The Swadeshi flag-hoisting ceremony by Sir Dadabhai Naoroji at the 22nd session of the Congress in Calcutta in 1906, evoked huge euphoria that left a permanent impact on Pingali Venkayya's mind, who was a delegate at the Congress session. Intrigued by the national flag, Pingali Venkayya (1876-1963), hailing from Masulipatam (Machilipatnam), founded the Indian National Flag Mission and relentlessly pursued his goal to give shape to a distinctive national flag to be accepted by all. In 1916 Venkayya came up with a booklet titled ‘A National Flag for India’ in which he put forth about twenty-four designs for the Indian flag. Mahatma Gandhi in an article titled ‘The National Flag’ published in the Young India in April 1921 acknowledged,
"Whilst I have always admired the persistent zeal in which Mr Venkayya has prosecuted the cause of a National Flag at every session of the Congress for the past four years, he has never able (sic) to enthuse me; and in his designs I saw nothing to stir the nation to its depths ..."
Sister Nivedita's Vajra flag had also found place among the flag designs made by Venkayya in his booklet after undertaking research into various flags from across the world. A noticeable feature of Venkayya's flags was the presence of a small Union Jack in most of his designs.
In April 1921, prior to the Bezwada (now, Vijayawada) Congress, Mahatma Gandhi asked Venkayya to prepare a design which should contain a charkha (spinning wheel) on a red (Hindu colour) and green (Muslim colour) background. The charka was placed on the flag apropos of the suggestion made by Lala Harisraj of Jullundur Oalandhar). Later, on maturer consideration of Mahatma Gandhi, a white band, representing the other green. Gandhi explained in his article 'The National Flag',
The white portion is intended to represent all other faiths. The weakest numerically occupy the first place. The Islamic color comes next; the Hindu color red comes last, the idea being that the strongest should act as a shield to the weakest ... to represent the equality of the least of us with the best, an equal part is suggested to all three colors in the design. ...The regulation size of the flag should contain the drawing of a full sized spinning-wheel. Thus the first Swarqj flag (flag of self-vernment) with a charkha on a 'white over :green over red' background was born.
The Swaraj flag was never officially adopted as the 'national flag' by a formal resolution by the INC. Nevertheless, Mahatma Gandhi's approval made the Swaraj flag acceptable to the people in general.
Many labels issued defying the government orders were affixed on postal articles for the Swadeshi propaganda . Repeated postal notices were issued from time to time prohibiting the use of such labels on postal articles. Postal articles found affixed with such labels were sent to the Dead Letter Office (DLO) for disposal.
The incidents which took place initially in Jabalpur and then spread to Nagpur and other places in central India with regard to flag processions in 1923, clearly showed how the common people had become awakened to the necessity of possessing a national symbol such as a flag. The ban imposed in Nagpur on the display of the Swaraj flag had produced counter results. The flag, which was not even adopted by a formal resolution, proved significantly its efficacy as the symbol of national aspiration and pride as it became the rallying point of a common sentiment.
Subhadra Kumari Chauhan was the first person to court arrest for hoisting the Siparaj flag at Jabalpur on 18 March 1923. C. Rajagopalachari wrote:
No Indian can fail to see the intensity of feeling and courage which must lead an Indian sister to give herself up to the custody of the class from which police constables came and head constable came. No greater calamity could be imagined for a Hindu or a Musalman lady; but the wonderful revolution we are in has changed all this, and for the revolution of our right to live and move erect on the land of our birth, this frail sister of tender years has shown the way to us all.
Subhadra Kumari, on being released from Jabalpur, joined the Nagpur Satyagraha and was arrested again on 11 May 1923 for carrying the flag through a prohibited area. Vinoba Bhave was one of the moving spirits behind the Nagpur flag Satyagraha. Seth Jamnalal Bajaj had taken the lead organizational role in the Nagpur flag Satyagraha which started on 13 April, the anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. Jamnalal was arrested on 17 June and the very next day, that is, 18 June 1923, was declared to be 'All India Flag Day' as a mark of protest. Makhan Lal Chaturvedi led the procession on 18 June 1923 observed as the 'All India Flag Day'. The flag Satyagraha no longer remained a local issue; volunteers from different parts of India poured into Nagpur to join the agitation. On 22 July, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel arrived at Nagpur to join the flag Satyagraha. On 17 August he brought the flag Satyagraha to an honorable end. Sardar Vithalbhai Patel arranged the release order for all the volunteers arrested in connection with the flag Satyagraha in Nagpur.
A series of articles by C. Rajagopalachari was published in Young India in support of the Nagpur flag Satyagraha and subsequently compiled in a booklet titled ‘India's Flag’.
You don't find on our flag a tiger or a lion or a unicorn but a charkha. It represents industry, goodwill and our new weapon against brute force. The government wouldn't have minded if we had put the sign of a gun on it, as they have bigger guns. But the charkha, represents 300 million charkhas and the British could not resist its force.
