Hansraj College will become the first Delhi University college to hoist the national flag in its campus. Is it propagation of a certain idea of nationalism by those in power?

Hans Raj College will become the first college in Delhi University to hoist the national flag in its premises. The decision to hoist the tricolour, the request for which was made by college principal Rama Sharma to college alumnus Naveen Jindal, comes in the wake of the nationalism debate that raged after the JNU controversy in February this year. At an event to mark the 69th founder’s day of the college, the decision was made public by industrialist and founder of the Flag Foundation of India, Naveen Jindal, who shared the stage with the varsity Vice Chancellor Y K Tyagi and other notable alumni like Om Prakash Kohli, the governor of Gujarat.

Jindal filed a writ petition at the Delhi High Court in 1995 contesting the order of the Commissioner of Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, who invoked the erstwhile Flag Code of India, prohibiting him from flying the tricolour at his factory premises. The court having considered his plea asked the government to constitute a committee which eventually mandated that the citizens, by the virtue of having the fundamental right of expression, have claim over the national flag and can hoist it on days other than Independence Day and Republic Day. The committee, headed by Dr P.D. Shenoy suggested changes to the code which eventually culminated in the formulation of the Flag Code of India (2002) which gave citizens the right to hoist the tricolour on private premises in accordance with a certain protocol on days other than gazetted holidays. The national flag positioned at the centre of Connaught Place was also installed by the tycoon who was influenced by the liberal usage of the American flag during his years at the University of Texas where he was president of the student government.

The decision, which emerged from the Hans Raj principal’s request to have the tricolour by 26th January 2017, can be viewed as the result of an informal meeting among the Vice Chancellors of 42 Central Universities and the then HRD minister, Smriti Irani, in the month of February. The backdrop of this meeting was the JNU imbroglio, allegedly involving anti-national slogans, hurting national sentiments and its highly questionable media coverage. The gathering took the decision to fly the tricolour on college buildings of central universities to instil a feeling of nationalism among the student community and the youth. On similar lines, the residential Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs) in the country have been asked to follow suit.

That the premise behind the argumentation of the Human Resource Development Ministry (HRD) is based on inculcating nationalist feeling among the youth is bizarre in its own way. A certain idea of nationalism and not nationalism per se is being attempted to be appropriated through symbolic means by those in power. The symbolic nature of the tricolour which was designed by freedom fighter Pingali Venkayya, was meant to create an open space within every citizen to have the collective conscience of belonging, along with having one’s own individual idea of the nation. The imposition of an idea of the nation, which is being promulgated by the HRD, has already garnered success in the way in which the non- Kashmiri students of the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, are demanding the tricolour on the institution’s premises to feel ‘protected from the fringe elements in the valley’ as if the tricolour doesn’t belong to the Kashmiris and is exclusive in nature. This exclusivist approach by the ministry limits the idea of the nation and grants the right of its formulation to just certain individuals in Lutyen’s Delhi.

That the hoisting of the national flag has been a failed experiment to instil the ‘feeling of nationalism’ is evident in the ways in which student eruptions happened in institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Hyderabad Central University, where the national flag was already hoisted.

The hoisting of the tricolour in the current political atmosphere is not to be viewed in isolation since certain ideas are being pushed alongside such symbolic installations at educational institutions. If Hans Raj College successfully hoists the tricolour, a symbol which is being instrumentalised to push forward a specific agenda, then this will engender a phenomenon characterised by demands from other colleges in the varsity for the same. The tricolour stands for the rich cultural legacy and the secular ethos that the country preserved at the time of independence. It also symbolises the freedom struggle that strived for the freedom of thought and expression and celebrated mutual co-existence among the warring factions of the subcontinent. It also stands for secularism and inclusivity. In the current political environment, one needs to understand that the idea of nationalism that is being promulgated by the ruling order isn’t concomitant with the national flag, for the attempts to suppress dissent and free speech have been major components of the undercurrent that has characterised the need to advertise a certain idea of nationalism through the symbol of the tricolour.

 The government needs to learn from the JNU experiment and realise that political contamination of the national flag for the promotion of its version of nationalism will serve to jeopardise the academic ecosystem in varsities across the country, and curb space for dissent and scientific temper. A democracy essentially preaches the idea of pitting an argument against an argument rather than using force to crush dissent. The need of the hour is to offer space for research and create infrastructure rather than adorn the existing ones with political symbolisms.

Image credit: du.ac.in

Aditya Narang ([email protected]) and Sidharth Yadav ([email protected])