The Karnataka government recently set up a panel to explore if the state can have a separate flag of its own. The state has an additional, unofficial Kannada Flag since the 1960s. This red and yellow flag is popular with locals and many Kannada activists even wear it as a scarf. However, this flag is not used during ceremonies such as Independence or Republic Day. But people do hoist this flag across the state on Nov 1, the official statehood day. For years, there has been a demand for official recognition for this flag. Now matters have come to a head with Karnataka leaders involved in a tussle of ideologies and statehood with the government at the Centre. The Congress led state government has constituted a committee for advising on the legality of the issue and a design for the state flag. Among demands for a separate Kannada state, much on the lines of Telangana, the bigger question here is does a separate state flag seem justified? Let’s see if this is indeed the case in this group discussion.
1. Only special status states have state flags
The only state with a separate official flag is J&K which enjoys special status under India’s constitution. Moreover, the Kannada government’s decision to look into a possibility of the state flag is a considerable departure from previous CMS.
2. Against the Unity of the Nation
In 2012, when a BJP government was at the helm, it rejected the demand for a separate flag citing this would be against the unity and integrity of the nation.
3. One Nation, One Flag
India’s central government has in 2017 insisted that there is no provision in the constitution for a separate flag for the state. We are one nation, one flag. Legally there is no provision for providing or prohibiting a separate flag for the states.
4. Non Constitutional
The Shiv Sena has criticised the move on Karnataka’s part as non-constitutional and going against the spirit of unity in diversity.
1. No Provision for Prohibiting the Flag
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, however, has questioned if there is any provision in the constitution which prohibits the state from having its own flag. He has asked if the BJP government can point to any such provision in the constitution.
2. No Disrespect
By opting for a regional flag, no disrespect is being shown to the national flag. The Karnataka state flag will fly below the national flag.
3. Many Countries Follow Practice of State Flags
Most countries around the world have allowed state flags in a federal system. This includes US, Australia, Germany and Burma, which permit different regions to have different flags to showcase their identity. Diversity is unity at the end of the day.
4. Legal Acts Not Relevant
Referring to the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971, Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act 1950 and Flag Code of India, the state law minister has noted these acts were for the national flag alone. Moreover, there is no legal bar on the state having a separate flag provided it represents people and not the government.
If India as a nation has only one flag, then this should be firmly upheld, whether we talk about Srinagar or Bengaluru. If Karnataka has a separate state flag, it will be the only state after J&K enjoying special status under A370 of the Constitution. The root of the problem lies in diverging state identities. Diversity is not necessarily a precursor of unity just because one flag is common.
On the other hand, the demand for a ‘separate’ state flag is not new to the state of Karnataka. There was a longstanding demand by Kannada activists for an official state flag, but now it has snowballed into a major controversy as a renewed assertion of Kannada identity with pro-Kannada activists staging a protest recently against the use of Hindi in Bengaluru’s Namma Metro. India is known for its diversity and linguistic regions living in unity. But with the imposition of Hindi, pro Kannada nationalism is further strengthened. The demand for a state flag should therefore be seen in a larger context. As such, it remains a grey area as Karnataka struggles to reconcile the proud Indian and Kannadiga identities together, even as strife torn Kashmir remains a bone of contention between India and Pakistan.
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Is Karnataka’s demand for a separate state flag justified?