The White Ensign and Indian flag together Picture: Neil McAllister/Alamy Stock Photo).
The White Ensign and Indian flag together (Picture: Neil McAllister/Alamy Stock Photo).

Indian Navy to drop St George's Cross from its ensign

The White Ensign and Indian flag together Picture: Neil McAllister/Alamy Stock Photo).
The White Ensign and Indian flag together (Picture: Neil McAllister/Alamy Stock Photo).

The Indian Navy is dropping the St George's Cross from its naval ensign as part of  government plans to make a break from the country's colonial past and its historic links to British rule.

Its ensign has until now closely resembled the Royal Navy's White Ensign, a throwback to the era when India's navy was named Her Majesty's Indian Marine under the command of the British government of India in 1877.

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is to unveil the Indian Navy's new design, which aims to reflect India's own rich maritime heritage, during a ceremony on Friday to officially commission the country's first domestically-built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant.

The new naval ensign, known as the Nishaan, will be officially unveiled during the service.

Vikrant is the largest warship to have ever been built in India and the first aircraft carrier designed and built at home for the Indian Navy, according to its military.

In a statement on the Government of India's Press Information Bureau, a spokesman said the prime minister would commission the "first indigenous aircraft carrier as INS Vikrant at Cochin Shipyard Limited in Kochi".

The statement added: "During the event, the prime minister will also unveil the new Naval Ensign, doing away with the colonial past and befitting the rich Indian maritime heritage."

It comes after Indian President Narendra Modi's Indian Independence Day speech on 15 August, in which he asked people to remove any trace of a colonial mindset, 75 years on from British rule.

The ensign of the Indian Navy has been changed several times before but the St George's Cross has remained a feature in modern times.

Its colonial associations are a reminder of the country's past under the command of the British Empire, and the country's naval links to the Royal Navy.

The White Ensign of the Royal Navy was, in fact, used as the naval ensign of the Royal Indian Marine and later the Royal Indian Navy from 1928 until 1950, three years after India's declaration of independence in 1947.

The White Ensign is flown on British Royal Navy ships and shore establishments around the world. 

Royal Navy vessels will almost always sport white unless they are doing trials or are not in commission. Government vessels fly Blue Ensigns on the back, while everyone else has Red Ensigns.

Its origins go back to Tudor times – the flags were striped with an English flag in the corner because England was still separate from Scotland at that point.

After the two countries united in 1707, what might be recognised as a White Ensign was developed, in other words, a white flag with a red cross over it with a Union Flag in the corner.

At the time, the Union Flag did not have red diagonals because Ireland had not joined the kingdom of Great Britain at the time. When Ireland joined the union in 1801, red diagonals were added to update the ensign.

Other nations have updated their flags in a similar manner.

The last time the American flag changed was in 1960. After Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959, new stars were added.