THE KING AND THE FLAG - PART I
(1999 August 11)
Mr. E. A. V. Naganathan is at it again. From his articles we come to know more about his family than anything else. Perhaps he should write a biography of Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan which could well and truly be a complement to the biography of Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam written by his only son - in- law Prof. A. J. Wilson. Mr. Naganathan, in his two part article "Nalin and the national flag" published in "The Island" of 21st and 28th of July, has only one point to make. The rest is about his mother's family, how in 1938 Dr. Naganathan went to Mahanuwara with his children waving the lion flag, a smattering on the so-called inductive method in science, presumably the western science under the false assumption that I am a western scientist, anecdotes on Mr. D.S. Senanayake, 'Sara' the barman of the old SSC who knew the favourite beverage of Mr. Senanayake and the others and such things.
The point he makes is that like the Count of Chamboard and Mr. D. S. Senanayake I am in error in confusing the personal standard of the king with the national flag of the country. From this, through some logic only he is capable of Mr. Naganathan pretends to have come to the conclusion that the national flag does not "depict the history, the culture etc. of the country". If Mr. Naganathan has established anything in his lengthy article that is his obstinacy to give the rightful place to the Sinhala people, their history and culture. If people like Mr. Naganathan continues with this attitude it could only result in the stand of the Sinhala people, not the NGO Sinhala and those who go after the politicians of the PA government, becoming more and more hardened. This is not an intimidation or a threat as Mr. Naganathan is very likely to conclude but only a statement of fact.
For the sake of argument let us assume for the moment that the lion flag was the personal standard of the King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. The first question that comes to the mind is why did this king, who is supposed to be a Tamil by the Tamil racists, choose the lion flag as his personal standard. He could have easily chosen the Chola tiger or the Pandyan fish or the "Nandi flag, better known in the Tamil country (by the way is it Tamil Nadu? -NdeS) as the 'Vetti Vidai' or 'Vetti Vidaan', the bull couchant with crescent moon overhead" that Dr. Naganathan flew as a defiant gesture, or even the swan flag of the Wirt Senathi Raja family of Alaveddy to which Mr. Naganathan's mother belongs, or some other flag associated with Tamil families. The king did not have to choose the lion flag as a gesture to the Sinhala chieftains and the public in general as the closest that ordinary people like me then with or without a 'rajakariya', "could have got to the personal standard of the king would have been, not in a vertical but a horizontal position without the possibility of taking a good look at it, as that would have been less majestic, but instead, without raising their eyes, looking down in a supplicant attitude only" Why did this Tamil king, according to the Tamil racists, choose the lion flag as his personal standard when he knew that the Sinhala people had no chance of seeing it while being in a vertical position? There are many ways of resolving this paradox without referring to the statements by the barkeeper of the palace. I leave it to the readers to resolve this paradox, using the "reductio ad absurdum" method used in Aristotelian logic or some other method that they prefer.
Secondly, if the lion flag was only the personal standard of the king why did Rev. Variyapola Sumangala Thero insisted that the lion flag should not be lowered until the very last moment at the ceremony held in connection with the signing of the Udarata convention. This incident occurred after the king Sri Wickrama Rajasingha, who was very unpopular with most of the chieftains and most probably the Bhikkus, had been dethroned. There was no special reason for the Sumangala Thero to stand up for the personal standard of a deposed king.
Thirdly, even if the lion flag was only the personal standard of the last king of Sinhale, (we must not forget at any stage that the so-called Udarata convention was between the chieftains of Sinhale and the representative of the king of Britain.) there was nothing to prevent Mr. D. S. Senanayake or the committee appointed to design the national flag, with Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike as its chairman, from adopting that flag with or without modifications as the national flag of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). All that the committee should have done was to take into consideration whether the recommended flag "depicted the history, the culture etc., of the country". Certainly the members of the committee would not have thought about the Karawa flag or the flag of that family of Alaveddy Mr. Naganathan has referred to, or even a Goigama or a Vellala flag , as those flags do not "depict the history, the culture etc., of the country". The present national flag "depicts the history, the culture etc., of the country" and that is the very reason why people like Messrs. Naganathan, Ashraaf and Vardharaja Perumal are against it. I will come back to this point later but before that let us consider some of the national flags of the other countries.
