticky wicket with Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student from Hyderabad, committing suicide and thus triggering a backlash within the student community across India. The controversy had barely settled when the JNU episode took centre stage. So, Smriti Irani and her party had to come up with something quick that would be seen as a winner, and the decision on the Flag in central universities seemed the perfect answer.
But now, the decision has given the opposition yet another reason to question. RSS has had a history of resisting the national tricolour instead preferring to fly the flag of the organization, the ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’, at its headquarters in Nagpur and various branches across India. Only on three previous occasions, it has flown the national tricolour at its headquarters in Nagpur – once on 15 August 1947, the second on 26 January 1950, and the only other time it hoisted the flag thereafter was in 2002.
Now, with all senior BJP leaders applauding Smriti Irani’s initiative on the flag as an act that will instill ‘nationalism’ and ‘pride’, it remains to be seen how they are going to face the opposition that has already started demanding that RSS first clear its stand on the flag and also agree to hoist the same at their party headquarters.
This one is going to be sticky and the opposition will surely rake up the issue during the forthcoming Parliament session. The PM’s stand on this will be interesting, but his prolonged silence on critical socio-political issues afflicting the country, is increasingly showing him in poor light.
What Does the Common Man Think?
Contrary to perception, it is the common man who is motivated the most with the concept of the tricolour and everything that it represents – unity, pride, patriotism and nationalism. It is the common man that wants the right to hold and hoist the flag anywhere and wherever he or she may want to. This desire cuts across party lines and politics.
This could well be India’s moment if the government takes up the decision to allow the tricolour to be put up by everyone and all institutions, without putting a restriction on the size of the mast and the fact it must be lit up at night, as per the existing Flag Code.
The Upkeep of the Flag
The tricolour is India’s pride and merely hoisting it is not enough. It needs to be cared for and its dignity maintained at all times. That takes time, effort and money and therefore, it is a good idea to invite private sector to come forward and invest in putting up not just the flag mast and flag, but also maintain the area around it. It will add to its allure and do justice to its dignity.
Naveen Jindal has set up the Flag Foundation of India which has put up and is maintaining the Indian tricolour at several places, the most prominent of which is in Connaught Place in New Delhi, where the flag stands tall with its domineering presence and flies high in all its resplendent glory. That’s what is needed across India and this is where corporate houses can step in and adopt certain locations to maintain the tricolour and the area around it.
If the central and respective state governments give the call, not just the larger corporate houses but even smaller businesses will gladly come forward to be associated with this cause. After all, the tricolour stands for unity and pride, and it is time for it to be seen, felt and heard at far more places than has been thus far..
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