Vishwa vijayi tiranga pyaara, jhanda ooncha rahe hamaara!

On August 15 last year the BJP made such a fuss about their party president Nitin Gadkari’s absence at the flag hoisting ceremony in their party headquarters in New Delhi. He chose to hoist the tricolour instead at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters at Nagpur. Which I thought was a good move because the RSS HQ at Reshim Bagh had not been flying the tricolour for years since Independence. I think the tradition began only in 2003 when the saffron forces began to believe that they were here to stay and they might as well give up the idea of planting a saffron flag atop various government buildings merely to prove a point.

In the mid-Nineties, I recall, it was not just Bal Thackeray who dreamt of hoisting a saffron standard atop the Vidhan Sabha. A candidate from the saffron alliance had actually printed a booklet of his achievements that clearly showed a saffron standard in place of the tricolour atop the Assembly building. There is still a case pending against him in the Bombay high court for that was in clear violation of the Flag Code of India which, at that time, did not even allow you to fly even the tricolour from your home, let alone replace it with a saffron standard.

It’s only much later that Congress MP Navin Jindal won us all the right to display the national flag from our homes/cars, et al. But I think despite that court ruling we are still not allowed to wear clothes made of the tricolour or otherwise show the national flag any sort of disrespect.

So when Uma Bharti resigned as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and set off on her tiranga yatra to Hubli from Bhopal, she got into rather more trouble than she already was in when her supporters laid some huge pieces of the tricolour on the floor of the railway compartment to sleep on and others used it as blankets or sheets to cover themselves with.

I was present in Hubli to report on Bharti’s arrest and I wondered what the fuss was all about. Because the Idgah Maidan where she had wanted to unfurl the tricolour was not particularly revered even by the Muslims of the town. There was a stinking public toilet at one end of the maidan and I was told it was also used as a common market place to mark special events. But, I must admit, I was startled when people who seemed to have travelled with Bharti themselves brought us some pictures from their train journey showing people wrapped up in the tricolour and sleeping next to the toilets in the second class compartment in which she had travelled down from Madhya Pradesh. I remember wondering even then if these saffron activists actually respected the tricolour or were attempting to sabotage Bharti’s tiranga yatra. I suspected it was the latter when I caught someone close to then BJP general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, Pramod Mahajan, among the people so eagerly distributing those photographs to journalists. Mahajan, soon after, put his foot down against Bharti campaigning in Maharashtra at it’s forthcoming Assembly elections. Then I thought I knew where the campaign against her had originated – for the supposed disrespect to the Indian flag by her supporters was cited as reason to keep her off the poll campaign in Maharashtra.

So I was very glad to see that in all these years the BJP has not lost sight of the national tricolour. In fact, it was rather gratifying to see them sitting with a national flag in front of them in various television studios and I could scarcely believe they were BJP and not Congress workers who had drowned themselves in hundreds of tricolours when they set off on their tiranga yatra to Kashmir just before Republic Day this year.

It is nice to know that the saffronists recall the national tricolour at least once every decade or so – in 1992 when then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi similarly marched to Jammu to unfurl the tricolour from the Lal Chowk; then in 2004 when Uma Bharti set off for Hubli to be arrested for her devotion to the national flag and now when all senior leaders made a beeline for Lal Chowk again.

Then, again, I have always been impressed by how, just when one or the other BJP leader or the party as a whole senses a weakening, both Mahatma Gandhi in the form of his ‘Gandhian socialism’ (whatever that might mean) or the tiranga come in handy. After all, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a hardcore Hindutvawadi, belonging to an organisation that was the precursor of the RSS. What Gandhian socialism meant when it was the BJP which was the original votary of liberalisation and capitalism/market politics, I have never been able to understand. Both the 1992 Jammu yatra and the 2004 Hubli one were undertaken by leaders who wanted to prove their supremacy (or, at least, equality) to other leaders in their own party – Dr Joshi to be one up on LK Advani, Ms Bharti was up against the likes of Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj (sadly, she still is). This time round the purpose of the tiranga yatra was to divert attention and focus away from saffron terrorism and Swami Aseemananda’s confessions The BJP succeeded brilliantly.

But they must realise that, when the chips are down, it is ultimately only the national tricolour that has ever come to their aid. And even if the RSS headquarters started flying the tiranga only in 2003, it is to be hoped that their party president will always choose to unfurl the Indian flag at Reshim Bagh over the claims of any other party office or any other Indian state.

For, while their saffron standard might let them down again and again, the tiranga will always prove to be more enduring and come to their aid every time they find themselves in a tight spot!

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