Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Tri-colour

The National flag and the Congress Party flag carry the same combination of colours and in the same order. The difference is only in the emblem in the middle, the Ashok Chakra in the case of the former and the “hand’ in the case of the latter. When the flags are fluttering at a distance, the emblems are not visible and only the colours stand out.

As any brand manager would say, this causes “brand confusion” in the mind of the viewer, with two entities adopting similar symbols.

How was this allowed to happen?

As the website of the Congress Party explains, the erstwhile Indian National Congress adopted the tri-colour flag, with a spinning wheel in the middle, in the year 1921.

When the country attained independence, the Congress flag was adopted as the national flag, but with the ‘spinning wheel’ making way for the “Ashok Chakra”. As Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre narrate in their book, "Freedom at Midnight" ( via)

"For thirty years, the tricolour sash of homespun cotton khadi, soon to replace the Union Jack on India's horizons, had flown over meetings, marches and manifestations of a people thirsting for independence. Gandhi had designed the banner of a militant congress himself. At the centre of its horizontal bands of saffron, white and green, he had placed his personal seal, the humble instrument he'd proposed to the masses of India as the instrument of their non-violent redemption, the spinning-wheel.

"Now with independence at hand, voices in the ranks of congress contested the right of what they called 'Gandhiji's toy' to occupy the central place in what was about to become their nation's flag. To a growing number of party militants his spinning-wheel was a symbol of the past, a woman's thing, the hallmark of an archaic India turned inwards upon herself.
"At their insistence the place of honour on the national flag was assigned to another wheel, the martial sign of the conquering warriors of Ashoka, founder of the Hindu empire, had borne on their shields. Framed by a pair of lions for force and courage, Ashoka's proud symbol of strength and authority, his dharma chakra, the wheel of the cosmic order, became the symbol of the new India.

The Congress Party continued to use the tri-colour flag with the spinning wheel. The emblem changed to the ‘hand’ sign sometime in the “80s, after the break-away group of Indira Gandhi’s was given the right by the Election Commission to call itself the “Indian National Congress”. So, the party’s flag continues to sport the tri-colour with the ‘hand’ symbol in the middle. It can still be confused for the National Flag.

I am not aware if this has been challenged or taken up with the Election Commission. The Congress Party by using a flag deceptively similar to the National Flag may be subliminally planting the idea in the voter’s mind that it is the party that has the stature and the right to govern the country. Suits have been filed on far trivial or ridiculous grounds and I don’t see why this should not be taken up.

The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 prohibits the use of any of the emblems mentioned in the schedule (and the Indian National flag figures in that list) or any colourable imitation thereof, for the purpose of any trade, business, calling or profession, without the previous permission of the Central Govt.

Even though the Congress Party was the one in power for many years after independence, I doubt if the Govt formally granted the permission to the party to use an ‘imitation of the national flag” as its own. Perhaps, the party thought that it was the nation that had to feel obligated to the party for having lent it its flag.

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