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Har Ghar Tiranga is a good idea, but not every Indian has the means to follow Flag Code

Modi govt should consider reverting after 15 August 2022 to discourage the practice of individuals flying the flag by ‘day and night’. It's not practical.

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In the 75th year of India’s Independence, the Indian citizen has formally and finally been entrusted with the individual responsibility to honour and preserve the dignity of the National Flag. Though the right to fly the flag was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2002, two recent amendments to the Flag Code have expanded its scope in terms of time and availability. Earlier, it was only allowed to be hoisted between sunrise and sunset and had to be made of khadi. Now, the flag can be flown at any time and can be machine made of cotton, polyester, wool or silk.

The Narendra Modi government’s moves are dovetailed into the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign that is part of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’. It is aimed at encouraging people to hoist the National Flag at their residences/homes to mark the 75th year of India’s Independence. The idea is to invoke heightened feelings of patriotism and promote greater awareness of the National Flag.

Media reports indicate that the Union government is targeting a mass display in 20 crore houses across the country. Flags are being sold from 1.6 lakh post offices. Other flag makers like Khadi units, self-help groups and entities in the small and medium sectors will also be selling them. In fact, a list of vendors is available on the website of the campaign with contact names and mobile numbers. The attempted scale of mobilisation for the period between 13 and 15 August 2022 is notable. But so is the conceptual shift from the collective to the individual platform.


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Maintaining the Tricolour

Hithertofore, on special occasions, as part of a public function, Indians would collectively assemble around the Tricolour, partake in ceremonial procedures and kindle within themselves the spirit of patriotism. They will still continue to do so. But with the amendments to the Flag Code, some Indian homes would fly the flag perpetually and could stand out as being in the category of ‘Flag Houses’. However, it would not be surprising if the initial enthusiasm is not dampened by the logistics and the cost involved in maintaining the standards expected by the Flag Code, which categorically states that a damaged and dishevelled flag should not be displayed and it should occupy a place of honour and should be distinctly placed. Violations can attract the provisions of The Prevention of Insults to the National Honour Act 1971 and are punishable by up to three years of rigorous imprisonment.

It would appear that only the well-to-do would be capable of fulfilling the conditions laid down. For starters, the white strip that signifies truth and peace is easily stained not only by the vagaries of weather and nature but also by the high levels of pollution that are pervasive in most parts of India. Periodical, if not frequent, replacements will be required that can only be afforded by a few. Also, the vast majority of Indians live in flats/huts/hovels/shacks that cannot satisfy the condition of the flag occupying a place of honour and being distinctly placed.

The push for individuals to fly the flag could turn out so that it symbolises inequality and further deepens it. For a flag meant to unite people under a common cause, it would be shameful if it serves to highlight inequality. It is not that economic and social elites should not exist in Indian society. But their circumstances, providing them with the capacity to fly the distinctly-placed flag in their upper-class houses, cannot make for a level display of patriotism. This was highly avoidable in an India that supposedly focuses its prime energy and resources to pull millions of people out of poverty, ill health and illiteracy. The challenge is magnified as the efforts have to be directed while being sensitive to climate change.


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Climate implications and disposal

Now that machine-made polyester flags are permitted, it is likely to become more popular due to their price competitiveness and ease of manufacture. But it is worth remembering that the process of making a T-shirt from polyester emits more than twice as much carbon as making it from cotton. If the polyester flag industry becomes popular, India’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions in the fight against climate change could suffer a setback.

Since the call for flying flags in houses has the Prime Minister’s full backing, Indian homes could be expected to be awash with flags of all sizes between 13 and 15 August. What happens to most of those 20 crore flags after they have withered is another aspect that needs to be thought through. According to the Flag Code, the flag shall not be cast aside or disrespectfully disposed of but destroyed as a whole in private, preferably by burning or any other method consistent with the dignity of the Flag.

The majority of the people who will have to dispose of their flags sooner than later would be challenged to do it in private either by burning it or through some other method. If the social norms that largely prevail in most parts of our society are an indicator, one can expect that disposed of flags could possibly find their way surreptitiously into the garbage disposal system. Some would find ingenuous utility inside houses with the strong conviction that the government does not have any reach therein to ascertain the levels of transgression.


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Think the campaign through

The scale of the proliferation of the National Flag would make it virtually impossible for law and order agencies to deal with transgressions. On the other hand, false allegations can be easily levied and evidence planted to harass political rivals. Also, people not flying the flag may well be labelled ‘anti-national’ by their political opponents. Officially, of course, the Indian citizens have only been ‘encouraged’ to fly the Tricolour. The pitfalls and potential for discord that the national flag proliferation campaign can endanger is obvious.

It is perhaps too late to slow down the momentum of ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign. But it is not too late to launch a public information campaign that advises and creates facilities for flag disposal. Simultaneously, the Modi government should consider reverting after 15 August 2022 to discourage the practice of individuals flying the flag by ‘day and night’. Let the recent amendments stand as a one-time move on the occasion of the 75th Independence Anniversary. Prolonging will be imprudent and blind to India’s realities.

In the public policy space, one must differentiate between deontological and teleological national ethics. The former concentrates on purposes and means and the latter on the ends and outcomes. In the context of the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign, the teleological approach should be preferred. In any case, the spirit of patriotism inheres in the citizen’s minds and not in the inert fabric of the flag. One should not mistake symbolism for substance.

Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon (retd) is Director, Strategic Studies Programme, Takshashila Institution; former military adviser, National Security Council Secretariat. He tweets @prakashmenon51. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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