On 22 July 1947, the Constituent Assembly of India passed a resolution to assign a national flag to independent India. The resolution was moved by Jawaharlal Nehru, in the form of rousing and emotional speech. Nehru spoke of the decades-long struggle for freedom, and added that though an outcome would soon be realised in the form of Independence, it had not yet concluded. “There will be no complete freedom as long as there is starvation, hunger, lack of clothing, lack of necessaries of life and lack of opportunity of growth for every single human being, man, woman and child in the country,” he said. “We aim at that.” In spite of these challenges, Nehru said, “It is in no spirit of down heartedness that I stand up … It is right and proper that at this moment we should adopt the symbols of this achievement.”
Nehru’s speech was met with cheers and applause in the house. The mood in the room was joyous—member after member arose to speak in favour of the flag, of its design, and of its adoption. Amid this celebration, however, some somber points were made: constituent-assembly members from various communities expressed what the flag meant to them, and how it underscored what they felt was the spirit of the nation. While S Radhakrishnan, who later became the first vice president of India, said that the flag must encourage India to pursue social inclusion, Saiyid Mohammad Saadulla—the deputy leader of the Muslim League—spoke of how the symbols woven into the flag reiterated the place held by the Muslim community in India.
As part of “The Argumentative Indians,” The Caravan’s series of notable excerpts from the Constituent Assembly Debates, the following are edited extracts from the speeches delivered that day. In recent months, symbols such as the flag and the national anthem have become the subject of controversies, and have sparked discussionson whether each citizen retains the right to individually determine their significance. The debates provide insight on this subject. “Who shall live under that flag without thinking of the common India?” the poet and politician Sarojini Naidu asked the house. “Who shall limit its inheritance? To whom does it belong? It belongs to India. It belongs to an India.”
Seth Govind Das: Mr President, I have come here to support the resolution moved by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. … There is no touch of communalism in the three colours of the flag. Panditji has already told you this in the course of his speech. It is true that at a time when the colours were red, white and green there was a trace of communalism in the flag. But when we change these colours to saffron, white and green, we declared it in clear words that the three colours had no communal significance. At that time, we also made it clear as to what these colours signified. Those who have been maddened by communalism today should not take this flag to be a communal flag.