Congress CM Siddaramaiah Says Nothing Unconstitutional Afoot In Karnataka
Union Home ministry explains Karnataka already has a state flag which represents the people and not the government. Siddaramaiah government constitutes nine-member committee to study state flag issue in its entirety.
A major controversy has erupted in Karnataka about having an official flag for the state. It has led to allegations of subverting the national Tricolour though there is nothing in the Constitution about a state having its own flag or otherwise.
State chief minister P C Siddaramaiah heading the Congress government in Karnataka emphasised that nothing unconstitutional was afoot and no decision has been taken one way or the other about the state flag.
However, a nine-member committee under the state's Culture ministry has been constituted to study the issue in its entirety and submit a report. The BJP being in the opposition remained nonchalant about the state flag
dismissing it as a gimmick in the run up to the assembly elections due in May next year.
Other opposition leaders like H D Kumaraswamy of the JD(U) maintained there is no provision in the Constitution for a state flag. Three years back in 2014, Patil Puttappa, a veteran journalist in his nineties and Bheemappa Gundappa, a 56-year-old RTI activist, made a demand for an official flag for Karnataka.
Last month on the sixth June the state's Kannada and Culture department notified the setting up of a nine-member committee to examine the feasibility and legal issues about the demand for a state flag.
The local media sought to project it as an effort by the Congress government to subvert the national flag and the law that only allows Jammu and Kashmir to have its own flag.
BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje alleged the state government was going against the nation by looking into the demand for a state flag. The Shiv Sena leader Manisha Kayande has demanded that the Centre should take up this matter of a separate state flag for Karnataka seriously and make a strong intervention in the matter.
BJP leaders charged the Congress with whipping up Kannada pride ahead of the 2018 assembly elections in Karnataka. In the national capital a senior Congress leader observed it was out of the question for the party to accept a separate flag for Karnataka or any other state. At the same time the AICC general secretary incharge of Karnataka K C Venugopal played down the controversy saying "the chief minister has already given a clarification. They have not decided anything. The Committee will see whether the demand is admissible as the legal points have to be looked into".
It may be recalled that Karnataka has had an official state flag since the mid-1960s. The Red and Yellow flag was created by Kannada writer and activist Ma Ramamurthy for a pro-Kannada political party though many parties representing non-Kannadigas now had flags of their own.
Those familiar with the issue of Kannada identity, the recent developments are attempts to build a broader identity base for the Congress. The anti-Hindi sentiment in Karnataka is being viewed as part of this particularly the use of Hindi at metro stations in Bengaluru.
Impartial observers believe that pro-Kannada activists have virtually adopted the red and yellow flag as a symbol of state pride. Nevertheless the Sadananda Gowda led BJP government in 2012 had informed the Karnataka High Court that it has not accepted the suggestions in declaring the bi-colour Kanada flag as the state's official flag, as
having a separate flag would be against the unity and integrity of the country.
Simultaneously, as a measure of abundant caution, the Union Home ministry clarified that "We are one nation, one flag. Legally there is no provision either for providing or prohibiting a separate flag for any state".
It was explained Karnataka already has a flag which only "represents the people and not the government". The flag is not used in national ceremonies like the Republic Day or Independence Day but on occasions like the state foundation day, the ministry added.
( T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)