Home / Politics / Policy /  Who is Pingali Venkayya?

New Delhi: It’s difficult to articulate just what a national flag represents. At one level, it is about identity, a sense of belonging. But it is also more. Much more.

A national flag is a repository of emotions and feelings, all of which centre around a consciousness which is larger than the individual’s. Athletes wrap it around themselves after winning honour for their country. Martyrs come home wrapped in it after giving their life for the country. In both instances the flag represents the invisible thread that binds together millions.

The Indian tricolour, signifying courage (saffron) honesty (white) and green (prosperity) with the Ashoka Chakra in the centre to represent both dharma and the wheel of progress, was proposed as the national flag on 22 July 1947 but by then, it had been around in different avatars for several years.

As early as 1906 saffron and green had found their way into the flag alongside emblems such as the lotus and the crescent moon. Even the term Vance Mataram was in the mix. This flag is believed to have been hoisted in the Parsee Bagan Square in Calcutta. From Madam Bhikaji Cama to Annie Besant to Sister Nivedita, over the years many stalwarts of the independence struggle came up with their versions of the flag, most of which were meant to be symbolic or representative of a movement.

Around this time, Pingali Venkayya, from Bhatlapenumarru in Andhra Pradesh started researching national flags and their designs. Venkayya was a Gandhian who met the Mahatma as a young soldier in the British Army during the Anglo Boer war in Africa. He was 19 when the meeting took place.

In 1921, Gandhi himself acknowledged the need for a national flag and asked Venkayya to design one. Some believe that the colours as well as the spinning wheel that was originally where the Ashoka Chakra is, were the suggestions of the father of the nation. In 1931, the flag was officially adopted by the Indian National Congress.

Venkayya may have designed the initial version of the flag but very little is actually known about the man. A report in The Hindu says he was an authority in geology and agriculture. The man died uncelebrated in 1964. His village of Bhatlapenumarru did not even have a statue of the man till 1998. It was only in 2009 that a postage stamp was issued to commemorate him. 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 his three children, two sons and a daughter. In 2001, there was a small controversy as a woman came forth, claiming to be his fourth daughter. Her name was Poornima Devi. Telugu Desai Party MP Kambampati Ramamohana Rao even made a special mention of the lady in his Rajya Sabha speech saying that she lived in grave penury. All this earned the ire of Venkayya’s last surviving child, Ghantasala Seethamahalakshmi who declared Poornima Devi to be an imposter. The issue was resolved when the woman admitted to having made up the claim.

Venkayya, like a true Gandhian may not have craved honours . But surely, the man who gave us the most visible symbol of the nation, deserves a little more than a postage stamp and a statue. Perhaps he needs first and foremost to have the gaps in his story plugged and his name to become a household one.

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