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Diversionary Tactics: Why a job? Have a flag!

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
01 Aug 2022
When there are pressing problems that face the nation, the leaders find clever ways of diverting public attention.

Ever since Narendra Modi came to power, we have had periodic national-level celebrations from which no one is expected to stay away. That is how everyone came out of the house or stood on the balconies with all kinds of vessels to clang them for the exact period the government announced. 

On another occasion, Modi asked everyone to switch off all electric lights and installations and light diyas to remove the darkness that enveloped. The diyas were to remain lit for so many specified minutes and seconds. Both were to drive away Corona, as advised by his astrological advisers. What I liked most was the air of certainty he exuded.

The whole world would have laughed at the national nonsense in a country whose Constitution clearly enjoins upon the leaders to promote the scientific temperament. When the poor health workers were being denied insurance, India’s naval fleet were asked to beam light into the skies to honour the nurses, doctors and paramedical staff who sacrificed themselves at the altar of Covid-19.

Modi is a man with a lot of imagination. On Thursday, he flew into Chennai to inaugurate the Chess Olympiad. He gave Chief Minister MK Stalin a good run for his money. He was dressed more Tamilian than Stalin. 

What’s more, he chose a dhoti and angavastram that perfectly matched each other, for they featured the checkered patterns. Weeks after the event, the Tamils would say “wow, wow” when they saw Modi’s photographs all over the state.

Another great national celebration is in the offing. It is called “Har Ghar Tiranga” (every house must have a flag) to be celebrated on August 15, the Independence Day. It is part of what is called “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” that began on March 12, 2021, 75 weeks ago from August 15.

States like Haryana have set up war-room-like control stations to ensure that every house in the state flutters at least one national flag between August 13 and 15, 2022. Education boards have sent clear instructions to the teachers on how they should ensure that every student has a flag to wave or flutter on those days.

The government has set up a national-level website to coordinate the celebration. I was the 5,23,18,397th visitor when I checked the website on Friday afternoon. I am sure Har Ghar Tiranga would be a successful campaign. Modi planned in advance for this.

There is a Flag Code that governs every aspect of the national flag, how it should be hoisted, how it should be lowered, how it should be folded and even how it should be destroyed if it is torn or soiled. It should be burnt. Only handloom cloth was used to make flags.

The government cleverly changed the code to allow sale and use of flags made of synthetic, silk and other stuff. I recently read a story about an organisation in Karnataka that employed mostly women. They used to make flags throughout the year to be sold during Independence and Republic Days. They strictly followed the flag code. This time, synthetic flags will be in greater demand than the flags they made. The women will lose their jobs!

The flag code insisted that the flag should be lowered before sunset. Again, the code was amended to let the flag flutter day and night. Flag is now a big business in the country. A business group from Haryana which has a strong presence in mining and university education figures prominently in Josy Joseph’s book A Feast of Vultures.

They were the first to see profit in flags. So they went to the Supreme Court for permission to let any Indian citizen — not necessarily the President and ministers — fly the national flag on their premises. The appeal was granted subject, of course, to the flag code.

The court might not have known the business potential in the flag but the business house knew it. They were the ones to introduce a special synthetic flag that does not fade or suffer loss of colour and can stand rain or shine for years. Today the flag can be seen fluttering from the upper reaches of the Himalayas to where the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea merge like the three rivers at Triveni in Allahabad, now Prayag.

In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party government first earmarked Rs 45 crore in its budget to set up 115 ft-high flags all across Delhi. The amount was substantially increased. As of now, there are over 350 such flags. By August 15, there would be 500 national flags in a small state like Delhi.

Kejriwal created a five-member committee for each flag. The members are expected to meet under the flag every morning and recite patriotic songs. They will also ensure that the flag is not soiled, torn and the pole stands erect at all times. My friends in Delhi can check whether such meetings are held every day.

I have no idea how much money the Kejriwal government has spent on the flags. The cloth needs to be replaced from time to time. There is a recurring maintenance cost. What purpose do the flags serve? Some of the flags are touted to be the world’s largest.

There was one such flag at Connaught Place in New Delhi. I do not know what happened. It was removed. Another one was hoisted after several months. Kejriwal is also a man of great ideas. He was the one who promised free religious trips to destinations like Ayodhya and Ajmer. I do not know whether he took anyone to Velankanni, which was also in his list.

He has an ace up his sleeves — “Har Haath Tiranga” (every hand must have a flag). Kejriwal has not explained how he plans to implement his scheme. Will every child and adult in Delhi be given a flag? Will he do that in Punjab, which is also ruled remotely by him?

