We hoist the flag on Independence Day, but unfurl it on Republic Day. Here's why

We hoist the flag on Independence Day, but unfurl it on Republic Day. Here's why

Indian tricolour
The Indian tricolour wil be hoisted at Red Fort on August 15 (Photograph: Studio Art Smile/Under Creative Commons License)

A small difference, but big significance

On August 15, we will celebrate our 75th Independence Day. On this day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hoist the tricolour at Red Fort before addressing the nation from the ramparts. This is significant. On August 15, India’s Independence Day, the flag is hoisted, which is to say it is kept folded somewhere in the middle of the flag pole and is pulled up to the top and unfurled.

The other public holiday in India is January 26, India’s Republic Day. On this day, the President of India unfurls the flag on Rajpath before presiding over a parade that showcases India’s military might and cultural diversity. On this day, the tricolour isn’t hoisted, it is merely unfurled. It is folded up and rests on top of the flag pole, unlike on August 15, when it is in the middle before being unfurled.

This is a minor difference in the two ceremonies but the significance is great. The hoisting of the flag signifies the rise of a new nation, free from colonial domination. Whereas on Republic Day, the flag is already on top of the flag pole and signifies that it is one of a free nation. A flag of a free nation cannot stay at half-mast on a day as important as Republic Day. This is the big difference in the symbolism of the two acts.

It is also significant to note that on Independence Day it is the Prime Minister that hoists the flag and on Republic Day, it is the President of India who does the unfurling. The reason why this is so is because the Prime Minister of India is the representative of the people of the country, directly elected by the people to the Indian parliament. Whereas the President is the constitutional head of the state and therefore must preside over the Republic Day activities as they celebrate the day on which the Indian constitution came into effect.

Read more: India celebrates its 75th Independence Day

Of course, there is also the matter of history. On the first Independence Day, there was no President. Lord Mountbatten was still the Governor General of India, the position that was equivalent of the President and preceded it before the office was abolished. Obviously, the coloniser couldn’t be responsible for hoisting the flag of a newly independent nation and the job therefore fell to the one person who, it was agreed, would be the representative of the people of India: the Prime Minister.