Indian flag no doormat, but India’s External Affairs Minister must focus on larger issues….writes Bikram Vohra

Sushma SwarajSeveral years ago at a pop concert, a famous singer suddenly dropped his trousers on stage and displayed incandescent underwear in the colours and design of the Union Jack. There was much laughter from the largely British audience and then a sharp and strident voice cut through the auditorium: One of the guests had been offended. “Shame on you,” she shouted, “This is neither funny nor clever, you are a disgrace to the country.” Her verbal arrow was met with some boos and a smattering of applause.

It always stayed in my mind as a perfect example of engaging in an act that had no redeeming feature.

Why do it? Which genius, for example, woke up one morning and thought it was a great idea to make doormats with national flags on them. And then sell them. What a great concept, let people wipe their feet on the same banner for which other people gave their lives, so it would not fall to the ground as a sign of surrender. The famous war memorial (in Iwo Jima) always has the flag-bearer at the centre. There is still such a thing as sanctity.

India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj

So, if there was a company dealing with me and marketing my flag on a doormat in a third country, I would still be teed off and express my annoyance. And yes, I would say, “If you want to do business with me I don’t care where these items are sold, I am cancelling your access.”

I see nothing attractive about the soles of shoes scraping my flag. And I am no shrieking patriot who wears his flag on his sleeve, but doormats and toilet paper are not exactly recommended surfaces for replicating our National Flag.

If, indeed, there is a kernel of concern, in this current drama and the swift manner in which Amazon saw its bottom line with India wrinkling and promptly withdrew the offending item from its Canadian website, it is the Sushma Swaraj element.

The whom whom I have praised to the skies recently is edging towards making her ministry a personal odyssey and becoming a victim of her own hype. You cannot be quixotic and go tilting at windmills every day. That ‘personal touch’ must have a limit. As a result of a couple of extremely good deeds and initiatives, she has been lauded. But now it is coming off as a good deed a day. That should be left to boy scouts.

As the external affairs minister, your sights should be a lot higher. Once you become a crusader not only do you lose focus but the whole packaging gets soggy. You are not Mother Theresa. Leave doormats — and such emotionally charged, but in themselves, trivial issues — to your subordinate staff and stay out of it.

Familiarity will breed contempt.

By all means, do intervene where it is demanded but also ensure that your embassies and consulates that cost a huge amount for maintenance and enjoy great privileges can think for themselves and resolve problems without having to be prompted by a message from the Big Boss.

We are risking turning the IFS into a bunch of helpless children, who will only do something if madam says so.

It is beginning to look now like Swaraj comes to work in the morning and says, “Okay whom do we save today? Give me a good one.”

Last week, she even admonished some guy for a dumb request and my argument is by answering him, you are again detracting from the priorities that should mark your day’s efforts. Thousands of people write to you, there is no call to reply in public or play teacher.

In brief, do not become a doormat to publicity.



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