As part of the protests against the centre’s farm bills, farmers’ unions and the Delhi police had chalked out agreed-upon circular routes from Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri borders for the Republic Day tractor parades. It was decided that the protestors will enter Delhi but remain in areas near the border from the three entry points. Several protesting groups, however, veered off the course and were met with police lathicharge and tear gas shells. They entered the iconic Red Fort and hoisted flags from some domes and from a flagstaff, on the ramparts of the fort, used to unfurl the tricolour on Independence Day.
This sparked two widespread claims – 1) the protestors took down the Indian national flag and 2) replaced the tricolour with Khalistan flag.
— Pakistan First (@APMLOfficial_) January 26, 2021
“What point are these farmers trying to make by replacing the tricolour with their religious flag?” questioned Sonam Mahajan.
Editor-in-chief of Times Now Rahul Shivshankar also claimed that the tricolour was replaced. But he added that the one hoisted was a flag of farmers’ union or religious sect.
Disquieting assault on our most visible national symbol. That too on #RepublicDay. Our Tricolour replaced at iconic flagpole at #RedFort. Was this protest always about undermining our State? | #RDaySpiritShamedpic.twitter.com/Bfp1psRsAJ
— Rahul Shivshankar (@RShivshankar) January 26, 2021
That the flag unfurled from the mast pole was the Khalistan flag is massively viral on social media. Among those who amplified the claim were BJP Delhi spokesperson Harish Khurana, parliamentary secretary of Varun Gandhi Ishita Yadav and BJP supporters Divya Kumar Soti, Vikrant Kumar, Sumit Kadel, Sumit Kadel, Sumeet Thakkar, Anurag Dixit and Shefali Vaidya. Right-wing propaganda website OpIndia also wrote in an article that protestors unfurled Khalistan flag from the Red Fort.
This fact-check has been divided into two sections that debunk both claims separately.
1. Indian flag was not replaced or taken down
Protestors hoisted a flag from an empty pole mast. They neither took down the Indian flag nor replaced it with a flag of Khalistan. There are several videos that confirm the same. In the video below, the tricolour can be seen atop Lahore gate (entrance to the Red Fort) as the protestor climbs the empty flagpost.
— ANI (@ANI) January 26, 2021
The Indian flag can be spotted in several pictures.
The Police did not succeed in removing the flag. More and more farmers are going up to prevent bringing down of flags.
(Express photos by Abhinav Saha and Praveen Khanna) pic.twitter.com/p33UZO3AXk
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) January 26, 2021
Flags were also put up on domes from the fort.
2. The flag hoisted by protestors is not the Khalistan flag
The flags hoisted by the protesting farmers are the Nishan Sahib or Sikh religious flags.
“Whether yellow or saffron, triangular flags with the Khanda – two swords – are Sikh flags. They are not Khalistan flags,” said Amandeep Sandhu, author of ‘Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines’ in conversation with Alt News.
He further added, “When a flag is hoisted as a symbol of regime change, the previous flag is brought down and the new flag is unfurled. In this case, the tricolour, the flag of India, continues to be hoisted. It has not been touched. The hoisting of the Sikh flag means that the people of the nation want to assert their identity as well. They want to be counted. They want the rulers of the nation to not take them for granted.”
Journalist Hartosh Singh Bal also tweeted that the flags unfurled were Sikh religious flags, not Khalistan flag.
with the tiranga visible the right wing ecosystem has picked on the nishan sahib that has also been held aloft.
they have termed the nishan sahib a khalistani flag. if that were so then every gurdwara would be khalistan, every sikh a khalistani.
— Hartosh Singh Bal (@HartoshSinghBal) January 26, 2021
Sikh flags are also featured on the Punjab tableau during Republic Day parades. It was displayed this year as well.
The screenshot below is from Republic Day parade held last year.
The widespread claim that Khalistan flag was hoisted by protestors during the tractor rally in Delhi is false. Several others further suggested that Indian national flag was replaced when, in fact, the flagstaff was empty.