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Explained: Questions of nationalism and subnationalism in separate Kannada flag

In March 2018, the government of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had unveiled the proposed official state flag for Karnataka, and sent it to the central government for approval, with a request to include it in the Schedule of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1950.

, Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Published: August 29, 2019 8:45:14 pm
Explained: Questions of nationalism and subnationalism in separate Kannada flag The proposed ‘Naada Dhwaja’ had hues of yellow, white, and red, and the state’s emblem Ganda berunda, the two-headed mythological bird, in the centre.

The BJP government in Karnataka has indicated that it may not pursue with the Centre a proposal made by the earlier Congress government, for a separate state flag.

“…We can have Kannada flag as cultural flag, constitutionally there is no such provision for state flag according to flag code,” PTI quoted the Minister for Kannada and Culture C T Ravi as saying on Thursday evening.

Asked if the state government would no longer pursue the proposal pending before the central government, Ravi said: “The country is one and we only think about unity,” according to the PTI report.

Siddaramaiah proposal

In March 2018, the government of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had unveiled the proposed official state flag for Karnataka, and sent it to the central government for approval, with a request to include it in the Schedule of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1950.

The proposed ‘Naada Dhwaja’ had hues of yellow, white, and red, and the state’s emblem Ganda berunda, the two-headed mythological bird, in the centre.

A little less than a year earlier, in July 2017, a major controversy had erupted around the demand for an official state flag, with allegations of subversion of the Tricolour. Siddaramaiah had then declared nothing unconstitutional was afoot, and dared the then opposition BJP to publicly reject the demand for an official flag for Karnataka.

The background

In 2014, Patil Puttappa, veteran journalist and Kannada activist, and Bheemappa Gundappa, an RTI activist, made a demand for an official flag for Karnataka. On June 6, 2017, the Kannada and Culture Department of the state government notified the setting up of a nine-member committee to examine the feasibility and legal issues around the demand.

The BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje had alleged that the government was “going against the nation” by setting up the committee. Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Kumaraswamy had said there was no provision in the Constitution for a state flag, and “the Congress government is using this issue to divert attention from some recent controversies”.

Siddaramaiah had countered: “Karnataka already has an official state song and there is a feeling that there is nothing wrong in having a state flag. Having a state flag will not disrupt the unity and integrity of the country and will not reduce the stature of the national flag. The national flag will always fly higher that the state flag, there are no two ways about it. Most importantly, the Constitution of India does not ban such flags.”

A flag for 50 years

Karnataka has had an unofficial state flag since the mid 1960s, when pro-Kannada groups used during protests against the screening of non-Kannada films.

This red and yellow flag was created by Kannada writer and activist Ma Ramamurthy for a pro-Kannada political party called the Kannada Paksha. Ramamurthy had observed that many parties representing non-Kannadigas had flags of their own.

This unofficial flag is flown every year on November 1, Karnataka’s foundation day, and is a common sight at public places. Pro-Kannada activists have virtually adopted the red and yellow flag as a symbol of state pride. During times of strife and street agitation, the red and yellow banner has often served as protection against mob attacks — private vehicles can be seen flying the flag in the hope of ensuring safe passage.

The BJP’s position

Given that the flag has significant popular support and involves a sentiment of Kannada subnationalism, the BJP has flip-flopped on the issue.

In 2012, Karnataka’s BJP government accorded official status to the Karnataka flag through a notification. Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda said in his 2012 Budget speech that it would be compulsory to hoist the state flag on government buildings, schools and colleges.

However, Kannada activist Prakash Shetty went to the High Court saying that rival activist T A Narayana Gowda was misusing the state flag for personal gain. During the hearing of the case, the then Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, Vikramajit Sen, raised questions on the legality of states having their own flags when the law permitted only the national flag to be flown officially.

The government then said it would not make it mandatory to fly the state flag. Eventually, on October 4, 2012, it withdrew the notification ordering the hoisting of the Kannada flag on government offices on November 1.

The ‘people’ and the ‘state’

At the time of the 2017 controversy, a Home Ministry official in New Delhi had attempted to put matters into perspective. “We are one nation, one flag”, but “legally, there is no provision either for providing or prohibiting a separate flag for any state”, the official had told reporters. The official had pointed out that the issue of the flag had been raised earlier too, but such a flag only represents “the people and not the state”.

Home Ministry had also noted at the time that the Kannada flag was not raised on Republic Day or Independence Day, but only on occasions like the foundation day of the state.

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