Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday visited the Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha (KKGSS), the sole BIS-approved khadi that spins the fabric used to make the National Flag, and protested against the recent tweak to the Indian Flag Code, 2002, which allowed the use of machine-made polyester in the production of the flags. Gandhi said that he will highlight KKGSS’s concerns over the amendment to the Flag Code of India and question the Narendra Modi government in the ongoing Monsoon Session of the Parliament, officials told Financial Express Online.
Soon after his visit to the the Khadi Village Industries in Hubbali in North Karnataka, the Congress leader posted pictures of him interacting with the workers and targetted the RSS, the BJP’s ideological mentor. “History is witness that those running the ‘Har Ghar Tricolor’ campaign have come out of the anti-national organization which did not hoist the tricolor for 52 years. From the freedom struggle, they could not stop the Congress party even then and will not be able to stop it even today,” he wrote on Twitter. The RSS, however, hit back saying the party questioning it was responsible for the country’s partition and asked that these things should not be politicised.
Gandhi’s visit to the Hubbali unit came amid a row over the amendment made to the Indian Flag Code, 2002, in December last year. The amendment allowed the use of machine-made polyester for manufacturing the flag, marking a shift from the existing rules that only allowed the use of hand-spun and hand-woven cotton/wool/silk/khadi bunting for the purpose.
Speaking to FinancialExpress Online, KKGSS officials said they fear that in the coming years, hand-woven flags made of cotton khadi bunting will lose their market share to the polyester and non-BIS standards flags, which are cheaper and more viable for customers. The officials said that there hasn’t been any dip in the number of orders it received from government offices and organisations, which constitute a bulk of their buyers. “Whether they ordered machine-made flags from elsewhere for this year’s Independence Day, I can’t say. We have received almost the same order as previous years from government organisations and offices,” said KKGSS chairman Shivananda S. Mathapathi.
“However, we can’t say after this amendment, if the government will be buying polyester flags in the future. That will be a huge blow to our Khadi business,” he said, adding that the demand for khadi flags will go down in coming years.
Mathapathi said that the Indian flag made out of khadi is a symbol of “our national pride” and warned that the recent amendment will pave way for the doom for the khadi industry.
Mathapathy’s fears may not be totally unfounded. As per KKGSS secretary KV Pattar, some railway officials had approached him for polyester flags for the Independence Day. “Only the railway department contacted me for supplying polyester flags. But we said that we will not be producing any. Today, only the railway officials are enquiring because they are saying that they received a government circular (to buy from them). The future will be uncertain if more officials from other departments start enquiring,” claimed Pattar.
Several top Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi and DK Shivakumar have joined their agitation at its headquarters in Karnataka’s Hubbali. Shivakumar recently visited KKGSS and finalised the purchase of khadi flags worth more than Rs 7 lakh.
While this year’s orders matched that of previous years, when flags worth around Rs 2.5 crore were ordered, there is raw material worth nearly Rs 5 crore that is still lying in the godowns. “In the month of April last year, the KVIC chairman had conducted a meeting in Hubbali office. He called all the khadi institutions and instructed to increase the production of khadi, as he said more orders are expected from the government. So, according to his instructions, all the institutions have produced the khadi cloth for national flags. This is the bunting khadi, one used for the national flag and the cost of it is Rs 320 per metre. When we wrote to him that we haven’t received any additional orders yet, there were no replies from his end,” Pattar said.
The KKGSS has been selling national flags to all the government bodies right from village and zila panchayats right up to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the Independence Day. With demand set to wane in coming years, Mathapathi said they have now started producing non-BIS, single-thread flags made out of khadi this time around. “The production and supply of these flags is much lower than the BIS standard double-thread flags,” he said.
However, Pattar revealed that non-BIS flags constitute only 10 per cent of their production and will be made in nine sizes as prescribed by the BIS ranging from 6 × 4 inches to 21 X 14 feet and not in the size specified by the Modi government under the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign, which are 20 X 30 inches and 16 X 27 inches, dimensions not permitted under BIS standards.
“The BIS flags, which are made of bunting khadi, with 2 feet by 3 feet size rate is Rs 380, non BIS flags produced by single-thread khadi is Rs 130. We have supplied about 10,000 low cost single-thread khadi to BHEL office this time around Bengaluru,” said Pattar. He said that with the inclusion of polyester in the recent amendments, non-BIS flags have become the norm. “We shouldn’t see only the cost, like the central government is doing, when it comes to national flags,” said Pattar.