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Friday, June 4, 2010

Quest for a National flag for India , Part- XI; Conflict Around the First Swaraj (National) Flag : 1921-1931.

With the political atmosphere being surcharged with Khilafatism and with the stress of communal compartmentalism, the communal interpretation of the colours of the Swaraj-flag came into being - Green was made to represent the Muhammadans, Red - the Hindus, and the neutral WHITE all other lesser Communities. Communal connotations ascribed to the Swaraj-Colours set in Communal troubles. A symbol destined to create a symbolic unity at a moment when political differences between parties and goals appeared irreconcilable was becoming, in its turn, a field of dispute, attracting to itself all the existing conflictual visions of national goals and programmes.
(If anyone is looking for a good resource book to go along, I have just the answer “A National Flag for India – Rituals, Nationalism, and the Politics of Sentiments” by Arundhati Virmani)
The Sikh opposition to the Swaraj colours articulated in as early as 1921and took shape progressively. In 1929, a deputation of the Sikhs met Mahatma Gandhi at Lahore and made a firm demand that the Sikh colour, a shade of Yellow or black, be added to the Swaraj flag. In March 1930, when Gandhi launched Civil Disobedience Movements, Baba Kharak Singh, President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, refused to join the movement, if the Sikh colour Saffron was not included in the flag.

In 1924, the All India Sanskrit Conference, which met at Sanskrit College, Calcutta, suggested inclusion of Saffron or Ochre colour and a Gada (Mace) of Lord Vishnu as Hindu symbols in the flag

The special stamp was issued on the occasion of Golden Jubilee of Visva Bharati, post mark from Santiniketan, dated 24-12-1971. The Platinum Jubilee of Visva Bharati was commemorated by providing a special pictorial postmark from Santiniketan on 28-12-1995.

On the eve of the Belgaum Session of the Congress in 1924, a letter was sent from Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan, signed amongst others C. F. Andrews requesting Mahatma Gandhi to consider the advisability of including the Gairika (Geru) or Ochre colour in the flag. It typified the spirit of renunciation and was a colour which symbolized an ideal common to Hindu Yogi and Sannyasi as well as to the Muslim Faqir and Darwesh 
 (Other signatories of the letter were Dwijendranath Tagore, Vidhusekhar Bhattacharya, Kalidas Nag, Bhim Rao Sashtri, J. J. Vakil, Prem Sundar Bosu, Marichi and N. Aiyaswami). Rabindranath Tagore, was at variance with Mahatma Gandhi’s “Charkha” (Spinning wheel).
 In 1929, Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudev Tagore entered into debates on the efficacy of “CHARKHA” symbol of the Swaraj-flag. However, both remained adhered to their respective view points.

The Congress Working Committee session at Karachi in April, 1931 a resolution was passed stressing the need for a flag which would be officially acceptable. A “Seven member Flag Committee” was formed to go into the question of the national flag for recommending a new flag for acceptance after examining the objections to the three colours in the Flag on the ground that, they are conceived on a communal basis. The members of the committee were  Pattabhi Sitaramayya (the Convener), Pandit Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Sardar Vallabhabai Patel, Master Tara Singh, Dr. N. S. Hardikar, and Kaka Saheb Kalelkar.

  Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the Convener of the Flag Committee sent a ‘3-point Questionnaire’ dated April 23, 1931 to all the Provincial Committee, eminent personalities, and well known Social Organisations inviting their opinions on the choice of a flag. The salient points of the Questionnaire were;  
(I) Is there any feeling amongst any group of people or community in your province, in regard to the design of the National Flag, which in your opinion should be taken into consideration by this Committee?
(II) Have you any specific suggestions for making the Flag more popular? 
(III) Is there any defect or drawback in the design now in vogue, which, you consider, demands attention? 
 Pandit Nehru expressed his views on the subject in a letter to Pattabhi Sitaramyya ; “… I agree with you that the questionnaire suggested by you should be sent to the Provincial Congress Committees and to the Press. I am very much interested in the flag question, but I may be away for the next few weeks, I am, therefore, giving you below some very rough ideas of mine on the subject. 1. Ordinarily, I would be greatly averse to changing the present flag, which has become very popular, but having regard to the circumstances, perhaps some change is necessary. This change, however, should not interfere too much with the present flag. 2. We should make it perfectly clear that our flag is not based on communal considerations. Perhaps some change is necessary. This change, however, should not interfere too much with the present flag. 3. The present arrangement with white at the top is bad, as the white does not show unless there is a colour background. Therefore, in any event the white should either be put in the centre or should give place to another colour. 4. The present flag is. I believe, identical with the Bulgarian flag. This is undesirable. 5. I am inclined to think that the colour white should give place to a basanti colour or light saffron. My reason for this is not that the Sikhs desire it as their colour, but because this colour is an old Indian colour and is associated with sacrifice in our past history. Further, this colour has been adopted by the women of India and it would be graceful and deserving tribute to the women to order this colour. The exact shade of the colour should be carefully considered. The place of the colour in the flag must also be considered from the aesthetic point of view. Thus, it may be either at the top or at the centre. 6. I should like to retain both red and green as they are beautiful colours. 7. The final design chosen should be that which satisfies the aesthetic sense and should be in accordance with the heraldic principles. These are some suggestions made on the spur of the moment just to give you some idea of what I have got in my mind”.

In response to the Questionnaire sent by the Flag-Committee, National Prof. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee in an article in May 1931, suggested amongst many points a tri-colour (Hindustan-ka Tiranga Jhanda) alternatively a four-coloured (Chauranga) flag having a Wheel or Lotus device in the centre. He favoured vertical arrangement of the colours and also cautioned any explanation of the colours of our National flag as symbolising Hindus, Musalmans, Christians and any other communities we should regard as pernicious and anti-national. (The article was later published in book form and was dedicated to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan). 

Sir C. V. Raman and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan concurred with Prof. S. K. Chatterjee’s proposal for a Tricolour (Tiranga) flag with a wheel or lotus device in the centre. It seems to me that the ideas of Prof. Chatterjee were influential in the creation of what eventually became the national flag of India. (later, Dr. Chatterjee’s explanations of the colours and their symbolic meanings, found echoed in the speech given by Dr. Radhakrishnan during the ‘Flag debate’ in the Constituent Assembly in 1947).

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya suggested an all-saffron flag to represent the United Indian Nation and not simply on community, whether Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs. 

T . Ramaswami Chowdary suggested a flag named “Pranava-Pataka” with an outer ring of black, a central ring of red and an inner spot of white representing Tamas, Rajas and Sattva qualities respectively".
(To be continued).


  1. What an research........great

    Deepak N. Modi

  2. Thank you Mr. Modi,
    I shall try to keep sharing with my readers what ever I have learnt while pursuing my hobby of collecting flag stamps.Regards,
    Sekhar Chakrabarti