Of Flag, False Pride and Failures – The New Indian Express

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It is heartening to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi trying to make ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ a movement with the avowed intention of deepening the connection of citizens with the national flag. This is quite a step forward from the position taken by the ancestors of the ruling establishment. It is said that when asked for their suggestions, they produced a triangular saffron design like a temple flag. But the so-called movement is somehow disturbing.

All over the world, people feel proud to fly their flags, to display them with pride and to wave them with fervor. But in India, it is mandated by government instructions, no matter how soft the persuasion. It is not limited to the spontaneous response of citizens, which has never been lukewarm, but never so widespread. People know from experience that neighborhood officials will monitor and report. They would most likely fly it just to avoid the trouble of being profiled.

There seems to be a desire to create a Guinness record. Given the size of our population, substantial compliance will result in something of a record. It is also an attempt to show that the country has become
a force to be reckoned with. What do the colors and Dharma Chakra mean in the middle of the flag? The saffron stripe indicates strength and courage. Green stands for fertility, growth and auspiciousness of the earth. The white belt with Ashoka Chakra indicates peace and truth.

This flag is torn from the soul of the people during the struggle for freedom. When the ambient image is in tune with the aspirations of the founding fathers and the people encapsulated in the flag, it works, otherwise it doesn’t. Has the republic lived up to this aspiration? The answer is both yes and no. On many fronts this is a work in progress and on several others our action has moved away from the integrated vision.

When half the population continues to be poor in varying shades – when 13 percent of national income and a 6 percent wealth share is contrasted with the top 10 percent having 57 percent of income and 64 percent of the wealth, it is easy to know which republic it is. When unemployment is so widespread and more than 30% of people who have completed their university studies remain unemployed and see no change in their future, the country cannot be strong, and to wish them courage is to ask the moon.

With low growth, labor employment intensity, which a study by Azim Premji University puts at 1 percent with 10 percent growth, the question to be asked is who it’s about. The growth the country has experienced has gone disproportionately to a smaller group without the gain of globalization. Peasant unrest revealed the turmoil of the agricultural sector, which supports 45% of the population. Even buying a moderately priced flag at 25 will require some redirection of spending involving trade-offs for at least 30% of households that the government supports with a free ration and who are admittedly extremely economically vulnerable.

Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan had foresightedly predicted that “although almost every religious community has its own brand of communalism, Hindu communalism can easily masquerade as Indian nationalism and denounce any opposition to it as anti-national”. We have seen the genius of majoritarianism slip away and begin to tear at the fabric of the nation.

No flag is big enough to cover these failures. Only a partially consolidated nation began to unravel for the flag to have any real meaning. Waving a flag is not a metaphor for patriotism for
a country that has often failed its citizens for electoral politics and that has amputated the space of citizens. Credited to Liz Truss, “A Union Jack flag on top of a beer bottle seen because it sells out.” It is a way of looking at the role of the flag stripped of its intrinsic meaning.

Haiti’s strongman, Francois Duvalier, declared himself the flag of Haiti and concluded that whoever was his enemy was the enemy of the country. But the national flag has meaning far beyond commercial and selfish parameters like these. For this symbol to have meaning, the reality behind it will need to be synchronized. More symbols will not change reality. After all, the flag is not the territory, whether physical or conceptual.

Satya Mohanty

[email protected]

Former Secretary, Government of India

It is heartening to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi trying to make ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ a movement with the avowed intention of deepening the connection of citizens with the national flag. This is quite a step forward from the position taken by the ancestors of the ruling establishment. It is said that when asked to give their suggestions, they produced a triangular saffron design like a temple flag. But the so-called movement is somehow disturbing. All over the world, people feel proud to fly their flags, to display them with pride and to wave them with fervor. But in India, it is mandated by government instructions, no matter how soft the persuasion. It is not limited to the spontaneous response of citizens, which has never been lukewarm, but never so widespread. People know from experience that neighborhood officials will monitor and report. They would most likely fly it just to avoid the trouble of being profiled. There seems to be a desire to create a Guinness record. Given the size of our population, substantial compliance will result in something of a record. It is also an attempt to show that the country has become a force to be reckoned with. What do the colors and Dharma Chakra mean in the middle of the flag? The saffron stripe indicates strength and courage. Green stands for fertility, growth and auspiciousness of the earth. The white belt with Ashoka Chakra indicates peace and truth. This flag is torn from the soul of the people during the struggle for freedom. When the ambient image is in tune with the aspirations of the founding fathers and the people encapsulated in the flag, it works, otherwise it doesn’t. Has the republic lived up to this aspiration? The answer is both yes and no. On many fronts this is a work in progress and on several others our action has moved away from the integrated vision. When half the population continues to be poor in varying shades – when 13 percent of national income and a 6 percent wealth share is contrasted with the top 10 percent having 57 percent of income and 64 percent of the wealth, it is easy to know which republic it is. When unemployment is so widespread and more than 30% of people who have completed their university studies remain unemployed and see no change in their future, the country cannot be strong, and to wish them courage is to ask the moon. With low growth, labor employment intensity, which a study by Azim Premji University puts at 1 percent with 10 percent growth, the question to be asked is who it’s about. The growth the country has experienced has gone disproportionately to a smaller group without the gain of globalization. Peasant unrest revealed the turmoil of the agricultural sector, which supports 45% of the population. Even buying a moderately priced flag at 25 will require some redirection of spending involving trade-offs for at least 30% of households that the government supports with a free ration and who are admittedly extremely economically vulnerable. Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan had foresightedly predicted that “although almost every religious community has its own brand of communalism, Hindu communalism can easily masquerade as Indian nationalism and denounce any opposition to it as anti-national”. We have seen the genius of majoritarianism slip away and begin to tear at the fabric of the nation. No flag is big enough to cover these failures. Only a partially consolidated nation began to unravel for the flag to have any real meaning. Waving a flag is hardly a metaphor for patriotism for a country that has often let its citizens down for electoral politics and slicing citizens’ space. Credited to Liz Truss, “A Union Jack flag on top of a beer bottle seen because it sells out.” It is a way of looking at the role of the flag stripped of its intrinsic meaning. Haiti’s strongman, Francois Duvalier, declared himself the flag of Haiti and concluded that whoever was his enemy was the enemy of the country. But the national flag has meaning far beyond commercial and selfish parameters like these. For this symbol to have meaning, the reality behind it will need to be synchronized. More symbols will not change reality. After all, the flag is not the territory, whether physical or conceptual. Satya Mohanty [email protected] Former Secretary, Government of India

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