On September 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the new flag of the Indian Navy in Kochi. The St George’s Cross was removed from the erstwhile flag and it was replaced with an octagonal shield inspired by the seal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj with the national emblem above the anchor. Below that, there is the motto of the Indian Navy, ‘Sham No Varunah’. Earlier, the flag featured the St. George’s Cross with the national emblem in the centre and ‘Satyamev Jayate’ written below it.

There was a flurry of debates on news channels regarding the change. Back in 2001, the flag of the Indian Navy had also been changed during the tenure of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the colonial emblem of St. George’s Cross was removed. The flag was again changed in 2004 and the St. George’s Cross was brought back. News channels and BJP leaders blamed the Congress, including the UPA government and the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh for the change. It was claimed that the flag was revised after the change of power in 2004 when the UPA government was at the Centre and Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. BJP leaders accused the Congress party and Sonia Gandhi of bringing back the St George’s Cross on the Indian Navy flag because of their ‘attachment’ to the colonial symbol.

On August 30, anchor Shiv Aroor on India Today News Channel’s 5ive Live show claimed that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had removed the St. George’s Cross from the Navy’s flag in 2001, but in 2004, the UPA government brought it back. In the same show, Gaurav Sawant, managing editor and anchor of India Today channel made the same claim. In the beginning of the show, Shiv Aroor introduced Gaurav Sawant and stated that when the St George’s Cross was re-introduced in the Indian Navy flag back in 2004 under Manmohan Singh’s government, Sawant had first reported it. It is worth noting that Shiv Aroor is also the founder of Defence and Aerospace news website LiveFist.

On August 31, Aroor also claimed on India Today’s digital news video vertical NewsMO that the Manmohan Singh government brought back the St George’s Cross to the Indian Navy flag. India Today also tweeted a video of this. (Archived link)

On September 1, Aaj Tak news channel consulting editor and anchor Sudhir Chaudhary claimed in his show ‘Black and White’ that the St. George’s Cross was removed from the Indian Navy flag in 2001 under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. In 2004, when the UPA government came to power and Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, the St. George’s Cross was brought back on the Indian Navy flag.

On September 2, several BJP leaders and supporters targeted the Congress party and the UPA government, claiming that the Congress brought back the St. George’s Cross, a symbol of the colonial past, on the Indian Navy flag after Dr. Manmohan Singh became prime minister in 2004. Gave. BJP MP Tejashwi Surya, and BJP leader Tajinderpal Singh Bagga also tweeted the same claim.

Right wing influencer Anshul Saxena and BJP Goa tweeted the same claim as well. However, Saxena deleted the tweet later. (Archived link)

After this, media channels in their shows blamed Congress and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for bringing back the St. George’s Cross to the Indian Navy flag in 2004.

On Aaj Tak news channel, in anchor Chitra Tripathi’s show ‘Dangal’ on September 2, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia showed the printed copy of a graphic claiming that the St. George’s Cross was removed from the Indian Navy flag during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2001. He then said that the Cross was brought back after the Congress came to power in 2004. After this, supporting the BJP spokesperson’s claim, the news anchor repeated that the Cross was re-introduced after Congress came to power, and asked Congress spokesperson Alok Sharma who loved the symbol so much that it had to be brought back?

On September 3, Rajat Sharma, editor-in-chief and chairman of India TV, claimed in his show ‘Aaj Ki Baat‘ that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had removed the British symbol (St. George’s Cross) in 2001. But in 2004, Manmohan Singh’s government came and brought it back.

 

Fact-check

Anchors of major TV news channels and BJP leaders claimed on TV that the Navy flag with the St. George’s Cross was brought back under the Manmohan Singh government. However, this is not true.

