Kolkata,Indrajit Hazra : On November 1985 Sekhar Chakrabarti of Jadavpur, Kolkata received a very polite letter from the United Nations. In the letter, UN Postal Administration chief Gisela Grünewald was responding to Chakrabarti’s bitter complaint about how the spokes of the Ashoka Chakra in India’s national flag had been reduced from 24 to 12 in a UN stamp.
“Because stamps are of such small dimensions, there are certain limits as to what we can reproduce on them with utmost clarity,” she had written. History remains silent as to how Chakrabarti – with the Provisions of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 and the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971by his elbow – responded to the official UN reply.
In 2001, Congressman Naveen Jindal was hauled up in court for insulting the flag. Was he burning the tricolour? Or perhaps cleaning his nose with it? Nope. He had been flying the national flag from his office building on a day that was not specified as a ‘flag-hoisting day’ (eg Independence Day or Republic Day).
Jindal fought the case – and won. On January 26, 2002, the Flag Code of India, 2002 came into being, allowing “unrestricted display of the tricolour, consistent with the honour and dignity of the flag”.
So why on earth did those hyper-patriots start foaming in the mouth when they learnt of chef Vikas Khanna getting a most obliging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to sign a tricolour in New York? Did Khanna hatch an insidious plan that would see the prime minister sign away India’s sovereignty by putting pen on national flag fabric? The chef had merely planned to present President Barack Obama the special Modi-signed Indian tricolour (along with a copy of his own book with, we presume, his own signature).
The problem stems from the way our hyper-patriots read the Flag Code. To be fair to these nutters, even after being ‘liberated’ thanks to Jindal, the code does have provisions which invite these hyper-sensitives to jump out of the bushes screaming, ‘India-haters!’ and ‘Flag-defilers!’
Take Section IV that lists ‘incorrect display’. 3.17 states that the flag “shall not be used as a festoon, rosette or bunting or in any other manner for decoration”. That automatically takes care of any kind of well-meaning decoration of national pride you may have had in mind if you lack a flagpole.
Then Section V (‘Misuse’) states with adequate gravitas that the flag “shall not be used as a portion of a costume or uniform of any description. It shall not be embroidered or printed upon cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins or boxes”. So notice a tricolour embroidered on someone’s handkerchief and he’s in cahoots with Hafiz Saeed.
The worthy successors of Sekhar Chakrabarti have come out of the woodwork again and proclaimed that the PM has ‘insulted’ the national flag. Like priests scampering out to proclaim that a blasphemous act has been committed, some of them were ready with scripture, pointing out that Modi, in league with Khanna, had violated Section V 3.28 of the Flag Code of India, 2002: “Lettering of any kind shall not be put upon the Flag”.
While there is no way of proving adequately that the Indian prime minister is not anti-Indian, perhaps emboldened by being in a foreign country with so many American flags fluttering, he now stands accused of denigrating India by signing on a … flag.
Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Hyper-patriotism of the sort displayed by those howling at the curious incident of the flag-signing at night is the last refuge of people who know patriotic pride only by being sticklers of rules and sub-clauses. So be careful about spontaneous displays of patriotism, especially if you’re too vigorous with the Indian flag at a stadium cheering on the Indian cricket team.
But then, as an ordinary citizen you’re relatively safe. Those hyper-patriots aren’t really after keeping the flag safe from perceived harm. They’re just obsessed about catching someone important – the UN postal department, the prime minister of India – in flagrante delicto with the tricolour.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own , publication has nothing to with his view.