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Published in the 1-15 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Patriotism and respect for the National Flag as political gimmicks

By Syed Shahabuddin

No citizen can and should be punished for hoisting the national flag with due respect and solemnity on his home or office. But no citizen has a right to hoist the national flag on someone else’s premises or on a property in dispute in violation of law or in a manner so as to excite and provoke violence or even to use it to promote partisan politics or support political agitation.

In Hubli, Uma Bharti, the new icon of the Sangh Parivar, was not prosecuted for any offence against the Flag Code but for conspiracy, provocation and abetment of violence on 15 August, 1994, which took 5 lives, injured many others and destroyed much public and private property.

By disregarding a score or more of warrants of arrest, bailable and non-bailable, Uma Bharti was also prima facie guilty of contempt of court.

In 2002, the Court had refused the application of the State Government to withdraw 2 cases against Uma Bharti, while allowing it in other case.

On 19 August, 2004, the State Government withdrew its application to the Court to drop the case. The Court had issued another non-bailable warrant of arrest and directed the State police to produce her. Uma Bharti finally surrendered to the Court in a theatrical manner, refused to apply for bail and dared the Magistrate to sentence her. Later after Uma Bharti had surrendered to the Court, the State Government revived the application for withdrawal . Magistrate allowed the withdrawal and acquitted her. Thanks to them she is free. 

Uma Bharti and the BJP leadership are now engaged in a propaganda campaign against the leadership of the Indian National Congress, which heads the Union and the State Governments, of having ‘ordered’ a revival of the case, in the first place! This has been denied by the INC spokesman as well as by the Karnataka Chief Minister. But so long as the criminal case was subjudice, the law would have caught up with her, some time.

The withdrawal itself had no legal justification whatsoever in the light of many judicial pronouncements some at the highest level. In fact the Karnataka Congress and some human rights groups are considering whether to file an appeal against the acquittal.

In the process of surrender, the subsequent political agitation and the campaign called Tiranga Yatra, both the BJP leadership and Uma Bharti have prima facie systematically violated the Flag Code by showing disrespect to it, in more ways than one. The BJP leadership which encouraged and abetted her as well as she and her associates stand to be prosecuted for violating the Flag Code in this campaign. Happily the Bangalore agitation and the Tiranga Yatra both flopped.

The participation of Uma Bharti and other leaders of the Sangh Parivar, including the BJP and the VHP, in the destruction of the Babari Masjid on 6 December, 1992 is well-documented. Their leaders are under prosecution and have been trying hard to thwart the course of justice for more than a decade. And they feel frustrated and demoralized for not moving forward in Ayodhya even by one inch since the Demolition.

So the Sangh Parivar jumped at the opportunity to play with the emotions of the people in the Hubli episode. The sudden surge of patriotism and love for the National Flag, their desire to demonstrate them across the country sharply contrast with the fact that the RSS, as an organization, which never participated in the Freedom Movement since its inception in 1924 right upto 1947, did not celebrate Independence on 15 August, 1947, does not accept the Constitution as by law promulgated, did not, until recently, hoist the national flag at its headquarters in Nagpur, even on Independence Days and Republic Days.

RSS Strategy
Having extracted the last drop of political juice from the Babari Masjid Question, the BJP has been trying to re-enact the Babari Masjid in other places. This explains not only what happened in 1994 but also the current quest of the BJP to invent an emotive issue to regain its lost political status. 

Idgah Controversy
The controversy of Idgah Maidan is a part of the RSS strategy to create situations of confrontation between the Muslims and the Hindus wherever it can, e.g. by laying claim on Muslim religious places including Masjids as in Ayodhya, Mathura, Varanasi and Dhar, occupying them wholly or partially, by stages, building Hindu shrines in close proximity to Muslim religious places, taking possession of Muslim shrines, particularly the Mazars of Sufi Saints which are traditionally open to Hindu visitors e.g. in Baba Budhangiri in Karnataka, Pirana in Gujarat and Kalyan in Maharashtra or installing idols in Qabristans in innumerable places. The Act of 1971 has not stopped this creeping aggression, primarily because of the collusion of the local administration, the inefficiency and incompetence of the State Wakf Boards and the inability of the local Muslims to resist it through legal action or counter-show of force.

