India Today’s Fact Check team tried to trace the legitimacy of this historical fact by clearing the cobwebs of claims and counterclaims.
Origin of our National flag
In 1921, Mahatma Gandhi first proposed a need for a national flag at a meeting of Indian National Congress. It was initially designed by Andhra congressman Pingali Venkayya.
But Gandhiji wanted Venkayya to incorporate a charkha or spinning wheel at its centre. He also expressed his wish that the National flag should be in three Colours- Red to represent Hindus, Green for Muslims and White for other Faiths.
According to Ramachandra Guha’s write up titled ‘Truths About The Tricolour’ published in The Hindu on September 26, 2004, In 1931, a flag committee of the Congress made some changes to this tricolour. They replaced red with saffron and changed the order of the colours, as we see it now.
On July 22, 1947, the constituent assembly passed a resolution on the National flag where Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru proposed the flag of the Indian National Congress but instead of the Chakhra or spinning wheel, he proposed the Ashoka Chakra of the Lion emblem.
The resolution in the constituent assembly neither mentioned the name of Pingali Venkayya nor Suraiya Tyabji as designers of the national flag.
Recently, in an article in The Wire, “How the Tricolour and Lion Emblem Really Came to Be”, Laila Tyabji, daughter of Suraiya Tyabji, recollected how her father Baddruddin Tyabji – an ICS in the prime minister’s office – had under Prime Minister Nehru’s instruction set up a Flag Committee headed by Dr Rajendra Prasad.
She also described in detail how her parents came up with the idea of the Ashoka chakra and her mother made a graphic representation of the flag. In the mentioned article, she said, “My father watched that first flag – sewn under my mother’s supervision by Edde Tailors & Drapers in Connaught Place – go up over Raisina Hill.”
Who was Suraiya Tyabji?
Suraiya Tyabji, was an artist of repute. She came from a well-known Muslim family in Hyderabad and was known for her unconventional modern outlook.
Her husband, Badruddin Tyabji, later worked as a foreign diplomat. His grandfather, also named Baddruddin Tyabji, was a renowned lawyer and a member of the Indian National Congress.
Did Suraiya Tyabji really design our national flag? According to research of Flag Foundation of India, an NGO set up by Congress leader and industrialist Naveen Jindal after his landmark victory in Supreme Court over the citizens right to National flag, it was Suraiya Badr-ud-din Tyabji’s design of the national flag which was approved by the constituent assembly.
We spoke to Capt. L Panduranga Reddy, a historian from Hyderabad who stirred up the controversy by naming SuraiyaTyabji as the Tricolour’s real designer and debunked the name of Pingali Venkayya.
He referred to British Author Trevor Royle’s book ‘The last days of the Raj’ which claimed that “By one of those contradictions which run through India’s history, the national flag was designed by a Muslim, Badr-ud-Din Tyabji The flag which flew on Nehru’s car that night had been specially made by Tyabji’s wife.”
Since Captain Reddy could not substantiate his claims with historical documents, we spoke to another eminent historian Syed Irfan Habib.
Professor Habib clearly said, “This is a controversial subject that still remains unresolved. Since there are no solid historical documents available on this, claims and counterclaims keep flying and historians can’t say much about this.” “But neither can we deny the claims of Pingali Venkayya’s family nor of Suraiya Tyabji,” he added.
From the documents of Parliamentary archives we found that Suraiya Tyabji’s name was indeed present in the list of members of the Flag Presentation Committee who presented the national flag on Aug 14th, 1947. But this document does not answer the moot question, whether she designed the flag or not.