The Indian external affairs minister set new standards in foreign affairs on Wednesday when she threatened a global e-commerce giant with a visa ban through Twitter.
Sushma Swaraj tweeted that the government would not grant visas to Amazon employees and would also rescind those granted earlier, unless the company withdrew “all products insulting our national flag immediately”.
Swaraj’s precipitous threat was a response to a tweet addressed to her which said: “Amazon Canada must be censured and warned not to sell India flag doormats. Please take action.”
Ms Swaraj’s response to a tweet from a faceless social media user is perplexing because the Indian flag is constantly defiled within the boundaries of the republic and garners not so much as a tweet from anyone in power.
For instance, the flag regularly finds its way into garbage bins after national holidays such as Republic Day and Independence Day.
It has been used as a weapon to strike a citizen during a protest.
It has even been draped over the casket of a man charged with murder – that of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched by a mob on September 28, 2015, in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri because of suspicion that he had eaten beef.
And absolutely no one in the government or on social media seems to feel insulted by the fact that in India’s capital and major cities, scores of children only ever get to wave the national flag when selling replicas of it to people at traffic junctions. The only protection these children receive from the precious tricolour are the few rupees they make from a successful sale through a car window.
In other countries, where children do not have to beg on the streets to feed themselves, doormats that look like their national flags evoke no comment. Amazon and other online retailers sell doormats in the flag colours of these countries. In the bulk of them, bad reviews only relate to the poor quality of the product. There are no Internet armies exhorting amazon.ca, for example, to cease selling a doormat designed to look like the Canadian flag or amazon.fr for selling one in the French tri-colour because it is an insult to their nation. And certainly, no country government has publicly threatened a company with action for selling products that “insult” its national symbols.
In countries that are able to deliver basic services to their citizens and that ensure children are not cast out on to streets, forced to beg or retail the national flag in the midst of traffic to earn a living, a flag in the form of a doormat is just another item of home décor. It does not attract comment from anyone, never mind from a cabinet minister.
India’s young flag sellers, condemned to earning a few rupees from other people’s patriotism, would have been luckier had they been born in a country where they were guaranteed food, shelter and an education but where no one cares if they wipe their feet on a mat that looks like the country’s national flag.