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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Indian National Flag : the Designers

The Indian National Flag : the Designers : 
 What Betsy Ross is to America, Pingali Venkayyaa is to India  

There is a wrong perception in India that Pingali Venkayyaa had designed the Indian National flag. No, it is not true. Pingali did not design the present national flag of India. Albeit, most Indians are made to believe the ‘myth’ that the Indian National Flag - ‘The Tiranga’ adopted on 22 July 1947 by the Constituent Assembly was designed by Pingali Venkayyaa. This is travesty of history. The historical evidence does not support the theory of just one individual maker of the Indian National flag. Rather, the present flag, like the Freedom Movement, was the work of many hands
The Flag we fly today was designed by Mrs. Suraiya Badr-ud-din Tyabji .

India’s Tiranga flag has become a recognizable symbol the world over and is a source of great pride to Indians. The booklet ‘Our Flag’ published by the Publications Divisions, Govt. of India (January 1950) states; “The evolution of the Indian National Flag reflects the political developments in the country during the 20th century……”.  page 1 (Origin)
The Flag of India evolved through a sustained process.

There were many flags already in use in India and abroad by the Indian exiled revolutionaries, much before Pingaly Venkayyaa (1876-1963) - a great patriot and an aggressive  campaigner of National flag, came up with a booklet  ‘A National Flag for India’ in 1916. Pingali had put forth about 24 designs for the Indian flag in his booklet.  
Pingali's designs was never able to enthuse Gandhi; and in his designs he (Gandhi) saw nothing to stir the nation to its depths.

Here are the full stories;

1  1) Sister Nivedita (1867-1911) - an Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda (born Margarett Noble) devised a square flag emblazoned with a Vajra (Thunderbolt) and the slogan Bande-Mataram in the centre in 1905, the year Lord Curzon declared ‘partition of Bengal’.

2)   In 1906 on the first anniversary of ‘partition of Bengal’ a tricolor flag was raised by Sir Surendranath Bannerjee , The flag was jointly designed by Sachindra Prasad Basu and Sukumar Mitra with the support of volunteers of Anushilan Society (a secret Society). The flag was made by Kumudini Basu, sister of Sukumar Mitra. The flag was later hoisted by Dadabhai Naoroji in the Calcutta Congress in December 1906. Reportedly Pingali Venkayyaa was present as Congress delegate during the event.

3)   A strikingly similar flag was hoisted at Stuttgart Germany in 1907 by Madam Bikaiji Cama. There are many claimants for the design. Bhupendranath Dutta, younger brother of Swami Vivekananda, says; It was Hem Chandra Kanungo (Das) - a member of the Anushilan Samity and ‘in know’ of the Calcutta flag re-produced the Cama’s flag in Paris. The similarity of the two flags cannot be just a coincidence or an example of ‘Parallelism in history’. As a member of a secret society (all the members of Anushilan Society had to an oath of secrecy) Memchandra nevar claimed that it was he who made the flag for Madam Cama.

4)   Home Rule flag, 1917 designed with the approval of Annie Besant, B.P. Wadia, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mohammad  Ali Jinnah.
The above described flags  evoked limited response amongst the masses and were used  only in certain events during our early phases of freedom movements. With the passage of time all these flags relegated to history.
 Evolution of Swaraj Flag (1921-1931) - First Pan India National Flag.
 We know from M.K.Gandhi’s  (He was not yet Mahatma then) article published in Young India in April 1921, I quote; 
Mr. P Venkayya of the National College, Masulipatam, has for some years placed before the public a suggestive booklet describing the flags of the other nations and offering designs for an Indian National-Flag. But, whilst I have always admired the persistent zeal with which Mr. Venkayya has prosecuted the cause of a National-Flag at every session of the Congress for the past four years, he was never able to enthuse me; and in his designs I saw nothing to stir the nation to its depths. … It was Lala Hansraj of Jullundur who, in discussing the possibilities of the spinning wheel, suggested that it should find a place on our Swaraj-Flag. I could not help admiring the originality of the suggestion. At Bezwada I asked Mr. Venkayya to give me a design containing a spinning wheel on a red (Hindu Colour) and Green (Muslim colour) background. His enthusiastic spirit enabled me to possess a flag in three hours. It was just a little late for presentation to the All-India Congress Committee. I am glad it was so. On maturer consideration I saw that the background should represent the other religions also. Hindu-Muslim unity is not an exclusive term; it is an inclusive term, symbolic of the unity of all faiths domiciled in India. If Hindus and Muslims can tolerate each other, they are together bound to tolerate all other faiths. The unity is not a menace to the other faiths represented in India or to the world. So I suggest that the background should be white and green and red. The white portion is intended to represent all other faiths.

