Indians seeking food rations ‘forced to buy national flag’ ahead of Independence day

·3-min read
Employees of the postal department wave the Indian flag as they pass the Vidhana Soudha building during Tiranga Yatra    (AFP via Getty Images)
Employees of the postal department wave the Indian flag as they pass the Vidhana Soudha building during Tiranga Yatra (AFP via Getty Images)

India’s opposition party has accused the government of trying to force patriotism on citizens ahead of the country’s Independence Day.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s “Har Ghar Tiranga” campaign, which translates to “a national flag in every household”, has divided opinion ahead of the country’s 75th year of independence from British rule.

Critics have claimed hoisting the national flag on India’s Independence Day should be a personal choice and not be forced on anyone.

Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has alleged the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is asking those entitled to free rations from government-owned shops to buy national flags.

And reports have emerged of ration supply shops telling residents, often from lower-income households, they would only get supplies if they bought the national flag for Rs 20 (21p).

State authorities suspended the ration depot holder’s licence on Wednesday, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

“Nationalism can never be sold, it is very shameful that instead of giving ration, 20 rupees are being collected from the poor in the name of tricolour,” Mr Gandhi wrote on his Facebook.

“Along with the tricolour, the BJP government is also attacking the self-esteem of the poor of our country,”

A circular ordering students and teachers to pay Rs 20 (21p) in the Jammu and Kashmir state was also withdrawn after social media backlash, with former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti attacking the move.

In another Himalayan state, Uttarakhand, the state BJP chief told his supporters on Wednesday to take pictures of homes where the national flags are not displayed, The Times of India reported.

“Who can have a problem with hoisting the national flag at home?” said Mahendra Bhatt at an event, adding that residents would like to “see who is a nationalist and who isn’t”.

A small village in the southern Karnataka state has decided to boycott the “Har Ghar Tiranga” campaign, The Hindu reported.

People in Garag village are upset with the decision to allow flags of polyester and mill cloth but notkhadi, the material famously promoted by Mahatma Gandhi.

Mr Modi’s federal government has taken to selling national flags through the postal department, which has claimed to have sold more than 10 million flags through post offices and online in 10 days.

The Indian government has also added a “digital tiranga” (or virtual flag) feature on its “Har Ghar Tiranga” website for citizens to enter their location and mark their “contribution” to the campaign by uploading their selfies with the national flag.

India’s news channels have claimed more than 330,000 selfies have been uploaded as of Wednesday and said schools were asked to encourage students to register and post “tiranga selfies” as well.

Hindu supremacist leader Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, who called for violence against Muslims last year, has called for for a boycott of the campaign as a company on the list of “prominent flag suppliers” is owned by a Muslim man.

In a video circulated widely on social media, he can be heard urging Hindus in India to boycott the campaign.