Okay, so here’s the thing with the flag-as-bath-rug issue. It’s not. Here’s why.
Personally, I wouldn’t use the Indian flag as a bath rug. Not comfortable doing it.
I wouldn’t mind using the American flag or the Canadian flag. Or the British flag to wipe my dirty feet on. They’re just cool colours on a rug for me. See?
National Flag patterns are routinely sold as rugs, underwear, probably even on condoms and all sorts of sordid things, all over the world. Indian retailers do it too.
Some people can get emotional about it. I get it. We are all emotional these days about one thing or another. But do we really want to make an international incident over it?
Amazon sells flags of all countries as bath rugs. Amazon Canada sells Candian flags as bath rugs. Amazon Global sells a whole bunch of flags, including American, British, Irish, Jamaican, Mexican and British flags as bath rugs. No one else seems to have a problem.
Apparently, Indians do. At least, the Indian government does. If the the government of the world’s largest democracy wished to exercise it’s sovereign power over an e-retailer, all it really needed to do was to have the Department of Commerce send an e-mail, asking Amazon India to stop selling said offensive product.
The thing absolutely NOT TO DO was, send a flashy twitter storm warning from the External Affairs ministry, claiming sovereign insult, which comes more in the form of an OR ELSE.
This was not an affair between two independent states, taking international postures. As far as the e-tailer was concerned, it was a simple ‘faulty product’ affair. It should have been handled as such.
Aesthetics is not the thing
What does it mean for Indians though — this whole flag fracas? An earlier public showdown about the flag had social media running for this picture collage of Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi. In it, he’s wiping his face with a tricolour. The head of the government, seemingly, PUBLICLY comfortable with the flag as a face- rug.
Now, it will need more than a tweet to make a case on how the tri-colour is okay as a face-rug, but not okay as a bath rug.
One understands the aesthetics of it of course. But policy needs more than aesthetics. It needs an underlying principle.
And the principle is far from clear.
For instance, if it is okay to wipe one’s face with the flag, as show in the picture, is it okay to wipe one’s nose with it too? Can we shove it into the ear and clear a little wax maybe? Wipe some goo out of the eyes? Our we clear, which orifices are allowed, for instance?
Or even if all of us are allowed to use the tricolour for minor cleansing? Is it that the tri-colour, like demonetised notes, are reserved for the political class? Is it that only Mr Modi and Congress Bigwigs might use it and the hoi polloi may not?
This is not to trivialise the issue. A lot of people get a little emotional about the flag. Even those who don’t share the BJP’s brand of uber patriotism, do care about such things. The flag matters at very many levels and so do these questions, however trivial they might seem.
People are getting mobbed and jailed for things like disrespecting the flag and not standing up for the anthem. There is actual physical violence in jail time involved now.
The Flag Code
There is an argument to be made for Mr Modi’s use of the face rug. It doesn’t have the Ashoka Chakra and as such is not the flag. That’s the argument for the Congress flag too.
But hey, here’s the thing: without the Ashoka Chakra, it becomes a vertical Irish Flag. And if the Irish were as excitable as the Indians, they could object.
Read about it here
In fact, any reading of a history of flags shows why most countries have chosen to adopt three colours for their flags. Depending on their unique histories, every country also ascribes its own symbolism to each colour.
So the question is, how far are we willing to flex the jingoism muscle? The simple schoolyard bully answer is — as far as we can.
That was not the gravitas one expected though, from Ms Sushma Swaraj’s office. An External Affairs Ministry’s twitter war on a retailer — that is more the style of the Mahesh Sharmas of this government.
It is occasionally good to be reminded though, that it is about the party not the people. Of a governing philosophy not a person. Ms Swaraj was merely following the dictates of her conscience. It merely looks statesman like, when seen in comparison.