The Tiranga of the Hindutva Bikers in Kasganj is Not Mine

The tiranga is only superficially our national flag when used to embarrass, frighten or subdue an individual or community. When used in this way, it loses its essence.

The tricolour is now being used to mark territory and annex people who are already a part of the country. Representative image. Credit: Sowmya's Photography/Flickr

The tricolour is now being used to mark territory and annex people who are already a part of the country. Representative image. Credit: Sowmya’s Photography/Flickr

Their tiranga is not mine. The tiranga that the bikers in Kasganj carried in order to thrust it in the faces of the Muslims who had assembled at Shaheed Abdul Hamid Chowk to unfurl the national flag on Republic Day is alien to me. This is not the flag I have grown up with. I do not know it and it does not look friendly to me. It is being wielded as a threat, a weapon of goons, the flag of a gang out to annex my very being. India belongs to its people. It does not annex them and I refuse to be annexed by any party or ideology. 

The tricolour is now being used to mark territory and annex people who are already a part of the country. Just see the faces of those who wield this flag. They look like marauders. Assault units out to capture new territories and vanquish people. To make them submit to the diktat of those who claim that this flag belongs naturally and only to them and that others will be made to bow before it.

This misuse of the national flag has been going on for at least the past 20 years, that too by those who once warned that the three colours of the tiranga were inauspicious for India.

But then they decided to hide behind its universality and attack their enemies using it as cover. Their enemies are known. They are mainly Muslims and Christians.

They think that once they hold this flag, they have a right to passage: they can ask you to make way for their gang, ask you to vacate your shared spaces by planting the flag over it. You are not allowed to question their right, their move.

A previous Tiranga Yatra in Bhopal. Credit: PTI

A previous Tiranga Yatra in Bhopal. Credit: PTI

This is what the BJP did in Karnataka in 1994. Their attempt to hoist the tricolour at the Idgah Maidan in Hubli that year cost six people their lives. You have to read this report by Saritha Rai, published in India Today on September 15, 1994 to see how what is happening today in Kasganj is part of a pattern. It is not new. It is a tried and tested strategy of the BJP to provoke violence and polarise Hindus against Muslims.

“For the BJP in Karnataka, starved of an election plank, the Hubli Idgah Maidan dispute couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

The controversy stems from a dispute over the ownership of the 1.5-acre plot, with the Anjuman-e-Islam laying claim to it and the BJP saying it is municipal property. Actually, its current status, determined after prolonged legal action, is that the land has been licensed to the Anjuman, and that it is permitted to hold only prayer meetings there, twice a year.

The right of anybody to use the maidan for public purposes is still under consideration by the Supreme Court. But the BJP planned to hoist the tri-colour there on Independence Day its sixth attempt to do so.

On August 14, Hubli was sealed, a curfew clamped and police and Rapid Action Force personnel deployed. Said Chief Minister Veerappa Moily: “I’m not Kalyan Singh to close my eyes and allow violence to carry on.” But although BJP leader Sikander Bakht was arrested in Bangalore, Uma Bharati, MP, managed to sneak into Hubli and declared that “the flag will be unfurled at any cost”.

On August 15, violence erupted as BJP supporters tried to march to the Idgah Maidan, defying curfew orders, to hoist the flag. State BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa and Uma Bharati were arrested, and the mob ran amuck.

The police opened fire killing five people and injuring about a hundred. Four days later, the BJP organised ‘Moily Hatao’ meetings all over Hubli. Violence broke out again when the police over reacted and opened fire, killing a woman.

Moily, seeing that his administration’s image was taking a beating, threatened to invoke the dreaded TADA if the violence was not curbed. Tension spread to the communally-sensitive town of Bhadravati nearby, which witnessed group clashes a week later.

Meanwhile, BJP leader L.K. Advani predicted: “Moily’s fate was sealed when his administration ordered firing on innocent patriots in Hubli.”…..

Although the Anjuman has refused to comment on the issue, the BJP is doing all it can to keep the Hubli issue alive. Says Girish Karnad, noted actor and a member of the Citizens For Democracy group, which has prepared a report on the situation: “The Sangh Parivar has failed to communalise the issue only because the Muslims have been restrained.”

This is largely true. A.M. Hindasgeri, the Muslim legislator from Hubli city and minister of small scale industries in the Moily Government, says Muslims in Hubli have refused to be provoked by the BJP. “They know what the BJP is all about, it lost in the north and is now trying its luck in the south. The Muslims have decided that the matter will be decided in the Supreme Court.”

The BJP, however, is not content to leave it at that. It has announced programmes in various districts to attract membership to the party. The BJP’s parliamentary committee is also planning to visit the affected areas. With assembly elections barely three months away, the impact of these efforts on the BJP’s future in Karnataka will soon be known.”

Why did BJP leaders like Uma Bharti come all the way from Madhya Pradesh to lead the march to hoist the tricolour at the Idgah Maidan? Why this insistence on having it at a place which was the subject of a property dispute involving a Muslim organisation? The matter was in the Supreme Court. Even then, they thought it fit to lead a ‘tiranga’ march to wrest the ownership of the land from the Anjuman.

