Refusing to negotiate respecting the tricolour while ‘just’ giving importance to the freedom of expression is an act of ignorance and foolishness Karan Thapar tells while slamming Gautam Gambhir for claiming “Freedom of speech is important, but there are certain things which are absolutely non-negotiable.” Thapar made his statement while criticizing the demand of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s vice chancellor to install a tank in the campus so that “it can serve as a reminder for thousands of students who pass through this university about the great sacrifices and valour of the Indian army”, in his article “The story of three gentlemen and the loud drumbeats of patriotism” (Hindustan Times, July 30, 2017).
Evoking constitution he tells us that freedom of speech is non-negotiable whilst respect for the flag is important” (read negotiable). But, if it is so; why “satanic verses” is banned, Tasleema Nasreen is not being allowed to speak, multitudes of films are being censored and on May 15, 2015, a Supreme Court said that the fundamental right to speech and expression, as envisaged under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution could not be given absolute?
The Constitution does not stop at sub-clause (a) of clause 1 the Article 19 which reads, “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. It also includes clause 2 providing that “nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. In simple words, freedom of speech is not an absolute right.
Whereas, the national flag the most cherished national symbol, emanating love for the country, infusing a sense of nationhood, embodying the aspirations and sentiments of the common people, stands as instrument of unity that binds a nation together. And, as Gabriella Elgenius says symbolism is as important as economic and political factors, in the formation of nation and national identities. So, unlike the rights whose inclusion, existence codification everything need to be debated, validated and secured by Constitution, in the case of the flag shape, colours and symbols may be debated to make it more inclusive and representational but the idea that there must be a flag and it must be respected by the people don’t need to be debated– as they predate the constitution.
When the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, everybody was not clamouring for the war they didn’t came out with the guns showing of their anger but they came out streets holding the American flag, and soon stores in the United States were sold out of it. Tank can be a symbol of valour of the army but whether do we need tanks in university campuses to inspire youths and make them more nationalist is certainly an issue of debate. Whereas the national symbols represent national people, infuse unity among them without promoting jingoism, chauvinism or xenophobia. So, bringing the issue of respecting flag while debating about having tanks in universities can push debate in a wrong way.