Mr. Naganathan is very fond of relating the story of the French tricolour flag and the Count of Chambord. I am not sure whether Mr. Naganathan is trying to say that the tricolour flag does not represent the history of France. Does he think that the tricolour flag of France is similar to the tricolour or three band two colour flags of the schools in Sri Lanka? Even the school flags, though introduced by the British, through usage have now acquired a tradition and a history and they are part of the school culture of Sri Lanka. Why did the Count of Chambord object to the tricolour flag and refuse to accept it as the national flag? In order to get an insight let me quote a few passages from the Encyclopaedia Britannica relevant to this question.
"The monarchists, however, still held a comfortable majority in the assembly and continued to hope and plan for a restoration. Legitimists and Orleanists remained at odds, but a compromise seemed possible. The Bourbon pretender, the Count de Chambord ("the miracle child" of 1820), was old and childless; the Orleanist pretender, Philippe, Count de Paris, was young and prolific. The natural solution was to restore Chambord, with the Count de Paris as his successor. Chambord, however, refused to accept the throne except on his own terms, which implied a return to the principle of absolute royal authority, unchecked by constitutional limitations. The Orleanists and even some legitimists found this too much to swallow. For the time being, they, too, settled for Thiers's presidential rule.
During the next two years, Thiers's position was beyond challenge, and he gave the republic vigorous and efficient leadership. He reorganized the army and worked to restore national morale; he successfully floated two bond issues that permitted the war indemnity to be paid off in 1873, thus ending the German occupation ahead of schedule. Late in 1872, however, Thiers abjured his long-held Orleanist faith and publicly announced his conversion to republicanism. The monarchists, outraged and seeing their majority in the assembly dwindling because of by-elections, found an excuse to force Thiers's resignation as provisional president (May 1873) and hastily substituted the commander of the army, Marshal Patrice de Mac-Mahon. Behind the scenes, monarchist politicians again set out to arrange an agreement between the two pretenders. Their hopes were once more sabotaged by Chambord, who again announced that he would return only on his own terms and under the fleur-de-lis flag of the old regime. The disheartened monarchists fell back on waiting for the Bourbon line to die out. But when Chambord passed from the scene in 1883, it was too late for a restoration."
The national flags are not permanent entities and they also evolve over the years. That is why the present national flag of Sri Lanka is not the same as the lion flag of the king Dutugemunu as painted in the Dambulla rock caves. However there is a continuity in the history of Sri Lanka and the symbol of lion has been associated with the Sinhala people at least from the time of Deepavansaya. We have had no revolutions like the French revolution, which broke away from the past history of the country. In fact Marxism recognises the French revolution to be a complete revolution unlike the British bourgeois revolution which retained the monarchy. However even this complete revolution did not take place in a single day. The process began long before 1789 and continued well into the nineteenth century as demonstrated by the events during the time of Count of Chambord. The French revolution spreading over two centuries is associated with the European modernity and it is not at all together surprising that most of the present day ideas of Post Modernism in the west are due to the French thinkers.
It is clear that some of the monarchists were expecting to have some kind of constitutional monarchy and the Orleanists were inclined in that direction. However Count of Chambord was of a different view. He wanted the old monarchist system and nothing else. He opted for the fleur-de-lis flag not because of any love with it but because he wanted to go back to the old regime. The old flag represented the old regime and the old history. The tricolour flag represented the revolution and the history of France since the revolution. There was a discontinuity and the anti monarchists opted for the tricolour of the revolution. The two flags represented two eras in the history of France and Count of Chambord did not want to accept the history and the culture that started with the French revolution, just as Mr. Naganathan does not want to accept the continuous history and culture, though not static, of Sri Lanka. It is Mr. Naganathan, and not me, who is behaving like Count of Chambord. Both of them have the common characteristic of refusing to accept the history, the Count, the discontinuous history of France and the descendent of the Wirt Senathi Raja family of Alaveddy from the maternal side, the continuous history of Sri Lanka.
