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Asia

Tallest national flag a major draw on India-Pakistan border

India has hoisted a huge national flag near its border with archrival Pakistan. It has now turned into a major attraction for the thousands of tourists who visit the place daily to watch the iconic flag-lowering ritual.

India's biggest tricolor - measuring 110 meters (360-foot) in length, 24 meters in width and weighing 55 tons - is an engineering marvel. It was inaugurated on Sunday, March 5, near India's international border with Pakistan. 

To erect it at Attari, a small border village in the state of Punjab, special cranes as well as seven big trolleys had to be brought all the way from Mumbai.

What's more, three 65-foot-high poles, each with light-emitting diodes (LED), illuminate the flag which is said to be high enough to be visible from the Pakistani city of Lahore.

 The entire project cost some 3.5 crore rupees (about 500,000 euros, $530,000).

'Adding to the optics'

"This dream project has finally turned into reality and we have set it up near the tourist building just around 200 meters from the India-Pakistan border. It is symbolic and the locale is ideal," Anil Joshi, a minister in the state of Punjab, told DW following the inaugural ceremony. "Since it is just near the border where thousands come every day to watch the retreat ceremony, it will inculcate a strong sense of patriotism," added Joshi.

Huge crowds gathered at the flag hoisting ritual to the enthusiastic chants of "Vande Matram" (Mother, I salute thee) and "Bharat Mata ki Jai" (Long live mother India).

"This is a reminder to Pakistan that we are keeping an eye on you. And any misadventure from them will receive a befitting punishment," remarked Sanjiv Kataria, a supporter of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The visitors' gallery at the site, which also hosts the iconic flag-lowering ceremony, is being further expanded by the authorities. The aim is to accommodate more people on the Indian side who swarm the venue to witness an impressive spectacle of intimidating acts and postures by troops from both countries during the daily ritual.

The ceremony starts with a raucous parade by the soldiers from both sides, and concludes with the perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nations' flags.

"The flag now will only add to the optics and we won't be surprised if the Pakistanis play copy-cat and erect a flag on their side in the coming months," Rimpesh Sharma, an architect, told DW.

In fact, Pakistani authorities had officially objected to the installation of the Indian flag. Pakistan reportedly harbors suspicions that Indian intelligence agencies may install cameras on the tall mast and use them to spy on Pakistani activities. India disregarded the objections, however, and went ahead with the project.

"It is on our side of the border and their (Pakistan) objections were frivolous," said Manish Pandey, a police officer in Punjab.

 Loud nationalism

Ties between India and Pakistan have worsened further over the past year due to terrorism-related tensions in South Asia and the volatile security situation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

There has been much debate in India about why there has been a race to hoist flags of such huge proportions in the country, especially when several have been erected over the past couple of years.

Indien Pakistan Grenze Grenzübergang Wagah Punjab Fahnenzeremonie (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

The flag-lowering ceremony starts with a raucous parade by the soldiers from both sides, and concludes with the perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nations' flags

Last year, a flag was installed in the eastern city of Ranchi atop a 293-foot-high mast, which had until recently held the record for the tallest national flag.

Given how nationalism is beginning to dominate the political discourse, the feverish race to raise national flags is not surprising.

The nationalistic and rightwing sentiments are gaining momentum in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. Last year, a controversial ruling by India's Supreme Court mandated all cinemas nationwide to play the national anthem before screening movies and all cinemagoers are required to stand while it's played. 

Against this backdrop, the hoisting of the massive tricolor could well be an assertion of the symbol of the nation.