Our saffron, white and green tri colour, the sight of which fills us with pride and joy – how did it come about?
Was any one person responsible for the design or was it a team who visualized it?
We know it is similar to the flag of the Indian National Congress that they used to inspire and unite people against British rule; and therefore for this reason, it was ‘not acceptable’ to some sections.
But do we know WHO really designed it?
Well, it was Pingali Venkayya of Andhra Pradesh who was a fervent follower of Gandhiji and a freedom fighter. The national flag that we see today was based upon his design. His life and contribution to the freedom struggle have been barely documented.
Finally, 62 years after gaining independence, a postage stamp was issued to commemorate him in 2009. In 2012, the government of Andhra Pradesh recommended his name for the Bharat Ratna. In 2014, the Bharat Ratna was instead awarded to cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist C.N.R. Rao.
The History of our independence movement and the flag
Earlier, as we were the British Queen’s subjects the British flag was what we bowed to; or were made to pay obeisance to.
Later, as our freedom struggle grew in ferocity and strength, the British themselves thought their jewel in the crown, India, needed its own flag. This decision was reached even before they decided to grant us independence. But the British Parliament could not decide on one design due to many differences.
Finally, Indian Freedom Fighters took it on themselves to give India a flag
The partition of Bengal in 1905 resulted in the introduction of a new flag representing the Indian Independence movement that sought to unite the multitude of castes and races within the country. The Vande Mataram flag, part of the Swadeshi movement against the British, comprised Indian religious symbols represented in western heraldic fashion. The tricolour flag included eight white lotuses on the upper green band representing the eight provinces, a sun and a crescent on the bottom red band, and the Vande Mataram slogan in Hindi on the central yellow band. The flag was launched in Calcutta bereft of any ceremony and the launch was only briefly covered by newspapers. The flag was used at the annual session of the INC but it failed to generate enthusiasm amongst Indian nationalists.
In 1916, Pingali Venkayya, a Professor and freedom fighter submitted thirty new designs, in the form of a booklet funded by members of the High Court of Madras. These many proposals and recommendations did little more than keep the flag movement alive.
In April 1921, Gandhiji wrote in his journal Young India about the need for an Indian flag, proposing a flag with the charkha or spinning wheel at the centre. Gandhiji commissioned Pingali Venkayya to design a flag with the spinning wheel on a red and green banner, the red colour signifying Hindus and the green standing for Muslims. Gandhi wanted the flag to be presented at the Congress session of 1921, but it was not delivered on time, and another flag was proposed at the session. Gandhi later wrote that the delay was fortuitous since it allowed him to realise that other religions were not represented; he then added white to the banner colours, to represent all the other religions. Finally, owing to the religious-political sensibilities, in 1929, Gandhi moved towards a more secular interpretation of the flag colours, stating that red stood for the sacrifices of the people, white for purity, and green for hope.
First hoisted in Nagpur where Flag Satyagraha also originated
On 13 April 1923, during a procession by local Congress volunteers in Nagpur commemorating the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, the Swaraj flag with the spinning wheel, designed by Pingali Venkayya, was hoisted. This event resulted in a confrontation between the Congressmen and the police, after which five people were imprisoned. Over a hundred other protesters continued the flag procession after a meeting. Subsequently, on the first of May, Jamnalal Bajaj, the secretary of the Nagpur Congress Committee, started the Flag Satyagraha gaining national attention and marking a significant point in the flag movement.
While the flag agitation got its impetus from Gandhi’s writings and discourses, the movement received political acceptance following the Nagpur incident. News reports, editorials and letters to editors published in various journals and newspapers of the time attest to the subsequent development of a bond between the flag and the nation. Soon, the concept of preserving the honour of the national flag became an integral component of the independence struggle.
Flag after Independence
A few days before India gained its independence in August 1947, the Constituent Assembly was formed. One of its briefs was to select a flag for independent India, on 23 June 1947, the assembly set up an ad hoc committee headed by Rajendra Prasad and including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, C Rajagopalachari and Sarojini Naidu. It also had K.M. Munshi and B.R. Ambedkar as its members.
In July 1947, the committee recommended that the flag of the INC be adopted as the National Flag of India with suitable modifications, so as to make it acceptable to all parties and communities. It was also resolved that the flag should not have any communal undertones. The spinning wheel of the Congress flag was replaced by the Chakra (wheel) from the Lion Capital of Ashoka. According to Dr. Radhakrishna the chakra was chosen as it was representative of Dharma and law. However, Jawaharlal Nehru explained that the change was more practical in nature, as unlike the flag with the spinning wheel, this design would appear symmetrical. Gandhi was not very pleased by the change, but eventually came around to accepting it.
The flag was proposed by Nehru at the Constituent Assembly on 22 July 1947 as a horizontal tricolour of deep saffron, white and dark green in equal proportions, with the Ashoka wheel in blue in the centre of the white band. Nehru also presented two flags, one in Khadi-silk and the other in Khadi-cotton, to the assembly. The resolution was approved unanimously and the tricolour with the chakra and has served as the flag of the Republic of India since then.
… Sunita Mudliyar Executive Editor