A video released by BJP MP Varun Gandhi has exposed the underbelly of the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign launched as part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. The video shows a senior citizen complaining that he did not have Rs 20 to buy a flag in order to get his monthly ration. It also shows the ration dealer endorsing the complaint when he says that he had been asked by his higher-ups to give ration only to those who buy the flag. It does not show the flag campaign in a good light if the poor are compelled to buy flags, whatever be the price. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the people to hoist the flag in every household, he would not have imagined that government officials would resort to force. But when fixed quotas are given to officials, they cannot but use compulsion. When Varun Gandhi's father Sanjay Gandhi introduced his five-point programme during the Emergency, district officials in North India were given quotas of sterilisation to perform. It is a different matter that Gandhi's father and his grandmother had to pay a heavy political price for the vasectomies performed on even bachelors.
Nobody would question the need to celebrate the 75th year of Independence, as it marks a milestone in the history of the country and in its quest for a special place in the comity of nations. Nothing symbolises a nation like its national flag. It was not through an accident that the tricolour came into being. India's flag movement is as old as its freedom movement. Those who took part in the struggle wanted to hold a flag not only to express their defiance of the alien rulers but also to express their national feeling, but there was no such flag; it had been evolving throughout the freedom movement. Finally, the Indian National Congress obtained a flag for itself, which had the three colours with the spinning wheel at the centre as a mark of self-reliance. After an intense debate in the Constituent Assembly, the tricolour with the 24-spoke Ashok Chakra at the centre was accepted as the national flag in July 1947.
The people have every right to use the flag to express their attachment to the nation. Still, like the best place to store food is the stomach, the best place to keep the flag is in the heart. It does not matter if some people are unable to buy the flag because of their abject poverty. If they are forced, they may skip a meal to buy a flag at Rs 20. India does not have to prove to the world that we as a nation stand united by having a flag in every household. In the first place, there are millions who do not have a place to call home, as they live on footpaths and in public places. Their exclusion from the campaign is distressing and a huge embarrassment for the nation. If 100% participation is what the government expects, then it should ensure that the poor are given flags free of cost and are taught how to follow whatever is left of the Flag Code. Let the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign unite the people, not divide them.
Why stigmatise black?
Whether or not Bill Allen was the first person to coin the phrase “Black is beautiful” that birthed a powerful campaign in the US, Rahul Gandhi can take some credit for bringing the stark colour into the political arena in India. When he wore a black shirt with matching black trousers, he could not have imagined that he was making a new political statement. Home Minister Amit Shah saw in his dress a condemnation of what happened at Ayodhya exactly a year ago when Prime Minister Narendra Modi donned the saffron for a quasi-religious ritual. It is a different matter that neither Gandhi nor his mother would have imagined that it was an anniversary day. Politics being politics, Modi could not be blamed for seeing in the black shirt the Congress using black magic to regain lost ground. Memory, especially public memory, being short, he would not have remembered that he himself once wore black in style. Nobody can match Modi in sartorial one-upmanship when he has a wardrobe as commodious as the custom-made Boeing aircraft at his disposal. He should have remembered what American carmaker Ford had once said that “all colours are good if they are black”. He did not want to increase the car price by going the multicolour way. It is for such a rational reason that millions of Ayyappa devotees wear black when they visit Sabarimala. And for good measure, Anna Sewell's Black Beauty remains as beautiful as ever.