Naveen Jindal: Colours of patriotism

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Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

In the run-up to Independence Day, young politician Naveen Jindal tells Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty that his campaign for people to fly the national flag all year round ended the established tradition of flags being the sole property of the State.

In the last 64 years that we are an independent nation, voters have regularly seen the lines between industrialists and politicians blur. Prefer it or not, a politician becoming an industrialist and vice verse is a reality of our political tradition. Going by this, young industrialist and Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal is no switch from the standard. Yet this Young Turk stands out. Purely because he has tried toeing a line that he can call his own.

The most significant contribution to public life of this youngest scion of the steel giant Jindal group is in steering to success a sustained campaign that wrested the right for all Indians to fly the national flag beyond the customary practice of hoisting it on 15 August and 26 January. What triggered it was a notice served on him for flying the flag at his Raigarh factory besides the allocated days. After seven years of pursuing a court case, Naveen finally hit success in 2004 with the court interpreting the Flag Code in a democratic spirit.

During a chat at his rambling house on New Delhi’s Prithviraj Road, Naveen is all smiles expressing delight at the victory of his campaign and its long-term impact. “I am glad that every Indian can now fly the flag all year round. I feel good when I see flags being sold at crossings prior to Independence Day and 26 January. The national flag is a symbolic gesture that allows citizens to come under one identity leaving behind religious or political affiliations,” he says. This two-time MP from Kurukshetra, however, points out that the campaign went on for a few more years to iron out various other creases for the people to fully claim their right on the nation’s flag.

“We then fought for the right to fly monumental flags (100 feet and above) at night with proper lighting.” Yet another push was needed, he relates, to get the right to wear it on T-shirts, helmets, “on anything above the waist”. So you know how Sachin Tendulkar got to wear the flag on his cricket helmet.

Naveen also set in motion the right of MPs to wear the flag as a badge to Parliament. In fact, he has an interesting story to relate which triggered this particular success.

“I was appalled to see MPs smoking away at the Central Hall of Parliament. After a signature drive against it, I submitted a letter to then Speaker Somnath Chatterjee pleading for a ban on smoking in Parliament on which he acted. Chatterjee, however, pointed out during our meeting that the lapel pin of the national flag that I was wearing on my kurta was not allowed. I submitted a letter to him in this regard too and finally the order came in February last year. So today,” he says with a wide grin, “you can’t smoke in Parliament and have the right to attend it wearing the flag as a badge.”

Stepping back to gauge these amendments, Naveen is bang on target when he points out that the victory of his campaign “ended the established tradition of flags being the sole property of the State.”

“You look at history, the flag has always belonged to the ruler. For thousands of years, be it a monarchy or a republic, the flag has always symbolised the State, never the common man. I think that’s where this verdict made a difference.”

Buoyed by the court’s landmark ruling in 2004, Naveen, along with wife Shalu Jindal, soon formed the Flag Foundation of India which now picks up issues concerning people to work on, besides promoting events that celebrate the relevance of the national flag “as a symbol of patriotism, the right of every patriotic Indian.”

Hailing from Haryana which has a pathetic gender ratio, Naveen says he has now turned his focus on it by addressing the issue of population explosion. “I am working on it, it is not very easy. You need to have incentives for poor people to make it a success. I feel that if the Government fixed deposits, say Rs.1 lakh, in the name of a poor person, which after 20 years will become Rs.15 lakhs, It can give him a decent sum as pension per month and he would then not think of having a son to look after him. This will directly affect the gender ratio and population explosion.”

Though he came under a cloud in a section of the media some time ago on what seemed like tacitly supporting the notorious khap panchayats, the U.S. educated Naveen sounds serious about making a difference to alter the established male-centric mindset. He also admits that the oft-quoted idea that our huge population is our asset needs a re-look. “Population explosion is a serious issue. I blame our economists for this. Demographic dividend cannot be automatic. With the changing times, we need to debate on whether having two children is better than just one,” says the father of two.

A trained pilot, Naveen who was in news recently for flying the fighter aircraft French Rafale, is also an ardent sportsman, particularly his forte being an ace shooter and a polo pro. However, touch on tweak the topic of sports and the frustration of many sportsperson in this country due to bureaucratic hurdles and archaic rules becomes his. “We have good shooting ranges but they lack maintenance. Accountability is often missing in this country. Unlike abroad, a shooting enthusiast can’t follow the sport, there are no decent clubs. Our archaic rules need to change.” Naveen, in fact, was instrumental in getting the Government to review some time ago, a few rules that limit shooters from following the sport effectively.

About polo, he quite proudly states that he has 50 horses and a polo team. “For the first time, I will be playing polo with my son in a tournament at Jaipur Polo Grounds soon,” he says.

Dividing time between business and politics is clearly no cakewalk. He goes into a blank when asked to name a change that he ushered into his constituency. But then answers, “I would like to see it rise in all the parameters, like education, health, etc.” He is also touted by many as a youth icon. Is such a tag demanding? “I would like to put it this way: I am doing my job as a good citizen, as a good corporate citizen and as a parliamentarian.”

Well, what more can you ask!

( Article sourced from The Hindu)

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