Much fuss is being made about Karnataka Chief Minister K Siddaramaiah’s idea of a state flag. His idea led to the setting up of an expert panel to study the various aspects of the issue and give its recommendations to the state government. The committee has not yet submitted its recommendations. But the idea has triggered adverse reaction from his opponents, particularly the BJP, who feel the idea of a state flag runs contrary to the ideals of nationalism. Some critics have gone to the extent of saying that the adoption of a flag by the state would weaken nationalism. Such criticism is puerile.
His opponents could perhaps been more correct if they said that Siddaramaiah’s push for a state flag is borne out of his political need to stir up a parochial sentiment across the state in order to win the next Assembly elections. Political pundits have been more correct in identifying Siddaramaiah’s motive than the main opposition party in the state, the BJP. According to them, politics and development in Karnataka are dominated by the region that formed a part of the princely state of Mysore. The linguistic reorganisation of Karnataka merged large Kannada-speaking areas which earlier formed parts of the Bombay Presidency and Hyderabad state. These areas, which include Belgavi, have long nursed a feeling that the people and region of the former princely state of Mysore have been getting the large share of the state cake since Karnataka was formed. Some of these regions, such as Belgavi, owing to their proximity to another state, face a duality of languages and cultures. The Kannada-speaking people in these border regions are sometimes more assertive about their Kannada identity than those living in the areas of the former princely state of Mysore.
It is therefore hardly surprising that one of the petitions submitted to the Karnataka state government in 2014 for having an official state flag came from Belagavi. The petitioners argued that a state flag was necessary for them to assert that Belgavi belonged to Karnataka. Belgavi has witnessed a long agitation by a political group called the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti for merging it with Maharashtra. The Samiti, which has the backing of the Marathi-speaking population of Belgavi, has its own flag and flies it atop the building of the Belgavi city corporation. The petitioners wanted to fly a Karnataka state flag in order to unite the Kannada-speaking population of Belgavi and to force the Samiti to fly the state flag over the corporation building. This is the kind of sentiment in the formerly Bombay and Hyderabad regions of Karnataka that Siddaramaiah is trying to cash in on. To back up his proposal, there is already an unrecognized state flag which is half yellow, half red, which people of Karnataka are familiar with. This flag was conceptualized by a social group.
Of course, there is a political motivation Siddaramaiah’s move. However, the idea of a state having its own flag is not unconstitutional. It is not treason. True, the Constitution does not explicitly make provision for state flags. But there are many things that are inherent in the Constitution. The primary basis of our Constitution is federalism. India is a union of states. The states were formed on the basis of language according to the Constitution. There are lists of subjects on which states have independence to make their own laws and take their own decisions. Just because the only state allowed to have its own flag is Jammu and Kashmir it does not automatically suggest that every state wanting to have a flag of its own echoes the same extreme sentiments of autonomy from the Centre as that border state. Jammu and Kashmir had a different history owing to the game Pakistan has played. The other states do not share that history. They were part of political India even before they became a part of constitutional India.
The world’s strongest democracy, the United States, as the name suggests, is a union of states. Every state of the US has a flag of its own. Every state has designed and adopted a flag according to the history and values of the people living there. These flags do not in any way erode the power and sanctity of the US flag of stars and stripes. Every state of India has a state animal, a state bird and other symbols specific to it. Every state has its own history, its own culture, language, food and dress traditions. People of every state have a pride in their cultural identity and this pride forms a part of their individual pride. Why cannot every state have a flag to symbolize the unique identity of its region and its people?