New Delhi: Somewhere in the midst of the first day of his US visit and the numerous handshakes, warm tweets and photo-ops that came with it, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unwittingly touched off a controversy.
After a brief interaction with celebrity chef Vikas Khanna who cooked up a storm for the PM’s meeting with the CEOs of over 40 Fortune 500 companies, Modi autographed some gifts that Khanna would later be presenting to President Barack Obama. The first was a copy of Utsav – A culinary epic of Indian festivals, Khanna’s own book, and the second was the Indian Flag.
This innocent gesture unfortunately appears to violate point 2.1(iv) of Section I, Part II of the Flag Code of India, 2002. The section states: lettering of any kind shall not be put upon the Flag. At first look, the flag in question looks more like an artist’s impression than the official tricolour, however, that defence may not hold water:
Explanation 2 within the same section of the Flag Code of India, 2002 very comprehensively sums up that “The expression ‘Indian National Flag’ includes any picture, painting, drawing or photograph, or other visible representation of the Indian National Flag, or of any part or parts thereof, made of any substance or represented on any substance.”
According to NDTV, the flag was subsequently taken away by officials.
Unfortunately for the PM, this is not his first brush with controversy relating to the Indian Flag. In June, Pondicherry-based Dalit activist V Sundar lodged a complaint against the Prime Minister for allegedly insulting the National Flag after a set of widely-circulated photographs appeared to depict Modi wiping his sweat with the tricolour.
While government officials and (inevitably) the Opposition parties in India – especially since the Bihar election is right around the corner – are yet to comment officially on this latest faux pas, it has expectedly raised the hackles of some members of the Twitterati, who have been tweeting with the hashtags #ModiInsultsTricolour (or #ModiInsultsTricolor, if you prefer) and #ModiDisrespectsTricolor (for those of a gentler disposition).
Here’s a small selection:
Has PM read Para 2.1 sub para 6& Para 3.28 of Flag Code 2002 that states lettering on National Flag is misuse.3 yrs jail under PINH Act 2003
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) September 25, 2015
जिन्होने हमेशा से तिरंगे से ज्यादा महत्व भगवे को दिया है, वो तिरंगे का सम्मान कभी कर हि नही सकते हैं। #ModiDisrespectsTricolor
— Imran Shaikh (@shaikh_imran61) September 25, 2015
— Soumik Das (@soumikdas) June 23, 2015
sharm kro #ModiinsultsTricolour
— Krishan #WithRG (@krishan0123) June 21, 2015
Writing on National Flag – Clear Violation of Code of Ethics for National Flag – Only Modi will do it. pic.twitter.com/i10eQNnzpI
— Jairaj P (@jairajp) September 25, 2015
Some of the others who have fallen afoul of the Flag Code of India in the past include the likes of Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Shahrukh Khan, Mallika Sherawat, the reality cooking show Masterchef Australia, the organisers of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and two policemen in Punjab.
Meanwhile, DNA quotes the Prevention of Insults To National Honour Act, 1971 (Amended by the Prevention of Insults to National Honour (Amendment) Act, 2003) that states: “Whoever in any public place or in any other place within public view burns, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples upon or otherwise shows disrespect to or brings into contempt (whether by words, either spoken or written, or by acts) the Indian National Flag… shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both”.
It’s safe to say neither of those two things are going to happen.
But could a backlash be on the cards? It can’t be ruled out.