Take Mahatma Gandhi’s writings seriously (and why not), it was Gandhi who took the pivotal role in formulating the first Swaraj flag design, where Pingali Venkayyaa  was only responsible for the production of the first  “flag” . Surely, Pingali was not the sole inventor of the Swaraj flag. However, it does not, in any way, mean disrespect or dismiss Pingali Venkayyaa.  Pingali Venkayya published a booklet titled "A National Flag for India" in 1916. His passionate obsession for a national Flag for India compelled the Congress leaders  to address the flag issue with greater depth perhaps for the first time. Pingali Venkayya is and will remain as the pioneer protagonist of our National flag.

Some of the flag designs made by Pingali Venkayyaa. Gandhi did not like any of the flag designs produced by Pingali.
In all his 24-designs predominantly with Hindu religious traditions, was a small Union Jack at the upper left corner (Canton), which was undesirable. It is interesting to find that the Sister Nivedita’s ‘Vajra flag’ was also found a place in Pingali’s flag list.  
There were resentments about the communal interpretations of the colours of the Swaraj flag, notwithstanding Gandhi’s approval. So, a 'Flag Committee' was formed in 1931 to recommend and advice a new Flag for India.

India Post notoriously known as ‘dead brains’ and most ignorant of Indian History issued a postage stamp in 2009 in honour of Pingali Venkayyaa. The brochure released by India Post on the occasion projected him as the designer of the Purna Swaraj Flag and misquoted Gandhi. What a mockery. 
Purna Swaraj Flag (1931-1947) was formulated by the members of the Congress Working Committee chaired by Sardar Ballavbhai Patel in accordance with the inputs from Jawaharlal Nehru in Bombay in August 1931. Earlier, the ‘Flag Committee – 1931’ headed by Dr Pattabhi Sitaramiyyaa failed miserably to recommend/find a suitable flag design. 
Note: Pingali Venkayyaa was not even invited / included in the ‘Flag Committee-1931’ for deliberation, nor he was a member of the Congress Working Committee, (probably by then; Pingali Venkayyaa had withdrawn himself from the mainstream politics). The design of the Purna Swaraj Flag was transferred to Khadi bunting by another Congress volunteer Dr. N. S. Hardikar.

Finally in 1947 the Constituent Assembly set up an ad hoc committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Rajendra Prasad  to recommend a new flag of Free India, The Committee unanimously chose Asoka Chakra device in place of Gandhi’s Charkha

The model of the new flag of free India was made by Mrs. Suraiya Badr-ud-din Tyabji  on 17July 1947. (Mrs Tyabji’s husband was the joint secretary in the Constituent Assembly and grandson of the great Tayabji who was the President of the Congress party in 1887). And the Purna Swarj Flag which became synonyms with the National Congress Party of India relegated to become their party flag. 

 Mahatma Gandhi was not too happy with the replacement of the charkha in the flag. He admitted in a statement published in the Harijan that, ‘Nothing would have lost, if our councillors had never thought of interfering with the design of the original flag. 
 In a statement made in Lahore on 6 August 1947, Gandhi said, "I must say that, if the Flag of the Indian Union will not embody the emblem of the Charkha, I will refuse to salute that flag. You know the National Flag of India was first thought of by me, and I cannot conceive of India’s National Flag without the emblem of the Charkha".

Attempts at debunking the Pingali Venkayyaa myth had not been very fruitful (excepts in books written by serious scholars, viz Cdr. K. V. Singh, IN(Retd) of Flag Foundation of India, Prof. Arundhati Virmani, Prof. Sadan Jha, et al).      When a belief has been in circulation, people find it difficult to negate it, even when pointed out.

Our History is Rich but our Historians are Poor !

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