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Did Mahatma Gandhi refuse to Salute Indian National Flag, but Why?

Oct 2, 2021


Today is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, a day when the nation pays its tribute to the ‘father of the nation’. Although Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led India’s non-violent independence movement, he didn’t join the government even though he was a leader of the Congress party. And just like he kept a distance from the government, he had also maintained a distance from the symbol of newly independent India, the flag of the nation.

The design for the tricolour was unanimously accepted by the constituent assembly on July 22, 1947, days before India attained its Independence from the British, during a meeting held by the Constituent Assembly comprising of eminent personalities such as Rajendra Prasad and including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu, C. Rajagopalachari, K. M. Munshi and B. R. Ambedkar.

The flag is based on the Swaraj flag, a flag of the Indian National Congress designed by Pingali Venkayya. The present Indian flag contains three equal strips of saffron, white and green, with a navy blue ‘Ashok Chakra’ with 24 spokes at the centre. The flag, presented by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in the constituent assembly on July 22, 1947, served as the national flag of the Dominion of India between 15 August 1947 and 26 January 1950 and has served as the flag of the Republic of India since then.

However, while India adopted tricolour with Ashok Chakra at the centre as its national flag, Mohandas Gandhiji was not pleased with the flag proposed by the Constituent Assembly. In one of the letters written by Gandhiji, which is published in “The collected works of Mahatma Gandhi”, the ‘Father of the Nation’ expressed his objection with the flag adopted by the Constituent Assembly. He was unhappy with the design due to two reasons, absence of the union jack, and replacing the charkha (spinning wheel) with the Ashoka Chakra.

Mahatma Gandhi supported the inclusion of Union Jack in the canton of the Indian tricolour

In his letter, Gandhiji conveyed his support for the flag proposed by the last British viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten. The proposal of the flag presented by the Governor-General Louis Mountbatten in 1947 included the flag of the Congress but with a Union Jack in the canton. However, the flag was rejected by Jawaharlal Nehru, claiming that Congress’ nationalist members would see the inclusion of the Union Jack as being overly deferential to the British.

In his letter, Gandhiji defended the inclusion of the Union Jack canton in India’s national flag. Gandhiji contended that though British might have inflicted harm on the Indians, it was not done by their flag. Extolling the British for “voluntarily withdrawing from India” and urging Indians to take note of virtues of the British, he made the case for the adoption of the flag proposed by Lord Mountbatten

But what is wrong with having the Union Jack in a corner of our flag? If harm has been done to us by the British, it has not been done by their flag and we must also take note of the virtues of the British. They are voluntarily withdrawing from India, leaving power in our hands,” said Mahatma Gandhi lamenting over the rejection of the Union Jack in India’s national flag.

Gandhi lamented India could not show “generosity and friendship”

Gandhi further added, “We are having Lord Mountbatten as our chief gate-keeper. So long he has been the servant of the British King. Now, he is to be our servant. If while we employed him as our servant, we also had the Union Jack in a corner of our flag, there would be no betrayal of India in this.”

Gandhi further added in his letter that he was pained to see Congress leaders not extending the “generosity and friendship” to the British. “If I had the power that I once had, I would have taken people to task for it. After all, why should we give up our humanity,” said Gandhi while expressing her angst over Constituent Assembly’s dismissal of incorporating the symbol of Union Jack in India’s national flag.

Gandhi said he would not salute the flag without the Charkha

Mahatma Gandhi had prefered the flag that the Congress party had adopted in 1931, with the saffron, white and green stripes and the blue charkha in the middle on the white strip. He wanted the same flag to be adopted by independent India with the Union Jack. Therefore, when the proposals were made to replace the charkha with the Ashoka Chakra came, he was so unhappy that he had declared that he will refuse to salute the flag.

In a statement made in Lahore on 6 August 1947, Gandhi said, “I must say that, if the Flag of the Indian Union will not embody the emblem of the Charkha, I will refuse to salute that flag. You know the National Flag of India was first thought of by me, and I cannot conceive of India’s National Flag without the emblem of the Charkha

This quote can be found in volume 96 of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Jawaharlal Nehru had tried to convince him saying that the design change is not significant, and the chakra in the new National Flag symbolizes the charkha also. Rejecting the argument that the chakra represents the Sudarshan Chakra also, Gandhiji has said, “Some describe the wheel-mark as Sudarshan Chakra, but I know what Sudarshan Chakra means.”

He had also written in Harijanbandhu, “Nothing would have lost if our councillors had never thought of interfering with the design of the original flag.” Rejecting the selection of the Chakra on artistic reasons, he wrote, “I will refuse to salute the flag that is modified on the above lines however artistic it may appear” (chapter 222 in volume 96 of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi).

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