On 2 September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the Indian Navy's new ensign, which features the National Emblem with the tricolour. This replaced the earlier St George’s Cross, which was removed once before in 2001, only to be brought back in 2004.
This change led to several media organisations discussing the move, noting that it was the Congress government at the Centre that had re-added the St George's Cross to the ensign in 2004.
However, the claims are misleading. It was the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government at the Centre that decided to change the ensign (in 2001) and bring it back (in April 2004).
As per the parliamentary responses and news reports from 2004, the Indian Navy reverted to using the red cross – adorned with the national emblem – in its ensign on 25 April 2004. This was during Vajpayee's government, weeks before Dr Manmohan Singh became prime minister.
Our findings also revealed that the flag was changed following complaints from naval officers about it not being visible at sea, and that it kept getting dirty often.
News organisations such as India Today, IndiaTV, and Aaj Tak aired bulletins on 30 August, 3 September, and 1 September, respectively, where the anchors mentioned that the redesigned ensign – which was adopted in 2001 – was changed to include the red St George's cross, along with the national emblem and the words 'Satyamev Jayate', in 2004 under the Dr Manmohan Singh-led government.
India Today's anchor Shiv Aroor issued a video clarification regarding the error in the bulletin on 16 September, calling it "an error in a piece of background information."
(Note: Swipe right to view all three claims.)
An archive of this bulletin can be viewed here.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Tejasvi Surya also shared the claim in a graphic on Twitter.
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
On conducting a keyword search about the removal of the red St George's cross from the naval ensign, we came across an archived release by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) regarding the change shared on 8 August 2001.
It mentioned that the Indian Navy was set to adorn its vessels and bases with the new "Indianised Ensign and Flags (sic)."
The release added that the new design would incorporate the navy's white and blue colours, while doing away with the red St George's cross.
While looking for information about the reversal of the ensign's design, we came across an article by journalist Josy Joseph on Rediff.com, published on 24 April 2004.
The article reported on the change in the naval ensign and that it would be unveiled by then President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam at Kerala's Kochi, while receiving INS Tarangini, a vessel that had been circumnavigating the globe.
It further added that the revamped design would bring back St George's cross, with the addition of a golden Dharma Chakra (the national emblem) at the intersection of the red horizontal and vertical stripes.
It is pertinent to note that former President Kalam unveiled the ensign on 25 April in 2004, whereas former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assumed office nearly a month after that, on 22 May 2004.
Before his tenure, the BJP formed a coalition government at the Centre from 1999 to 2004.
Taking a cue from this article, we looked for more reports. The search led us to an archived PTI report published by The Hindu and Financial Times, published on 24 April 2004, stating that the Indian Navy would change its ensign, flag, and pendant for the second time in three years.
The reports mentioned that the change was decided upon after naval sailors and officers voiced issues with the flag's visibility while at sea, as "it blended with the blue of the sky and the sea."
'INTRODUCED FROM 25 APRIL 2004': EX-DEFENCE MINISTER'S PARLIAMENT RESPONSE
We then looked for discussions in the Parliament regarding the same, and came across a response by then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, regarding the navy's flags and ensigns dated 14 July 2004.
In the response, Mukherjee said that the new designs were adopted on 25 April earlier that year and also cited visibility issues as the reason for the change.
The Quint reached out to Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd), a former chief of the Naval Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, who corroborated information from the reports, mentioning that the first change was made in 2001, while the subsequent one was made in April 2004.
"It was within the BJP government's tenure... Governments and Prime Ministers don't interfere in these things, this is the Navy's domestic issue," he said, elaborating that two consecutive chiefs had gone to the resident – the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces – asking to change the design and then change it back.
"The first chief felt that the St George's cross was no longer relevant because it was handed down from the British, that was his personal view. We tried to persuade him that it (the change) was not required, but he disagreed and said we must change it. Although we in the navy pay no attention to such issues, for those interested, I might mention that he happened to be a Christian. So he got a new design made and changed it. When those flags went out to sea-going units of the fleets, personnel said that they could not see it from far away because it was very dull, and it gets dirty."Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd)
"The whole thing lasted till the next Chief came, Admiral Madhvendra Singh, who said he agreed with the people that it wasn't a good design and it can't be seen at sea," he added. The ensign was then changed back to include the cross after the president's assent.
Clearly, the naval ensign was not changed back to include the red St George's cross under the Congress-led government in 2004.
The change came into action under the BJP-led government's tenure in April 2004, when the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee was India's prime minister.