Last night was Gerry Connolly's annual St. Patrick's Day Party. Attended by hundreds of supporters, this is one of the largest Democratic events in the state each year. In the last few years the event has also featured straw polls for statewide Democratic primaries and is a good indicator of Northern Virginia support and organization level.
But my phone was ringing off the hook last night as people left the event. Connolly's decorations included an Irish flag on the podium, with a large shamrock on top of it. The only problem---- it was not an Irish flag. Connolly actually had an Indian flag hanging sideways with the shamrock covering up the wheel in the middle of the Indian flag.
Take a look here at a real Irish flag, versus an Indian one- the colors are similar, but they are not in the same direction- making it easy to see the difference even without the other obvious difference of the Indian wheel on the flag.
Who might notice this? Ironically, one of the candidates in the straw poll was Aneesh Chopra- a candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia- who brought over 100 members of the Indian-American community out to the event last night to support his efforts. Those Indian-Americans were abuzz about this flag issue.
Culturally it is important to remember that India has some of the strictest flag laws in the world. Placing a shamrock over the wheel, hanging the flag sideways and using the flag as drapery are all violations of Indian Law, punishable by 3 years in India prison for each offense.
What makes this even worse is Connolly is a member of the Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs committee.
This isn't the first time Connolly has had flag issues. In 2006 a national fashion magazine named him "worst dressed on the 4th of July" for his shirt that I had described as a "flag throwing up". But now it's more than just Old Glory being dissed.
Look- it is understandable that a staffer may have purchased the wrong flag- although it isn't that hard to find an Irish flag around St. Patrick's Day. But whoever saw the wrong flag and decided to deface it with a Shamrock over the Indian wheel and hang it sideways made a very bad decision. Many members of the Indian community who were in attendance noticed this and were offended. Hopefully the Indian government will accept a Connolly apology so he can travel there again and next year the staff can find a real flag from Ireland to use for decorations at their party.