Hailed as a symbol of Kannada pride, the red-and-yellow flag that flutters high in the state, has now opened a can of worms.
On Tuesday, the Karnataka government formed a panel to design a separate flag for the state, triggering a fresh controversy ahead of the Assembly elections. If the flag comes into being, Karnataka will be the second state to have its official flag after Jammu and Kashmir, and that has left many seething in anger.
But before delving into the ifs and whys, there is a need to peer into the past.
Way back in the 1960s, the red and yellow flag was created by Kannada writer and activist Ma Ramamurthy for a pro-Kannada political party called the Kannada Paksha, after he observed that many parties representing non-Kannadigas had flags of their own.
This is the flag of Karnataka identified with Karnataka, Kannada, and Kannadigas. It was conceived in the 1960s itself by Ma Ramamurthy. pic.twitter.com/oXBafH9pST— Aditya Kulkarni (@adikulk) July 18, 2017
The yellow and red colors in the flag which represent Arrishna (Turmeric) and Kumkuma (Vermilion) symbolize auspiciousness and well-being of the Karnataka state and Kannada people.
Over the years, the flag was adopted by pro-Kannada activists as a symbol of Kannadiga pride.
Given its significance, the flag is hoisted in every nook and corner of the state on November 1 every year to commemorate state formation day. The flag especially gained prominence after it was featured in a popular Kannada song.
Not just that, the flag serves as protection against attack by mobs during agitations and protests (was used extensively during the anti-Tamil Nadu protests over the sharing of the waters of River Cauvery).
As discussed, the flag appeals to the emotions of Kannadigas and is a staunch marker of Kannada identity, language and culture.
Having a kannada flag is in no way a disrespect to the National flag. Kannada flag is all about kannada & kannada Nadu pride.— Amarnath S (@Amara_Bengaluru) July 18, 2017
Though this issue has become big in media circles only now, the demand for an official flag is nothing new. Pro-Kannada activists have been pushing it for many years now. In 2014, journalist Patil Puttappa, along with other activists had approached the Karnataka government and made a demand for the legitimisation of the official flag of the state.
Gadad, a resident of Belagavi district, told HT that he felt a flag for the state was required because of the alleged disrespect shown to Karnataka by the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, which has called for the district to be integrated into Maharashtra.
“We need a flag for the state to show that this is Karnataka,” Gadad said. “Our intention is not to demean the national flag. In fact, the national flag is supreme, there is no questioning that.''
CM Siddaramaiah strongly backs it
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has strongly defended demand for a separate flag for the state. He has also strongly asserted that this move had nothing to do with the 2018 assembly polls.
However, interestingly the move comes at a time when the anti-north sentiment in the state has spiked.
On June 6 we decided to form this panel(state flag), it was not for any political reason. National flag will always be higher: Karnataka CM pic.twitter.com/d1ClsmRuhM— ANI (@ANI_news) July 19, 2017
"Is there any provision in the Constitution which is prohibiting a state to have its own flag? Did BJP people come across any provision?" Siddaramaiah asked.
Meanwhile, the BJP has decided to flag up the controversy as an issue of 'anti-nationalism'
The BJP, which is the Opposition in the state, has accused Siddaramaiah of playing party politics, especially in anticipation of the 2018 assembly elections by whipping up Kannada pride.
Reacting to Karnataka's move to have a separate flag, Union minister DV Sadananda Gowda said: “India is one nation, and it can't have two flags." BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje too alleged the government was “going against the nation” by setting up the committee to look into the demand for a state flag.
In 2011 also, the BJP government had dismissed the idea stating that it would diminish the importance of the tricolour.
The then Kannada and Culture minister Govind M Karjol had said, "The national flag is the symbol of the sovereignty and integrity of the country and any love to have a separate flag would diminish the importance of the tricolour. This may also lead to narrow-minded regional thinking."
Calling the move 'anti-national', BJP has now decided to put pressure on the Siddaramaiah government by holding protests across Bengaluru.
But is an official state flag ‘against the nation'? What does the law say?
According to constitutional experts, a state can have its own flag as long as it is flown lower than the national tricolour.
Alok Prasana Kumar, a Bengaluru-based lawyer, who has also practiced at the Supreme Court told HT, “There is no provision either in the Constitution or in the Flag Code that prohibits a state from having a separate official flag.''
#congSnubstricolour #OneRepublicOneFlag pic.twitter.com/UKM3V8ppcv— Priyank Kharge (@PriyankKharge) July 18, 2017
Senior legal counsels quoted the 1994 SR Bommai versus Union of India case where it has been said that there is no constitutional prohibition for a state to have its own state flag as long as no disrespect is shown to the national flag and it is flown below it.
Others have reiterated the same.
As long as the state flag was hoisted and kept at a height lower than the national flag, there was no impediment to having a separate state flag, Ravivarma Kumar told The Times of India.
Divided opinions emerge on social media
Many on Twitter especially Congress supporters have pointed out that there is nothing wrong in having a separate flag.
This is how the Kannada flag looks like ..it exists since 1960s, unofficially official, and was conceived by the leader of Kannada movement. pic.twitter.com/UCNR3sIt8S— Gaurav Pandhi (@GauravPandhi) July 18, 2017
If California Flag and USA Flag can coexist, why not Karnataka Flag and Indian Union Flag? pic.twitter.com/flLYRa5dRJ— Bharath Kumar (@ybharath77) July 18, 2017
Given the flag has always been in existence in the state, some have questioned why is BJP creating an issue out of it now
The Karnataka flag & colours are used during Rajyotsava by the people forever. Why is it that BJP opposes it now? pic.twitter.com/LaiaOQf6Dj— Sabina Basha (@SabinaBasha) July 18, 2017
Why is @BJP4Karnataka doing this? Supporting Hindi imposition & opposing Kannada flag. Is it political brinkmanship or arrogance of power?— Ganesh Chetan (@ganeshchetan) July 18, 2017
However, a majority of people seem miffed with Congress' move and are vehemently criticising it
#congSnubstricolour one nation one flag. No more division. Earlier it's about language now it's about flag later it's about separate nation.— Bhumati kumari 🇮🇳 (@BhumatiKumari) July 18, 2017
#CongSnubsTricolour Kannadigas are staunch patriots. For them, nation comes above everything else,will never support divide & rule policy.— Tanmay Sutradhar (@adityadharbjp) July 19, 2017
#CongSnubsTricolour....Shame on the leadership of congress....Party is systematically destroying the Nation....— Amitabh Kumar Singh (@amitabhbudham) July 19, 2017
Karnataka to get separate Flag.Next...Separate Prime Minister, President, Vice President, Constitution...&so on😂#CongSnubsTricolour— Darshan SP (@pruthvidarshan5) July 19, 2017