Imagine every Indian carrying a flag. There would be a requirement of 140 crore flags. At Rs 100 a flag, the business is worth Rs 14,000 crore. Har Ghar Tiranga and Har Haath Tiranga are all driven by the profit motive of someone like the gentleman who went to the Supreme Court to let him fly the flag from the balcony of his bungalow.

When it comes to patriotism, no questions are usually asked. I know an institution which violates every law has installed a huge flag on its campus. It is not for no reason that Samuel Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Why is there so much hype for the 75th Independence Day? How is it different from the 74th Independence Day? There are at least 65 countries beginning with Afghanistan and ending with the United Arab Emirates which have Independence Days. Even the USA has one. Most of them gained Independence from Britain and other colonial powers.

Have any American ever complained about the British control of the US? Nearer home, has any Sri Lankan ever complained about what happened in the past. Does any Arab ruler say that but for colonial control of his nation, it would have achieved greater heights.

They are all bothered about the future, how to equip themselves to meet the challenges of the 21st century. They do not have time like Sashi Tharoor has to depend on British documents to lambast the British and win Sahitya Akademi awards.

China was scared of the Mongols. That is why they built the great wall of China, the only object on earth that is visible from the moon. Do the Chinese writers expend their energy on ferreting out details of how much the nation suffered at the hands of Genghis Khan and his successors?

The Japanese were the worst victims of the Second World War. They are the only ones to suffer a nuclear attack. Do they blame the Americans for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they were on the verge of surrender?

The Japanese know that they were equally to blame for the War as the Germans were. They took the defeat in their stride and moved ahead in life. In no time, it became the world’s second largest economy, now replaced by China. Their television channels and film studios do not make videos extolling the past.

What is the situation in India? I find little known characters defeating the British in film after film. If India had so many warriors and so many chieftains, how could the British, with not more than a lakh of Britishers at any point in India, control Greater India, including Pakistan and Bangladesh?

We hype the freedom struggle also. It was not because of any freedom struggle that many countries could get freedom from the British. A situation had arisen when Britain could no longer control so many countries. Thanks to the setting up of the universities in 1857, India had a large number of educated men and women who could do the job of nation-building. The rise of the middle class went against the British. 

Incidentally, the Congress was not prepared for the departure of the British in August 1947. It would have liked them to continue for a little more time.

Similarly, the RSS never took part in the freedom struggle. Its founder, Dr KB Hedgewar, started his career as a Congressman but the moment he founded the RSS in 1924, he stopped being an active Congressman. They thought uniting the Hindus was far more important than uniting the country against the British.

Small wonder that the greatest ideologue of the Sangh Parivar preferred to write mercy petition after mercy petition when hundreds of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, who were incarcerated in the cellular jails in Andamans, preferred to die there.

By the way, the old issues of the Organiser, the mouthpiece of the RSS, have editorials criticising the choice of the tricolour as the national flag. Until recently, they never hoisted the national flag at their headquarters at Nagpur. For them, the national flag is what they call in Marathi Bhagwa Dhwaj (Saffron flag).

A nation will be respected for its achievements. Recently, I saw in Delhi, thousands of young men, many of them wielding the national flag, on their way to and from Haridwar to collect Ganga water. They used to go on foot. Now they use motorcycles and other vehicles.

They violate with impunity all the traffic laws of the land. Yet, they are feted and fed on the way. Everything is free for them. What’s worse, the UP Police make arrangements to drop flower petals on them from a low-flying helicopter.

India has the world’s largest army of illiterates. Both Japan and China first tackled illiteracy before tackling anything else. That is why they could achieve a phenomenal growth rate. Instead, what do we do? 

We encourage the youth to be gaurakshaks and other vigilantes, wielders of Trishul and to go on meaningless pilgrimages when the children of the leaders go to Harvard and Yale universities to study. Or, they start multi-cuisine restaurants that serve the needs of the foreign tourists.

And when they are caught lying, they expunge their energy by making a hue and cry about someone referring to the President of India as Rashtrapatni. Incidentally, the rules of gender in Hindi are not easy to follow. While “gaana” is masculine, “roti” is feminine. 

As a Hindi scholar tells me, the best way to know gender in Hindi is to memorise, to start with, and master, with experience. When even experts can blunder, some leaders made an issue of a Congress leader calling Rashtrapati, Rashtrapatni. There is a strong case for finding a gender-neutral word. Until then it is better to use the English word, President, which the whole world understands.

When there are pressing problems that face the nation, the leaders find clever ways of diverting public attention. The Indian youth today need opportunities of education so that they can get jobs which will help in nation-building. It is easier to thrust a national flag into an unemployed man’s hand in the name of “Har Haath Tiranga” when it is difficult to give him a purpose in life. How I wish the 1.8 million homeless people in India were also able to celebrate “Har Ghar Tiranga”!

ajphilip@gmail.com

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