Patriotic fervour is always at full mast at the Wagah Border, where countless Indians go every year to witness the daily flag lowering ceremony. But a group of Indian tourists from Mumbai and New York returned shocked and disappointed from its recent trip after seeing that the pole for the nation's tallest Tricolour was without the flag, while the Pakistan flag fluttered proudly on the other side.
The 400-ft Pakistani flag and the 360-ft Indian Tricolour at Wagah on August 14. The next day was the last time the Tricolour was hoisted, officials said. Pic/Getty Images
On Saturday, October 7, South Mumbai's well-known anti-cell radiation tower activist Prakash Munshi along with friends from New York, Asmita Bhatia, Divya Shah and Kalpana Shah, joined thousands of excited Indians and some foreigners for the daily flag-lowering ceremony, which takes place two hours prior to sunset, at the Attari-Wagah border.
"We entered the India ceremony pavilion and, at a distance, saw the Pakistan flag, fluttering high in full glory. As we looked for the Tricolour, our hearts sank. The pole for the Indian flag stood empty. We asked a Border Security Force (BSF) personnel, and he said the Indian flag had been torn twice and for over two months, there had been no replacement," said Munshi.
This October 7 photo shows the 360-ft pole on the Indian side sans the flag
Can't have such excuses
"We were told by the personnel that the flag is torn. You simply cannot have such an excuse. There was a 'chalta hai' kind of an attitude. We need to demand higher standards of efficiency," said Divya. For Kalpana, "Sadness turned to embarrassment, as a uniformed officer told us that the flag has been missing since at least two months."
"We could sense the frustration amongst the officers there as people kept asking them about the Indian flag; they did not know how to respond. We can send people to the moon but cannot replace torn flags?" asked a bewildered Bhatia.
Munshi spoke for all of them when he said, "As we departed with our heads down, a sense of deep sadness turned into anger. The anger was directed at us who have learnt to accept, tolerate and surrender to such shameful inefficiency and disregard."
Asmita Bhatia, Divya Shah and Prakash Munshi at the border
Suresh Mahajan, former chairman of the Amritsar Improvement Trust (AIT), the organisation entrusted with the maintenance of the flag, stated, "The Tricolour has torn repeatedly. I think the last time it was hoisted there was on August 15, after which it was taken off. It is at a height of 340 feet or more, but the wind velocity causes the flag to tear. Because of this, I think there has been a decision to use the flag only on [special] occasions, though I cannot say for sure. I resigned sometime ago."
A senior AIT official confirmed, "The flag was hoisted on August 15 and taken down after. The flags do tear because of the wind velocity."
"We follow what is called a Flag Code, which specifies, amongst other things, what material to be used for the flags. I hope the Centre takes this up. It has become a matter of pride now. No amount of money should be a deterrent," the official added.
MHA lobs ball back at AIT
A Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) official lobbed the ball back into the AIT's court.
The official said, "There is one flag on our border that is raised and manned by the BSF. The second flag you are referring to is maintained by the AIT. The Trust needs to decide when to fly this flag, when it is practical and operational to do so."
The official refused to be drawn into comparisons with the Pakistan flag and simply said, "What another country does and the costs of that, the ifs and buts, are not for us to say. I believe that the Trust must take a decision in all its wisdom about the technology and material to be used while preparing the Tricolour."
More altitude, more problems
The flag in question was at the centre of a show of patriotism that Pakistan took to new 'heights' on August 14, their Independence Day. The Indian flag, touted as the country's tallest, is hoisted at a height of 360 feet, while the one in Pakistan is now at 400 feet. Shahnawaz Khan, CEO of the Flag Foundation of India, told mid-day over the phone from New Delhi, "We have supplied at least 68 Tricolours all across India. Amongst these, at least 12 flags fly at a height of 207 feet. At that height, [because of] the wind velocity and weather conditions, the flags do tend to tear."
"In fact, the last flag which was installed at Connaught Place at 207 feet tears as well, and it is so expensive to keep replacing it. Do not get into a race of altitude. Even a flag at a 100 feet can look as beautiful and impressive and leave you with a wonderful feeling. An empty flagpole will be a huge disappointment; you must have a flag that will sustain," said Khan.
'Pak flag hasn't torn'
The manufacturer of the 400-ft Pakistan flag on the border is a company called VIP Flags, based in Karachi. The owner of the company, Shaikh Nisar Ahmed, told mid-day over the phone, without referring specifically to the India flag, "Poor quality flags will burn out. The Pakistan flag on the Wagah border is completely Pakistan-made. It is still fluttering there and we have not received any complaints about it having tears. It is made of polyester."
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