The village of Keragodu in the Mandya district of Karnataka was at the centre of a controversy recently over the hoisting of a saffron-coloured Hanuman flag on a 108-foot flagpole constructed on government land.
Government officials removed the saffron flag featuring an image of the Hindu deity Hanuman and replaced it with the Tricolour, which sparked protests in the village. The BJP, JD(S), and some other organisations were quick to accuse the ruling Congress party of being anti-Hindu. In response, Congress accused the BJP and JD(S) of disrespecting the national flag and disturbing the peace in the state.
Major news outlets, including ANI, extensively covered this incident. Alt News found that ANI’s coverage of the controversy was inherently misleading. The news agency not only left out important aspects of the controversy in its reports but also used a factually incorrect statement originally made by the state BJP chief, in at least 10 of its tweets.
What Happened in Mandya
The Gaurishankar Seva Trust, a local organisation operating in the Keragodu village of Mandya district, sought permission from the gram panchayat president and PDO to erect a flag post on January 29, 2023. The application stated, “We request permission for the construction of a flagpole. We have agreed to hoist the tricolour and the Karnataka flag on this flagpole.” The gram sabha considered the request and convened a general board meeting and a site inspection was carried out on January 5, after which permission was granted for the construction of the flag post at the said site.
On January 17, a letter of declaration was issued on behalf of the Gaurishankar Trust. It was signed by seven members who assured that they agreed to the authorities’ conditions regarding the construction of the said flagpole and would ensure there would be no unpleasant incidents. It also mentioned that other than the national flag and the Kannada flag, no other political or religious flag would be hoisted on this flagpole.
On January 19, the Gram Panchayat president and PDO granted permission to the Gaurishankar Trust to put up the post under the following five conditions:
- Only the national flag and Karnataka/Kannada flag is permitted to be hoisted, with no allowance for other religious/political flags.
- Flag hoisting is allowed between 7 and 8 AM in the morning and between 5:30 abd 5:45 PM in the evening.
- Government circulars regarding flag hoisting should be complied with.
- Any kind of disturbance should be avoided and all necessary conditions should be adhered to.
- The gram panchayat and Keragodu police should be informed six to seven days before any flag hoisting event.
Following this, ignoring all the conditions, a religious flag was hoisted on the said flag post on January 20. Speaking to news outlet South First, mandal panchayat president of Keragodu village Naveen Kumar said that since the Ram temple was consecrated in Ayodhya a day later (January 22) and the Hanuman flag had already been hoisted, they did not want to raise any controversy over it. He held a mediation meeting with the panchayat members and the villagers in which most of them wanted the Hanuman flag to be hoisted at that time. Some panchayat members objected to it, stating that if they were permitted to hoist a religious flag this time, members of other religions would be affected and organisations may also seek permission to hoist their flags during other occasions.
On January 22, the residents of Keragodu village lodged a complaint with the CEO of Mandya district panchayat, requesting that the saffron flag be removed from the flag post, and the mandate to fly only the national flag, as mentioned in the conditions of the permission letter, should be respected. This complaint letter was accepted by the Mandya CEO on January 23.
According to reports, the religious saffron flag continued to fly on that flag post. On the morning of Republic Day (January 26), the national flag was hoisted there by the Gaurishankar Seva Trust, and in the evening it was taken down and replaced once again with the saffron flag. Following this, the district administration took action and lowered the saffron flag from there and hoisted the national flag. This led to protests by members of the BJP, JDS and Bajrang Dal who demanded that the saffron Hanuman flag be hoisted again. Due to this, the situation in the area grew tense and security hat to be beefed up to prevent any kind of violence. The Congress government accused the BJP and Sangh Parivar of instigating communal riots and violating official norms, while the BJP and JDS fired back at the ruling Congress, claiming that the Hanuman flag was a symbol of Hindu faith and culture.
How ANI Misled Its Audience
ANI tweeted about the issue more than 25 times, emphasizing the political demonstrations by BJP, JD(S), and other parties, as well as statements issued by the Karnataka chief minister and other ministers. However, nowhere in these reports did ANI mention that permission was granted by the gram panchayat president and PDO only for the hoisting of the national flag and the Kannada flag on the said flagpost. Besides, the letter of permission clearly said no religious or political flag should be hoisted. Local organisation Gaurishankar Seva Trust had also issued an affidavit in which it stated that no religious or political flag would be hoisted on the flag post and it would be used only for the national flag and the Kannada flag. Despite this, a religious flag was hoisted on the flag post, which led to the entire controversy.
ANI issued 23 tweets on this matter on January 28 and 29, in which at least 10 used the same line continuously (Hanuman flag hoisted by the Gram Panchayat Board of Mandya district), which suggested that the gram panchayat board hoisted the religious flag and it was forcefully removed by police at the behest of the district administration. It is worth noting that in its first tweet on the flag post controversy, the news agency had shared the statement of Karnataka BJP President BY Vijayendra in which the same claim was made. Following this, ANI kept repeating the BJP’s statement as ‘news’.
In this entire episode, apart from the statement by Karnataka BJP President BY Vijayendra, there is no record anywhere of the gram panchayat board hoisting the religious flag in Mandya district. The Gaurishankar Seva Trust also distanced itself from the controversy, claiming it had no knowledge about who had hoisted the saffron flag on the evening of January 20 and January 26.
Alt News also reached out to Navin Kumar, the Mandal panchayat president of Keragodu village, who dismissed the claim of the religious flag was hoisted by the panchayat board. He stated that the gram panchayat board did not hoist any religious flag on the flagpole, and no permission had been granted for it.
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