A nation has to keep its flag flying high reflecting the aspirations of its entire population.
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan passed away on Friday, 13 May 2022. There are no questions about his importance and value as the President of United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, besides that India has close relations with UAE which are in absolute national interest of India on multiple counts and along with that a huge diaspora of Indian population has been employed in various parts of the Emirates. This leads to Indians remitting a substantial portion of their earnings to their families back in India adding to the financial capacity of the nation. More so, the decision of half masting of the National Flag done in his honour is in conformity with the existing practices and rules and regulations on the subject. Flag is flown half-mast on a number of occasions like in this case on the demise of certain individuals occupying high constitutional position in the country and these have been codified in a comprehensive manner. The cases of foreign dignitaries on whose demise the flag is half-masted is also decided by the government of the day as per the powers vested in them. The issue is not about whether half masting of the Indian National Flag is correct in one case versus the other but it is whether the National Flag should be half-masted at all.
The current day National Flag has evolved over a period of time and is now a symbol of our nation’s identity. The current form of this flag was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 22 July 1947 and became our National Flag on 15 August 1947, with the country gaining its independence on this day from colonial rulers. The lowering of “Union Jack” and the raising of the Tricolour was a momentous occasion and probably the most important moment for Independent India.
It became imperative to legislate a law which can take care of the issues related to our National Flag. It resulted in the enactment of “The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 (No 12 of 1950)”. With the passage of time new challenges emerged and a new Act was drawn with the name, “The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act”, 1971 (No. 69 of 1971). While these Acts addressed a majority of the concerns, there was still a need to come out with comprehensive guidelines to ensure that all citizens and government functionaries are educated on various facets of the National Flag, as the other two Acts, though applicable to the National Flag, were having a very wide and large canvas. It resulted in the Flag Code of India, 2002, getting promulgated having exhaustive instructions for the ease of understanding and implementation. The issue of half-masting the National Flag, however, continued to be part of these instructions/regulations codifying the same for clarity.
Flags have always had a place of high pride and morale. They have also been the rallying point not only for various Armed Forces in battles but also for all citizenry. It has been a matter of honour and pride to lay down one’s life defending the honour of the flag as it symbolises the very existence of a nation or an organisation/movement. There are endless instances all over the world wherein a large number of people have given their lives defending the honour of their flag—be it on the battlefield or elsewhere. The entire exercise and effort have been galvanised to ensure that the flag does not fall and is held high, whatever may be the cost.
In such a situation, where everyone sacrifices his/her life to keep the flag flying high, there is a definite need to remove the provision of half-masting the National Flag on the demise of any individual, whatever may be his/her stature. A nation has to keep its flag flying high reflecting the aspirations of its entire population. The norm of half-masting the flag needs immediate correction and whatever be the amendment needed must be done by the government of the day.
There are provisions wherein the National Flag will not be half-masted on Independence Day (15 August), Republic Day (26 January), Gandhi Jayanti (2 October) or states’ foundation anniversaries except on the building housing the body of a deceased dignitary and even in such cases, half-masting should be terminated to raise the flag to the full mast when the body is moved out of the said building for the last rites.
It will therefore be important that we re-formulate our norms for our National Flag and give it the respect it really deserves. Its honour should be beyond the respect-paying ritual of any individual. A nation which is looking to find its rightful place amongst the comity of nations has to look at its National Flag differently and much beyond mortal individuals, as a Nation lives forever.
Maj Gen Ashok Kumar is an Army veteran.