Sangh and Tiranga – three colours of the Chameleon

With the Sangh Parivar questioning the patriotism of others, we examine what their past has been, especially with respect to the tricolour flag of India.

The RSS since its inception in 1925 hated anything, which symbolised a plural India. The case of the Indian tricolour is the most pertinent one. It was in December 1929 that the Indian National Congress at its Lahore session adopted ‘Purna Swaraj’ or complete self-rule as the national goal and called upon the people to observe January 26, 1930 as Independence Day by displaying and honouring the Tricolour (the Tricolour was by consensus considered the flag of the national movement by this time).  In response to this, Hedgewar as Sarsanghchalak issued a circular to all the RSS shakhas to worship the bhagwa jhanda (saffron flag) as the national flag.

The Indian National Congress adapted the tricolour swaraj flag as its official flag at the 1931 meeting. By then, the flag had already become the symbol of the independence movement.

Even Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army had used a tricolour as its flag. It had replaced the spinning wheel with a leaping tiger though.

On 14 July 1947, a committee of the Constituent Assembly recommended that the flag of the Indian National Congress, that had been used during our freedom struggle, be adopted as the National Flag of India with suitable modifications, so as to make it acceptable to all parties. The spinning wheel of the Congress flag was replaced by the Chakra (wheel) from the Lion Capital of Ashoka. According to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the chakra was chosen as it was representative of dharma and law. However, Nehru explained that the change was more practical in nature, as unlike the flag with the spinning wheel, this design would appear symmetrical.

Three colours – Saffron RSS (1925-1947)

Organiser, the RSS English organ, in its third issue (July 17, 1947), disturbed by the Constituent Assembly’s decision to select the Tricolour as the national flag, carried an editorial titled ‘National Flag’, demanding that the saffron flag be chosen to be the flag of the Independent India. The same demand continued to be raised in editorials on the eve of independence. A July 31 editorial titled ‘Hindusthan’ also asked for India be named after the Hindus with a Saffron flag. The August 14 editorial titled ‘Whither’, simultaneously rejected the whole concept of a composite nation.

“Let us no longer allow ourselves to be influenced by false notions of nationhood… in Hindusthan only the Hindus form the nation and the national structure must be built on that safe and sound foundation…the nation itself must be built up of Hindus, on Hindu traditions, culture, ideas and aspirations.”

The August 14 issue also carried ‘Mystery behind the Bhagwa Dhawaj (saffron flag)’, which, while demanding the hoisting of a saffron flag at the ramparts of Red Fort in Delhi, openly denigrated the choice of the tricolour as the national flag in the following words:

The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the tricolour but it will never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.” 

An year earlier, Golwalkar, second chief of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the organisation till date, while addressing a gathering in Nagpur on July 14, 1946, stated that it was the saffron flag which in totality represented their great culture. It was the embodiment of God:

We firmly believe that in the end the whole nation will bow before this saffron flag.

Soon after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, there were reports of RSS supporters distributing sweets. In a speech on February 24 1948, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said that

“at some places members of the RSS dishonoured the national flag. They know well that by disgracing the flag they are proving themselves as traitors.”

Three colours – White RSS (1948-1950)

RSS was banned along with its ideological cousin, the Hindu Mahasabha after Mahatma Gandhi’s murder. The public mood and sentiment had turned against them. Sardar Patel wanted the RSS to join the national mainstream and abandon its ways. For Patel, the tricolour flag “stood for secular society”.

Among the conditions imposed on the RSS by Sardar Patel for the removal of the 1948-49 ban on it after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination was “explicit acceptance” of the National Flag.

Patel said at a Congress meet on December 17, 1949, in Jaipur, that any organisation seeking to supplant the National Flag by another would be sternly dealt with. Patel told Congressmen he had made his view very clear to M.S. Golwalkar, the leader of the banned RSS, when the latter met him.[2]

“… The National Flag must be universally accepted, and if anyone thought of having an alternative to the National Flag, there must be a fight. But that fight must be open and constitutional.”