People have forgotten another yatra by another BJP stalwart of those days, now himself a forgotten man. It was in 1991 that Murli Manohar Joshi led a yatra with the aim of hoisting the flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. Read these extracts of a report about that yatra – again from the archives, published by India Today – to understand what these new tiranga yatras signify:

“When BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi rolls out from Kanyakumari in a DCM-Toyota van on December 11, he hopes the wheel will turn full circle on the Ayodhya issue.

Because with its second yatra – called ekta yatra this time round – in less than two years, the BJP aims to establish its credentials as a party concerned about the unity and integrity of the country.

At one stroke, the party aims not only to usurp the Congress(I)’s permanent tenancy on national integration, but also provide gainful employment to those in the RSS parivar who are concentrating their muscle and lung-power on the temple construction.

By travelling through 14 states and unfurling the tricolour at the yatra’s last stop, Srinagar, on January 26, Joshi feels he will underline the “Centre’s total inability to handle the problem of terrorism and secessionism”.

About two lakh volunteers are supposed to join Joshi when he reaches Srinagar, and in Madhya Pradesh, the party is enrolling members for a ‘saffron brigade’ to storm Kashmir… Advani highlights the importance of the event, saying: “The issue at stake is national unity.” And once the yatra is on course and the hysteria spreads, the BJP prays the temple will be a thing of the past.”

Then, as now, the aim is to bolster the fortunes of the BJP by generating aggressive nationalism among Hindus by fanning anti-Muslim sentiments.

The most recent drive to use the tricolour for sectarian purposes was when the present prime minister planned tiranga yatras all over India. Ministers, MPs and MLAs were ordered to tie a huge flag over a pole which was to be at least eight feet high on motorcycles and other motor vehicles.

Also read: Of Flags and Anthems: the Evolving Politics of Right-Wing Patriotism

For the last two years, we have been reading about the chief of the RSS going to Kerala to unfurl the tiranga in schools. It is again part of their campaign to expand and capture new political territory.

We have seen young men in our mohallas speeding on roads without helmets, two or three crammed on the pillion, holding giant-size tirangas on roaring motorcycles. This was a common sight during the 2012 anti-corruption movement. It was a heady mix of aggressive crowd instinct and nationalism. Nationalism, of course, was only an excuse.

I also remember the ugly, obscene tiranga rally that the student wing of the RSS took out in the University of Delhi after attacking students and teachers at Ramjas College in February 2017. They made a huge, unending tiranga canopy and marched under it, raising threatening slogans. The tricolour had never looked so uninviting to me before.

ABVP's tiranga march in Delhi University. Credit: YouTube

ABVP’s tiranga march in Delhi University. Credit: YouTube

Now this tricolour nationalism has been decentralised. After the experiments of Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, the BJP and other affiliates of the RSS know how to use it.

Many of us feel that we also need to take the national flag in our hands, to not let the RSS usurp it. But we don’t need to do this. We don’t need to legitimise all our acts by giving them a nationalist colour. When students protest for their rights or farmers fight for their claims, they need not do it in the shadow of the tiranga.

Not that we have not loved it. I recall my childhood when we eagerly waited for January 26 or August 15. We used to make tirangas of our own or get one from the khadi shop. The khadi one was considered to be more authentic. It was of human dimensions. Now, when I see tricolours of giant proportions dwarfing me, I cannot bring myself to like it. I look away.

Suppose a gang comes with the tiranga and demands it be planted on my roof, would I like it or allow it? Definitely not. The tiranga is only superficially our national flag when used to embarrass, frighten or subdue an individual or community. When used in this way, it loses its essence. This is what the tiranga yatra in Kasganj was doing.

We need to say emphatically that the tiranga the RSS and its affiliates are shoving down our throats is not the tiranga which was given to us by our leaders in the constituent assembly.

Let us recall the words of Nehru when he proposed the tricolour as our national flag:

“…..this Flag that I have the honour to present to you is not, I hope and trust, a Flag of Empire, a Flag of Imperialism- a Flag of domination over anybody, but a Flag of freedom not only for ourselves but a symbol of. freedom to all people who may see it. (Cheers).

And wherever it may go – and I hope it will go far – not only where Indians dwell as our ambassadors and ministers but across the far seas where it may be carried by Indian ships, wherever it may go it will bring a message, I hope, of freedom to those people, a message of comradeship, a message that India wants to be friends with every country of the world and India wants to help any people who seek freedom. (Hear, hear).

That I hope will be the message of this Flag everywhere and I hope that in the freedom that is coming to us, we will not do what many other people or some other people have unfortunately done, that is, in a newfound strength suddenly to expand and become imperialistic in design. If that happened that would be a terrible ending to our struggle for freedom. (Hear, hear.)

But there is that danger and, therefore, I venture to remind this House of it – although this House needs no reminder – there is this danger in a country suddenly unshackled in stretching out its arms and legs and trying to hit out at other people. And if we do that we become just like other nations who seem to live in a kind of succession of conflicts and preparation for conflict. That is the world today unfortunately.”

Those who are stretching out their arms and legs and trying to hit out at Muslims and Christians should hear this message clearly. The flag they carry in their hands with so much aggression is not the flag we Indians adopted. We will not submit to them.

Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.