Pingali Venkayya was a freedom fighter and the designer of the Indian National Tricolour who went on to become synonymous with the spirit of free and independent India. The national flag that we see today was based upon his design. His life and contribution to the freedom struggle have been barely documented.
Born on August 2, 1876 in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, Venkayya served as a soldier in the British Army in South Africa during the Anglo Boer war in Africa. A firm believer in Gandhian principles and an ardent nationalist, Venkayya met the Mahatma during the war. He was 19 when the meeting took place and formed an association which would last for more than 50 years.
After his return from Africa, Venkayya spent most of his time researching about farming and cultivating cotton. He even went on to study Sanskrit, Urdu and Japanese in the Anglo Vedic School in Lahore.
Between 1918 and 1921, Venkayya raised the issue of having an own flag in every session of the Congress. Back then, he was working as a lecturer in the Andhra National College in Machilipatnam.
He met the Mahatma once again in Vijayawada and showed him his publication with the various designs of the flag. Acknowledging the need for a national flag, Gandhi then asked Venkayya to design a fresh one at the national congress meeting in 1921.
Initially, Venkayya came up with saffron and green colours, but it later evolved with a spinning wheel at the centre and a third colour-white. The flag was officially adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1931.
Venkayya died in penury in 1963. In an interview to The Hindu, Telugu Desam Party leader Zahir Ahmed claimed that the national stalwart was forgotten for a long time. “Despite his stature, he has been a forgotten person, both by society and the Congress,” Ahmed said.
A postage stamp was issued to commemorate him in 2009. In 2012, the government of Andhra Pradesh recommended his name for the Bharat Ratna. In 2014, the Bharat Ratna was instead awarded to cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist C.N.R. Rao. Venkayya was survived by three children – two sons and a daughter.