The Idgah Maidan is contiguous to the Dargah of a sufi saint which has been converted into a Mandir. The saint has been renamed as Changdev Maharaj and the Urs is now called Yatra. Next in line is the Maidan itself, which is a property of the Anjuman Islam, Hubli, since 1921 on 999 years lease granted by the Hubli Municipality. Since Idgahs are used only twice a year on the occasions of the Id-ul-Fitr and Id-ul-Adha, generally they have nothing more than an extended wall, with a niche facing towards Mecca; it does not even have boundary walls. No one objects to children playing on it or even to sellers using it for a weekly bazar, with oral or written licence of the management. The RSS organized an agitation when the Anjuman, with the permission of the municipal authorities and the State Government, decided to build the boundary wall and, later, to develop its fringe areas for educational/commercial purposes. In 1973, a local Committee, formed by the RSS, dragged the Anjuman in court and challenged the legality and obtained a status quo order. The case is still pending in the Supreme Court. What is important is the fact that another petition by the Sangh Parivar to the lower court and then to the Karnataka High Court for permission to hoist the National Flag on the Maidan was rejected in 1994.

The Sangh Parivar’s efforts since 26 January, 1992 having failed, encouraged by its success in the Demolition at Ayodhya and in preparation for the coming election, the BJP jumped into the fray and launched an agitation in Hubli to hoist the national flag in the Maidan on 15 August, 1994, because in its view, it was a public place and it is the prerogative of any citizen to hoist the national flag in a public place. To rouse the Hindus emotionally, they began referring to the Idgah Maidan as Kittur Rani Chennamma Maidan. A statue of the Rani was installed in front of the Maidan. No one would have objected if the BJP (or Uma Bharti) hoisted a flag on the statue but since the purpose was confrontation, they insisted on the Maidan. The Muslims objected, not because they do not celebrate the Independence Day but because that would amount to conceding the right of ownership and possession to those who, with no palpable interest in the property, had laid claim to it. When the Anjuman offered to hoist the national flag on its own on 15 August, that would not satisfy the trouble-makers. The Anjuman agreed to invite public functionaries to hoist national flag but that would not do.

Legal Issues

Important legal questions are still open: whether a religious place is a public place. If so, under the Flag Code, whether a religious place must hoist the national flag, whether a third party may hoist the national flag on a religious place in the possession of an institution or organization, unless invited to do so by the management? If it is not a public place, whether anyone can trespass on a private property in order to hoist the national flag? 

A more particular question is whether in view of the 999 years lease, the Maidan is still to be treated as a property ‘owned’ by the municipality and, therefore, a public place and hence open to the public for any purpose?

As of today, the Hubli Maidan is a private property, the property of the Anjuman Islam and in its possession, it is not a public place. The case is subjudice. The Anjuman Islam, at its discretion, may allow it to be used for any lawful purpose or legitimate activity but not for any act designed to question its title and intended to create civil commotion, law and order situation or communal confrontation.

In the event, the Hubli and Bangalore agitations have failed to set Karnataka on fire. Similarly the Tiranga Yatra has been a damp squib. Neither has served to inject life and rationality into the moribund body of the Sangh Parivar, which having kept Savarkar at a distance right upto his death has opted for him as the supreme icon of Hindutva, just as it has, after boycotting the Freedom Movement, questioning the foundation of the Constitution, never honouring the National Flag, has suddenly discovered patriotism in its own brand of nationalism and in using the national flag like a piece in the chess-game of politics.

The RSS strategy for regaining power is nothing short of a conspiracy against the nation. The people of India shall defeat the conspiracy. At best, it is the political gimmick of a defeated bewildered and desperate political party out of sheer frustration. «


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