The G20 Design Controversy that is Shaking India!

The G20 Design Controversy that is Shaking India!

India is all set to assume the presidency of the G20 summit and prepare for perhaps the highest-profile international gathering India has ever hosted. There is pressure to get things right from the outset. However, amongst the volatile geo-political situation and diplomatic tensions one thing that has shook India is a major controversy, a design controversy triggered by the unveiling of its logo for the summit.

India's G20 logo for the Delhi 2023 summit might not look objectionable, it shows the Earth placed inside a lotus and carries the message of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’— ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’. The world forms the '0' in 'G20', while the 'G2' and the flower are both in a gradient of orange and green – the colours of the Indian national flag.

However, it's the iconography used, and a debate over what the lotus flower really represents. The lotus is the country's national flower, it reflects growth amid challenges and the use of seven petals is intended to represent the seven continents. That all seems fine so far. But the problem is that the lotus is also the symbol of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

As soon as the logo was released, opposition pounced at the BJP-led Centre. Congress slammed the saffron party for using the lotus symbol. In a tweet, Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh wrote that India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had rejected a proposal to make Congress flag the national flag of India. “Now, BJP’s election symbol has become the official logo for India’s presidency of G20! While shocking, we know by now that Mr. Modi & BJP won’t lose any opportunity to promote themselves shamelessly!”.

“I don’t have any idea why and in what conditions the lotus symbol was used in the G20 logo. Why lotus symbol should be there in the logo? There are other symbols too which include tiger, roaring lion, etc. Why didn’t they choose other symbols?” KC Tyagi, JDU general secretary, was quoted as saying.

The BJP hit out at Congress for opposing the G20 logo and said the grand old party is “insulting Indian culture and Hinduism by disrespecting lotus”.

Union Minister of defence Rajnath Singh defended the decision to include the lotus claiming that it is the national flower of India. “There is a limit to which such claims should be pushed. He asked whether it is justifiable to take potshots just because the symbol on the G20 logo also happens to be the symbol of a party. “Should we forget that the lotus flower is a national symbol?”. Very clear and careful with his words, he added, “Some party has a hand as its symbol, should it not be used? Or if cycle is a party symbol, would you not use it? As long as our party is ruling, we would not let anybody target the national heritage”.

Speaking about the significance of the lotus symbol in the G20 logo, Modi said at a video conference on Tuesday, “The symbol of the lotus in the G20 logo is a representation of hope in this time. No matter how adverse the circumstances, the lotus still blooms. Even if the world is in a deep crisis, we can still progress and make the world a better place.”

However, the backlash didn’t just come from the opposition party. "Why is it the BJP symbol on this? Are you the PM of India or PM of BJP?" one person replied to Modi on Twitter. Some have even gone so far as to say that the use of a swastika—another traditional Indian sign that now carries additional meanings—would have been less contentious.

Indian politics is tumultuous and the lotus is the national flower of India but in a country heavily involved in politics is it bizarre to first associate the lotus with BJP and not as the National Flower? The debate merely serves to highlight the necessity for careful thought when selecting a logo's design elements, even those that seem benign and universal. Particularly when the brand in question is a whole country.

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