First, we used Google Advanced Search to collect documents related to the change in the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001. We performed keyword searches on Google using the date and website filters. We found an archive from 2001 on the website of the Press Information Bureau (PIB), Government of India. According to this press release issued on August 8, 2001, on August 15, 2001, the St. George’s Cross was removed and a new mark was added on the Indian Navy flag. Using this information, we performed a keyword search on Google with the help of date and file filters. This led us to the original scanned copy of this press release on the Press Information Bureau (PIB) website. Both have been shown below.

Alt News examined the Lok Sabha website to gather more information. We found an Unstarred question which Thawar Chand Gehlot, the then Lok Sabha member from Shajapur, had asked the defence ministry. Gehlot inquired whether warships and submarines of the Indian Navy were still operating with the foreign flag with the St. George’s Cross on it, and if so, if the government had given them permission to change the said flags. The then defence minister George Fernandes responded on March 21, 2002, saying that all Indian Navy ships, submarines and shore installations carry the Indian Navy flag. The Indian Navy flag has been displayed on Indian Navy ships and submarines since January 26, 1950. This flag was white and divided into four parts by the Red Cross, and the Indian flag was on the left section. The new Indian Navy flag is affixed on Indian Navy ships, submarines and shore installations August 15, 2001 onwards.

Next, we performed a keyword search on Google with the date filter to gather more information about the change in the flag of the Indian Navy in 2004. We found a news report related to this published on the Rediff website on April 24, 2004. According to this news, on that day, the St George’s Cross was brought back on the flag of the Indian Navy. The reason for this was a complaint shared by the Indian Navy. It said that in the change in the flag in 2001, the St. George’s Cross was removed from the flag and a new mark was added. Due to its blue colour, the ocean and sky used to mix with the blue, and the flag was not visible from a distance. It is worth noting that on April 25, 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India. Dr. Manmohan Singh took his oath as the Prime Minister on May 22, 2004.

To verify the information, we checked the archives of ‘The Hindu‘ newspaper dated April 24, 2004. Here, we also found information related to the change in the flag of the Indian Navy. We also got the news related to this published on April 24, 2004 in the Financial Express archives. This confirms that the flag was changed on April 25, 2004 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India.

We checked the website of Rajya Sabha for more details, and found an Unstarred question then Rajya Sabha MP Eknath K. Thakur had asked the defence ministry. He asked whether it was true that the Indian Navy wanted to adorn its ships, submarines and installations with new ensigns, flags and pendants, along with the reasons for this. The then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee replied on July 14, 2004 saying – “Yes, from April 25, 2004, the new emblem of the Indian Navy, distinctive flags and pennants have been introduced. The reason for the change in the flag was that the earlier flags had a combination of blue and white which was not clearly visible from a distance, especially at sea.” In other words, in 2004, when the Indian Navy’s flag was changed, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister.

To sum it up, the news channels of India Today, Aaj Tak, and India TV along with BJP leaders circulated a false claim. It was said that in 2001, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had removed the St. George’s Cross from the Indian Navy flag, but when the UPA government came to power in 2004 and Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, he added the St. George’s Cross back on to it. In fact, both the changes in 2001 and 2004 happened during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In a fact-check article dated September 5, Aaj Tak also termed the claims made by these BJP leaders as false and wrote that this decision was taken only during the Vajpayee government. However, the channel did not mention that. Many of their own anchors amplified the false claim on television. This is not the first time Aaj Tak has put out false information and later fact-checked the same.

Update: After the Alt News fact-check, India Today anchor Shiv Aroor issued a clarification in a tweet on September 16. He wrote that though his show 5ive Live on August 30 was about the latest change in the Indian Navy flag, he got the information about the 2004 re-introduction of the St. George’s Cross on the Indian Navy Flag wrong. He said it was an “honest mistake, no malafide, but MINE alone”. “Doesn’t lessen error, but made it clear navy proposed change,” he added.

In the evening of September 16, India Today issued a clarification on live TV about the mistake made on the 5ive Live show on August 30.

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About the Author

Abhishek is a journalist at Alt News.