Karnataka had been flying its state flag for half a century until 2012, when chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda took it upon himself to make it mandatory at state government premises. Indians take mandatory requirements very personally, and attentions of the high court followed, forcing the government to retreat. Now, the auspicious turmeric and vermilion flag is back in the news, providing another opportunity to wonder why states cannot have their own flags.
India is mightily uptight about the tricolour. Wrapping yourself in the flag is an offence, as fashion designers have discovered to their discomfiture. The very slightest slight to the emblem invites the unwelcome attentions of the police. Even variations in the dimensions of the flag are verboten. And now, here’s a state demanding a competing flag.
Actually, the Kannada flag offers no competition, since it is a standard of cultural and linguistic identity rather than political identity, created during the language movement in the state. Of course, another language stir in the neighbourhood had transformed East Pakistan into Bangladesh in 1971. But the situations are scarcely comparable. East Pakistan felt neglected, while India is a confident federal nation where the states have enormous say in how the nation is run.
The Centre should not feel threatened if states want to assert their cultural identity through emblems. India has become too uniform. Everyone eats dosa and butter chicken, dresses in the same nondescript clothes and watches serials made in the same dreadful style. A flag of their own could be a rallying point for states to assert their unique cultures. Jammu and Kashmir is the only state allowed to fly its own flag. Why should it have all the fun, even if only in one respect? The rest of India could feel left out.