(A newspaper report of the event, reproduced in Vol. XIII of the Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, edited by P.N. Chopra and Prabha Chopra.)

Home Secretary H.V.R. Iyengar had written to Golwalkar in May 1949, stating, “

“An explicit acceptance of the National Flag (with the Bhagwa Dhwaj as the organisational flag of the Sangh) would be necessary for satisfying the country that there are no reservations in regard to allegiance to the State”.

On July 11, 1949, the ban on the RSS was removed. The order mentioned the exchanges with Golwalkar, the draft constitution, the government’s suggestions, the Sangh chief’s clarifications, and said that Golwalkar had accepted the government’s suggestions.

RSS hoisted the flag at their headquarters first on 26th January 1950. Sardar Patel died on 15th December that year, and RSS never hoisted the flag in their headquarters till 2002.

Changing colours – Saffron RSS again (1950-2002)

After Republic Day on 1950, RSS stopped hoisting the ‘Tricolour’ even on Independence Day and Republic Day. RSS supremo M. S. Golwalkar, in his book Bunch of thoughts, [1] published in 1966, still lamented the choice of the tricolour as a flag:

Our leaders have set up a new flag for our country. Why did they do so? It just is a case of drifting and imitating. Ours is an ancient and great nation with a glorious past. Then, had we no flag of our own? Had we no national emblem at all these thousands of years? Undoubtedly we had.

Did the law stop the RSS?

It is notable that the Flag hoisting code till 2002 prevented private organisations from hoisting National Flag barring special occasions. As anybody who was grown up in India will recall, Independence Day and Republic Day counted as such special occasions, and flag  hoisting ceremonies were held in many private organisations. RSS could have hoisted the tricolour flag at least on those two days when all institutions, including the private ones did it with respect and honour. The law didn’t prohibit them from doing so, but they chose not to.

Did RSS Stop others?

On 26 January 2001, three activists of Rashtrapremi Yuwa Dal – its president Baba Mendhe, Ramesh Kalambe and Dilip Chattani were arrested in Nagpur for forcibly hoisting the national flag at an RSS office. The activists, contending that the RSS had never hoisted the tricolour on Republic Day, initially told the RSS men there that they had come to pay homage to the RSS founder Dr Keshav Hedgewar but soon took out banners and flag. [7]

First, the in charge of the RSS premises Sunil Kathle tried to prevent the activists from hoisting the national flag. But, when they succeeded in unfurling the Tiranga, the RSS took them to court for it.

For 12 long years, the three patriots were tried by a Nagpur court for hoisting the national flag in the Sangh premises under relevant sections of the Bombay Police Act and the IPC. The legal battle continued and they were acquitted of charges, set free just in time for Independence day in 2013 by the court of RR Lohia for lack of evidence. [6]

Three colours – Green RSS (2002 onwards)

After the 2001 incident, RSS decided to hoist the flag at its headquarters for the first time in 52 years on the republic day of 2002.

Within a few years of finally hoisting the flag themselves, RSS and the Sangh Parivar organisations were at the forefront of flag based nationalism, and preaching others about it. In January 2016, an RSS affiliated body demanded that all Madrassas must hoist tricolour on Republic Day.

A BJP HRD minister decided that to ‘instil nationalism’ among India’s youth, all central universities must hoist the national flag atop a 207-feet pole all year around.

Atul Kothari, a former ABVP general secretary who heads the Trust for the Uplift of Education and Culture, a Sangh offshoot, played down Golwalkar’s statements on the national flag. [4] He told Telegraph:

“That’s from a bygone era, Now the RSS respects and honours the flag.”


  1. MS Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts
  2. Patel asked RSS to accept Tricolour
  3. How the ban on RSS was lifted
  4. The Flag Sangh did not fly for 52 years
  5. Tri-colour hoisted at RSS HQ after 52 yrs
  6. Activists, who forcibly hoisted tri-colour at RSS premises, freed
  7. Speaking of Flags
  8. The RSS Doublespeak: Bhagwa for Itself, Tricolour for the ‘Others’


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