75 years ago, on 22 July 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru moved the motion for the adoption of the national flag. This is what he said on the occasion: ‘the national flag of India shall be horizontal tricolor of deep saffron (kesariya), white and dark green in equal proportions. In the centre of the white band, there shall be a wheel in navy blue to represent the chakra.’
Today, there are many who interpret the symbolism of the flag in different ways. But it would make sense to go back and understand the thinking of the founding fathers of the nation, who discussed and debated these issues long and hard. And what better way to understand this than through the words of one of the most eminent thinkers of the 20th century, academic, statesman and philosopher, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan? Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan later President of India, speaking on the motion moved by Nehru, explained the meaning of the flag design. Here are some quotes from this speech:
‘The world is full of misunderstandings, suspicions and distrusts. In these difficult days, it depends on us under what banner we fight. Here we are putting in the very centre the white, the white of the sun’s rays. The white means the path of light. There is darkness even at noon .. but it is necessary for us to dissipate these clouds and control our conduct—by the ideal light, the light of truth, of transparent simplicity which is illustrated by the colour of white.
We cannot attain purity, we cannot gain our goal of truth unless we walk the path of virtue. The Ashoka wheel represents the wheel of the law, the wheel of Dharma. Truth can be gained only by the pursuit of the path of Dharma, the practice of virtue. Truth, dharma, virtue, these ought to be the controlling principles of those who work under this Flag.’
‘The red, the orange, the Bhagwa colour, represents the spirit of renunciation. …Our leaders must be disinterested. They must be dedicated spirits.’ ..’That stands for the fact that the world belongs not to the wealthy, not to the prosperous but to the meek and humble, the dedicated and the detached.’
‘The green is our relation to the soil, our relation to plant life here on which all other life depends. We must build our Paradise here on this green earth. If we are to succeed in this enterprise, we must be guided by truth (white), practice virtue (wheel), adopt the method of self-control and renunciation (saffron).’
In the same speech, he refers to the need for our society to change what is wrong with it. ‘Dharma is something that is perpetually moving. ..There are so many institutions which are worked into our social fabric like caste and untouchability. Unless these things are scrapped, we cannot say that we either seek truth or practice virtue. ..Our Dharma is Sanatana, eternal, not in the sense that it is a fixed deposit, but in the sense that it is perpetually changing…So even with regard to our social conditions, it is essential for us to move forward.’
Dr. Radhakrishnan occupied the George V Chair in Philosophy at Calcutta University; served as Vice Chancellor of Andhra University and Benaras Hindu University. Oxford University appointed him to the H.N. Spalding Chair of Eastern Religions and Ethics. He served on India’s Constituent Assembly and also as chairman of the University Education Commission. He was a chairman of the Board of UNESCO and leader of the Indian delegation to the same. He was Indian Ambassador to Moscow, then Vice President of the country, and its second president from 1962 to 1967.
He was a nationalist who believed in an India built and guided by those who were truly educated, by those who had a personal vision of and commitment to raising Indian self-consciousness.
His scholarly works include: Indian Philosophy, 2 vol; The Philosophy of the Upanishads; An Idealist View of Life Eastern Religions and Western Thought; East and West: Some Reflections; A Sourcebook of Indian Philosophy; and The Pursuit of Truth.
And of course, many of us have grown up reading his Ramayana and Mahabharata!
So as we mark the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Tricolour, and are almost upon our 75th Independence Day, it is time to re-dedicate ourselves to the real meaning of the flag, which Dr. Radhakrishnan’ sums up as: ‘The Flag tells us ‘Go ever alert, be ever on the move, go forward, work for a free, flexible, compassionate, decent, democratic society in which Christians, Sikhs, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, will all find a safe shelter.’