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Tiranga, our pride: The history of the tricolour and how our current flag came to be

On December 30, 1943, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was the first freedom fighter to hoist the Indian flag at Port Blair, Andaman, a British-occupied territory, and announced the islands as the first Indian Territory freed from the British rule.

In February-March 2022, at the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, thousands of Indian students were stuck in a war zone cut off from supplies, food and essentials and signalled to return to their country. Colleges and universities were shut down, and Ukrainians were moving to safe places, taking shelter in nearby countries but foreigners were left helpless. Indian students studying there were clueless about how to escape and were desperate for a way out. Ukrainian administration could not provide any solution or help nor come to rescue, as they were themselves caught in the sudden war. 

Luckily for Indians, Russia announced to allow safe passage to Indian students back to their homeland, if they travelled to the nearest airport with the Tiranga flying or placed atop their vehicle. Within the next 13 days, in the midst of war, around 18,000 Indian citizens were evacuated and saved and brought back to their motherland. It was our National Flag, not money, wealth, high connections or network, that saved Indians from a warzone. In fact, not just Indians but even Pakistanis and Turkish nationals used our Tiranga to travel to safety back to their country, as the Russian warplanes announced not to target any vehicles plying with Tiranga over it.

That’s our Tiranga saving human lives – Priceless. 

Our national flag, though, had its own difficulties and testing journey. In 1904, still under British rule, the first known Indian flag was made by Sister Nivedita, an Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda. The flag was red and contained a yellow figure of ‘Vajra’ (thunderbolt) and a lotus. It had the words “Bonde Matoram” written in Bengali script. 

On August 21, 1907, the Indian national flag was unfurled for the first time in a foreign land at an International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany by fiery lady Bhikaji Rustom Cama who was staying in exile outside India. One thousand representatives from across the world attending the conference stood up and saluted the flag. She announced, “This is the flag of independent India. I appeal to all gentlemen to stand and salute the Flag,” drawing attention to human rights, equality and autonomy from Great Britain.

The flag she unfurled was co-designed by Cama and Shyamji Krishna Varma. In the flag, the top green stripe had eight blooming lotuses representing pre-independence India’s eight provinces. ‘Bande Mataram‘ was written across the central saffron stripe in Hindi. On the bottom red stripe, a half moon was on the right and the rising sun on the left, indicating the Hindu and Muslim faith.

In 1931 Pingali Venkayya designed the tricolour with a ‘charkha’ (spinning wheel) in the centre, and this was adopted as the official flag of the Indian National Congress. 

On December 30, 1943, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was the first freedom fighter to hoist the Indian flag at Port Blair, Andaman, a British-occupied territory, and announced the islands as the first Indian Territory freed from the British rule. The place of hoisting the flag was the Gymkhana Ground (now named Netaji stadium).

In 1947, the then official flag designed by Pingali Venkayya was adopted as the national flag of India, but the ‘charkha’ in the centre was replaced with the ‘Ashoka Chakra’ (a wheel with 24 spokes). And hence, our mighty National Flag came into being on 22 July 1947, a few days before India’s independence from the British on 15 August 1947.

There have been regions in our country where citizens had difficulty hoisting or unfurling the Tiranga, like in Assam and Kashmir. In Assam, the banned terrorist outfit ULFA since its inception in 1979 has been giving calls for boycott and bandh of Independence Day and Republic Day. For decades it prevented any celebration, killed the spirit of freedom, of happiness and joy and forced from rejoicing these days. Consequently, there were subdued small official events only. Kashmir has, on the other hand, always been under Pakistan-backed terrorist influence that also prevented the celebration of Independence Day, Republic Day and hoisting of the national flag. However, in 1991, our present PM Narendra Modi than an active political party worker and a member of the National Election Committee of the party conceived, designed and planned an Ekta Yatra with a challenge to hoist the flag in Kashmir Lal Chowk. Death threats and warnings were given but on 1992, 26th January Republic day saw history in the making when he along with Murli Manohar Joshi unfurled the Tiranga- the national flag at Lal Chowk. 

In 2020, for the first time ever, New York’s iconic Times Square hoisted the Indian flag and the Empire State Building was lit up with tricolours to commemorate India’s Independence Day. It was an extra special August 15, 2020, India Independence Day celebration in the US.

On 26th January 2002, the Indian flag code was modified and after several years of independence, the citizens of India were finally allowed to hoist the Indian flag over their homes, offices and factories on any day and not just on National days as was the case earlier. Under the revised flag code now Indians can proudly display the national flag in their homes 24 hours a day including at night, as long as the provisions of the Flag Code are strictly followed to avoid any disrespect to the tricolour.

From 13th August to 15th August 2022 as part of the celebration of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, the 75th anniversary of the country’s Independence, on the appeal of PM Narendra Modi 154 crores (1.54 billion) Indians hoisted the Tiranga at their homes. A record-breaking flag hoisting movement in the entire world showering respect, love and affection for our national flag, the tricolour, a symbol of freedom.

A mass nationalist movement never ever seen before in the last 75 years and a matter of immense pride for all Indians. Our Nation was coloured in Tiranga and a new history was made.

(The article is written by Mita Nath Bora, a researcher and writer working in the areas of public policy, governance, social work and CSR. She is a Sr Research Analyst with RMP, Maharashtra. With an academic background in Economics, Management and Law she addresses various issues of national concern bringing facts before fiction).

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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