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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Flag war is the latest chapter in India, Pakistan rivalry

The Crescent Moon near Wagah border has been reported by the Pakistan media as the eighth tallest flag in the world, and more significantly, as the tallest one in South Asia.

Written by Nandini Rathi | New Delhi | Updated: August 15, 2017 4:00:22 am
pakistan tallest flag, pakistan independence day, wagah, attari Flags (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A. + REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood)

The ‘flag war’ between India and Pakistan near Attari-Wagah border is the latest feature in the dramatic one-upmanship practised by the two neighbors during the curious ‘beating retreat’ border ceremony enacted by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and the Pakistan Rangers (PR) while lowering their respective flags at the same time.

Earlier this year in March, the Amritsar Improvement Trust , under the leadership of then Minister of Local Bodies, Anil Joshi, of BJP, hoisted a 360 feet tall Tricolor near the Attari-Wagah border — the tallest in the nation, a project that cost a whopping Rs 3.5 crores. The flag, however, had to be lowered by May as it proved to be unviable due to repeated damage and tearing of the fabric on account of strong winds blowing at that altitude, necessitating multiple replacements and additional expenses in multiple lakhs. The district administration took a decision not to hoist it until a solution to the regular damage was found. The Tricolor has made a guest reappearance  on August 13 to celebrate the 70th Independence Day on Tuesday.  

Meanwhile, Pakistan had begun working on a parallel project of its own by deciding to hoist a taller flag at Wagah. On August 14, the day which Pakistan celebrates as its Independence Day, its Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa hoisted the nation’s tallest flag which is 400 feet tall and 120 feet by 80 feet in size. “We will foil the nefarious designs of anyone, who will try to cast an evil eye on Pakistan,” said Bajwa in his patriotic address to Pakistan at the Wagah Border at Sunday-Monday midnight and added that Pakistan’s flag was a symbol of its dignity. He lauded the Rangers for arranging a superb flag hoisting ceremony. The Crescent Moon near Wagah border has been widely hailed by the Pakistan media as the eighth tallest flag in the world, and more significantly, as the tallest one in South Asia.

The bickering, unrelenting conflict and competition against the other has been fundamental to the Indian/Pakistani identity ever since 1947. The ceremony at the Wagah (India side) and Hussainiwala (Pakistan side) border outposts, notably referred to by Michael Palin as “carefully choreographed contempt” and “chauvinism at its most camp,” in his BBC documentary, has long had a symbolic value in the spasmodically jerking of body parts of its enactors. The display of aggression without violence and the belligerent mating-dance like routine characterised by slogan chanting, high kicks, foot stamping and aggressive stares (some of these have been periodically toned down) attracts large cheering crowds akin to a wrestling match audience, whose chest-thumping patriotism is matched only by their curiosity about the other side, with whom they share social behaviour, attire and language.

Express photo by Rana Simranjit Singh

Albeit hypermasculine and jingoistic displays, the Wagah border performances of battle readiness, which began in 1971 as a celebration of peace after a major war, are a complex entertainment at their core meant to arouse crowds of tourists on both sides with public spectacles of national pride.  The flag sizes and their me-better temporality are the same.

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