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A 207ft-Flag A Day Keeps The Anti-Nationalism Away?

25/02/2016 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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India. Jammu & Kashmir state, up in the extreme north of the country. Indian flag flying over Kargil War memorial, built by the Indian Army, in Drass, (3230 m), in the foothills of the Tololing Hill. The memorial, located about 5 km from the city centre across the Tiger Hill, commemorates the martyrs of the Kargil War. The names of the soldiers who lost their lives in the War are inscribed on the Memorial Wall and can be read by visitors. A giant national flag, weighing 15 kg was hoisted at the Kargil war memorial to commemorate the 13th anniversary of India's victory in the war. The town shot into prominence in the summer of 1999 following Pakistani army incursions into Jammu and Kashmir. The ensuing Kargil War saw Drass being shelled by the Pakistani army and the war ended with the Indian Army recapturing the areas surrounding the town. Drass is also famous for being the second coldest inhabited place in the world, and winter temperatures are sometimes known to plummet to less than minus 40 degrees.

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Over the past several days, the nation has been entangled in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) controversy. A group of students expressed solidarity for an executed individual, who was given the death penalty by the Indian judicial system. A few frenzied slogans provoked our otherwise measured Home Minister to an extent that he proclaimed unsparing action against those involved. His colleagues in the government echoed his voice. Sedition charges were invoked against the JNU student union's president, and a few other JNU students, suo moto by the Delhi Police under the watch of its Commissioner who is retiring in a fortnight's time. The Commissioner, till then, was believed to be in contention for a post-retirement job at the Central Information Commission. Some leading television news channels also branded the agitated students as anti-nationals and passionately compared them to terrorists. Meanwhile, Jadavpur University, which is also usually in the news for demonstrations, witnessed similar protests by another enraged group of students.

The privilege of hoisting the national flag has been turned into an obligation by the executive.

Aggrieved by the scenes of divisiveness and discontent amongst students at the most renowned temples of education, the Human Resources Development Minister reacted by making it mandatory for all Central Universities to hoist the Indian Flag on a 207ft-high flagpole. The resolution in effect was unanimously passed at the conference of Central University Vice-Chancellors. It can safely be assumed that the chair and participants of the conference believe that universities and students need a constant unleashing of national fervour. Our "Tiranga" exemplifies the struggle and sacrifice of countless Indians for our Motherland's Independence. It is an expression of our journey from an ancient civilisation to a unified republic State. It embodies our modem democratic, secular and liberal values, and is an inspiration in our endeavour to continue building a strong and progressive India. Anyone who has seen the iconic Indian flag unfurl on a 207ft-high flagpole installed at Connaught Place in New Delhi will vouch for it. The overwhelming sight of gigantic Tiranga (90ft x 60ft) on top of a monumental flagpole rising into the sky above is a spectacle.

We are a young nation and an enormously emotional one! Our feelings are offended when an author expresses divergent perspectives on religion, mythology or history. We are furious if our caste is not extended the privileges of reservation. While our minds may have become accustomed to the sight of omnipresent chronic poverty, malnutrition and other sufferings around us, our heart still rhythms to the tune of patriotism -- even if it is a momentary involuntary eruption at the sight of a national symbol. Our Minister, like most seasoned politicians, recognises this anomaly.

If there is something in common between the agitations at FTII, Hyderabad University and JNU, it is the missing link of communication between students and those in power.

Ordinarily, executive decisions such as the mandatory installation of monumental flagpoles and hoisting of national flags do not flash in the breaking news ticker of media channels or the front pages of newspapers. But the circumstances are extraordinary -- on campuses and streets across India, inside television newsrooms and court premises, and particularly within households of common citizens where there's a tendency to take a position based on media trials rather than verified evidence; this dwarfs the basic principle guiding human jurisprudence - innocent until proven guilty.

The Indian Flag Code governs the usage of the Tiranga. It lays down conditions and norms for display of the flag by the government, its organisations and agencies, members of public, private organisations and educational institutions. Our fundamental right to hoist the flag is a product of decade-long legal battle against successive governments, powered by a private citizen with assistance from the finest minds of the legal fraternity. The privilege has been turned into an obligation by the executive.

History, however, conveys to us that it has always been an 'obligation'. Soldiers feel duty-bound to safeguard our motherland and hoist the Tiranga even under extreme weather conditions on difficult terrains. Sportspersons always proudly display our tricolour when they make India proud. This 'obligation' does not flow from executive orders, but from love for India.

Nationalism and compassion for fellow Indians can certainly not be imparted through executive orders. If ink alone has the power to evoke such emotions, then the Law Minister should order the installation of the tallest flag poles at Patiala House Court premises, where members of the legal fraternity behaved in shameful manner and directly attacked free speech. The Urban Development Minister may ensure hoisting of flags at the houses of elected representatives who conduct themselves like goons on the streets.

Oh, by the way, JNU already has a flagpole at a centrally located place that proudly hoists our beloved Tiranga. It's been there for about 15 years.

If there is something in common between the agitations at FTII, Hyderabad University and JNU, it is the missing link of communication between students and those in power. Symbolism has taken over our public life. The extreme positioning of the government -- whether it is resorting to sedition charges or trying to enforce nationalism -- is not a panacea for the situation at hand. Our universities and educational institutions need dialogue rather than more processions, protests and parachuting of political leaders for one-time garlanding and speeches. JNU is the perfect place to start the discourse. It is the one of very few educational institutions in our country where students and teachers genuinely subscribe to ideologies and are ready to debate. A few previous instances of boycotting and obstructionism at JNU should not be reason to stay away. After all, even our Parliament has such a history. There are dissenting voices and passionate students. But the Indian State is not as fragile as some political leaders and news anchors have made it out to be, and it will certainly not crumble because of a few anti-national slogans shouted by fringe elements.

Oh, by the way, JNU already has a flagpole at a centrally located place that proudly hoists our beloved Tiranga. It's been there for about 15 years.

(The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of his employers or any associated organisations)

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