In the United Kingdom there was no such discontinuity as in the case of France and the national flag did not undergo such a "revolutionary" change. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has the following paragraph on the history of the Union Jack. "The earliest form of the flag of Great Britain, developed in 1606 and used during the reigns of James I (1603-25) and Charles I (1625-49), displayed the red cross of England superimposed on the white cross of Scotland, with the blue field of the latter. Because in heraldry a red on blue is not considered permissible, the red cross had to be bordered with white, its own correct field. During the Commonwealth period (1649-60), Oliver Cromwell added an Irish harp at the centre, but the flag resumed its original form on the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Thus did the old flag--the "Union Flag," or "Great Union"--continue in use until Jan. 1, 1801, the effective date of the legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland. The need then was to incorporate the cross of St. Patrick (diagonal, red on white) with the existing flag. To combine the three crosses without losing their individual identities, the designers made the background white broader on one side of the Irish red than on the other. In fact, the continuity of direction of the arms of the red St. Patrick's cross was broken by portions of it being removed from the centre. Thus the Irish and the Scottish crosses can be distinguished easily from each other, while the Irish (red) cross has its proper white background." Thus in the national flag of the United Kingdom, the crosses of St. George (England), St. Andrew (Scotland), and St. Patrick (Ireland) are combined.
There are few points that are relevant for our discussion. The bourgeois revolution did not change the national flag either in Britain or in the United Kingdom. There was a continuity in the history and no sharp break. However in the history of the evolution of the national flag it can be seen that three other flags have been combined. They all happen to be crosses that represent the Christian culture that prevailed in England, Scotland and Ireland. In the case of England the flag was that of St. George, the patron Saint of England. Now that implies that England had adopted the flag of St. George as her national flag. With the reasoning of Mr. Naganathan it should not have been possible. Or is it that he is only against giving prominence to the lion flag in the national flag of Sri Lanka? It is clear that the national flag of the United Kingdom depicts the history and the Christian culture of that country.
We will next consider the history of the national flag of the United States of America. Here again I quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. "After the beginning of the American Revolution, the first unofficial national flag--known variously as the Grand Union Flag, the Great Union Flag, the Cambridge Flag, or the Continental Colours--was hoisted outside Boston, probably at Prospect Hill in Somerville but perhaps at Cambridge, on Jan. 1, 1776; it was hoisted, it appears, at the behest of General George Washington whose headquarters were nearby. The flag had seven red and six white horizontal stripes and, in the canton, the British Union Flag (the immediate predecessor of the Union Jack). It was used at forts and on naval vessels"
"The first national flag formally approved by the Continental Congress--on June 14, 1777--was the Stars and Stripes. The blue canton was to contain 13 stars, but the layout of the stars was left undefined, and several patterns are known."
"In 1818, after five more states had been admitted, Congress enacted legislation pertaining to a new flag, requiring that henceforth the stripes should remain 13, that the number of stars should always match the number of states, and that any new star should be added on the July 4 following a state's admission. This has been the system ever since." Even here it is clear that the flag depicts the history of the country. The stripes represent the original 13 states while all the states are represented by stars. There is no so-called equality for all the states in the flag though as constituent federal states they are all equal. According to the logic of Mr. Naganathan the states that joined the federation subsequently have been pushed into a corner of the flag.
I have cited the above cases not in order to say that we should follow the western countries in designing the national flag. The concept of the national flag in the western countries originated with the formation of the nation states. We do not have to look at the world through the eyes of the westerners and their concepts of nation and the national flag. The above discussion resulted from the references by Mr. Naganathan to the flags of France and of the United Kingdom.