He went on to elaborate as reported in The Hindu on 8 June 1923,
The secret is that the Government do not like the combination of the three colors in this flag. If an individual Christian or Persi carried a white flag, a Hindu a red flag, or a Musalman a green flag, the government would not have interfered. All the colors put together in a flag presented a danger to the British Empire.
In 1927, the British Government set up a commission of seven members of the British Parliament, headed by Sir John Simon to study the workings of the government in India and to recommend further reforms to be executed. The Simon Commission did not include a single Indian. The Congress took offence at the omission. When the members of the commission arrived in India in February 1928, people expressed their feelings of protest against the unwanted commission wherever they went.
The demonstrators marched in processions waving black flags and carrying banners with the slogan 'SIMON GO BACK'. Punjab Kesari (the lion of Punjab) Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928) was severely beaten up by the police in one such demonstration against the Simon Commission in Lahore (now in Pakistan) and succumbed to his injuries. In 1928 Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) and his group formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). The HSRA decided to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. On 8 April 1929, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta threw bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly in an attempt to threaten the government. They were arrested immediately Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on 23 March 1931 charged with murder. Shaheed Bhagat Singh's martyrdom prompted youths in India to loin en masse to fight for India's independence. Harkishen Singh Surjeet was sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment in 1932 for bringing down the British flag and hoisting the Swaraj flag in its place, on the first anniversary of Bhagat Singh's martyrdom at the district court at him Surjeet aka London Tod Singh or 'One who breaks London'. On 29 December 1929 the congress met at Lahore for the 44th session. At midnight on New Year's Eve, the Congress President Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the Swaraj flag upon the banks of the river Ravi in Lahore. The flag was perched atop a 115-feet tall flagstaff, hoisted by a mechanical device. Since the event took place at midnight, the top of the flag-mast was illuminated with powerful electric lights. A 'pledge of Independence' was read out. Nehru declared Purna Swaraj (complete independence) as the goal and gave a nationwide call to observe 26 January of 1930 as Independence Day.
The flag on a Cinderella label issued from Khadi Mondal, Calcutta , has the words 'Observe 26 January as Independence Day'. It has a stanza from Padmini Upakhyan (The Saga of Padmini, 1858) originally penned by the nineteenth-century Bengali poet Rangalal Bandopadhyay:
Swadhitanata hinatay lee bachite chay?
Dashatya srinkhal bolo lee dharibay pa-ey?
(Who wishes to live without freedom?
Who wishes to be fettered by slavery?)
The years following the flag Satyagraha in 1923 were crucial in the history of the Indian freedom struggle. Many historic events took place where the Swaraj flag was pivotal. On 12 March 1930 Mahatma Gandhi launched Salt Satyagraha and set out from Sabarmati ashram with his volunteers to Dandi on the Gujarat coast. The twenty-five-day long march culminated on 6 April 1930. It was a campaign for the non-violent movement against the British salt monopoly in India, which eventually grew into the Civil Disobedience movement and drew more volunteers to join the freedom struggles.
The miniature sheet issued to commemorate the 75 anniversary of Salt Satyagraha by India Post in 2005 (see illustration 16), captures the historic moment and the varied facets of Salt Satyagraha. The fluttering Swaraj flag is depicted on the top margin of the miniature sheet, while the first stamp (clockwise) catches a glimpse of the marchers, led by Mahatma Gandhi, on the move. The second stamp shows Mahatma Gandhi while the headlines in the Bombay Chronicle, dated 13 March 1930, announces the beginning of the 'Great March for Liberty'. The third stamp displays lines written by Gandhi on 5 April 1930, 'I want world sympathy in this battle of right against might.' The fourth stamp depicts Gandhi picking up a lump of salt and the course traversed during the Dandi March.
The Swaraj flag was also hoisted in Japan around this time. Reuters reported, quoting Tokyo newspapers, that on 12 March 1930, the Indian nationalists in Japan including Rashbehari Bose celebrated the beginning of Gandhi's campaign by gathering at Karnakura and hoisting the Congress flag which they vowed to keep flying till victory was achieved. The site was said to be that selected by Dr Sun Yat Sen for similar demonstrations before starting the Nationalist Revolution in China.
During the Civil Disobedience movement of 1930, Bishwanath Roy, then a student of law, and his two associates, were fired upon by the police while hoisting the Swaraj flag at Ghantaghar in Allahabad. This resulted in the killing of his associates. Bishwanath Roy was arrested and imprisoned for the act. Surjya Sen (1894-1934) affectionately called `Master-da', set up an effective revolutionary organization—the Chittagong Republican Army (CRA). On 18 April 1930, CRA seized power in Chittagong (now in Bangladesh) through a sudden attack and British rule ceased to exist for a while. He was captured in 1933 and hanged on 12 January 1934.