NEW DELHI—A lone Indian national flag seen amid the many American flags on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 sparked an online spat between two Indian politicians, while netizens reacted and took sides in the discussion.
An Indian American named Vincent Xavier Palathingal, a Republican Party member who attended the rally because he believes the U.S. presidential election was fraudulent, was seen carrying the flag, the Indian news website The Quint reported.
Palathingal said he attended to show that the United States isn’t a racist country and respects diversity, he told New Delhi Television (NDTV). However, the image of the Indian flag triggered a debate between two noted politicians of the ruling and the opposition parties.
“Why is there any Indian flag there?” Varun Gandhi, a young Indian politician of the ruling BJP party, wrote on Twitter. “This is one fight we don’t need to participate in.”
In response, Shashi Tharoor, a noted politician with the opposition Indian National Congress party, linked the incident to Indian protests and denounced what he called “the same mentality as that Trumpist mob.”
“That flag there is a warning to all of us,” Tharoor wrote in a reply to Gandhi’s message on Twitter.
Meanwhile, netizens weighed in on the debate, with one sharing a photo of Palathingal with Tharoor from a 2015 event in Washington. Palathingal and Tharoor both are originally from the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Why is there an Indian flag there??? This is one fight we definitely don’t need to participate in… pic.twitter.com/1dP2KtgHvf
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) January 7, 2021
A day after the protests, responding to Tharoor’s and Gandhi’s messages, Palathingal shared pictures of other countries’ flags from the rally.
“American patriots—Vietnamese, Indian, Korean & Iranian origins, & from so many other nations & races, who believe massive voter fraud has happened joined rally yesterday in solidarity with Trump. Peaceful protestors who were exercising our rights!” he said.
Palathingal said in an interview with NDTV that his presence was to highlight that the Republican Party isn’t a white supremacist party.
“There is nothing to be ashamed of. We are celebrating our diversity,” he said. “The world has to know that America is not the racist country it is portrayed as, that the Republican Party is not white supremacist. If they were racist, they would not allow me to carry the Indian flag. It was actually showing more respect.”
Palathingal, who, according to his Facebook profile, is the executive director of the IndoAmerican Center, told the media that he would want Tharoor to focus more on domestic issues and avoid such controversies.
American patriots – Vietnamese, Indian, Korean & Iranian origins, & from so many other nations & races, who believe massive voter fraud has happened joined rally yesterday in solidarity with Trump. Peaceful protestors who were exercising our rights! pic.twitter.com/aeTojoVxQh
— Vincent Xavier (@FlagmanVincent) January 8, 2021
“Tharoor is a very good orator,” he said. “I would want him to take a bigger role and rescue the Congress party in the shape it is in today, instead of getting into such controversies.”
Palathingal, who describes himself as a Trump loyalist and is a member of the President’s Exports Council, says that he’s attended many Trump rallies.
“There is a lot of patriotic fervor there, a lot of bands, music, national anthem singing. … Some miscreants we believe were planted by the opposition, BLM (Black Lives Matter) people who got in and broke into the Capitol building in a very difficult exercise … crawling on the wall like military people. They opened the door and some others in their excitement got in,” he said.
“You cannot brand this beautiful, nice, patriotic rally as bad. We believe [the miscreants] were not really our people.”
Palathingal also said that he loves India and he regrets the way that day turned out.
“I carry my Indian-American ancestry. I consider this as my solemn responsibility to be a spokesperson for Indian Americans in the Republican Party. I am showing that we are more inclusive, more diverse. I am showing the same fervor as Americans from other countries,” he said.
“I am not regretting my decision to carry the flag.”