Column | Yediyurappa treads cautiously on emotive Karnataka flag demand

Column | Yediyurappa treads cautiously on emotive Karnataka flag demand
BS Yediyurappa addresses the house members before a floor test, at Vidhanasoudha, in Bengaluru. Photo: PTI

Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa has decided to be cautious about the recommendation of the previous H D Kumaraswamy government to the central government to sanction a separate flag for the state. Yediyurappa is sticking to the BJP stand of 'one nation, one flag' which was again articulated and enforced by the Narendra Modi government's decision to remove the separate flag enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir government. But he does not want to use strong language against the demand for a distinct Karnataka flag, in view of the local sentiments whipped up by Kannada groups, which are supported by his predecessors - Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah.

Last year, under pressure from Kannada groups, Kumaraswamy wrote to then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh seeking approval for the state flag which would have yellow, white and red colours, and the state emblem of the two-headed eagle-like bird. Singh had told Kumaraswamy that the central government had not supported a separate flag for states since the adoption of the Constitution in 1950, with the lone exception given to Jammu and Kashmir, whose state flag was inspired by the left leanings of National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah.

The Kashmir flag was red in colour to represent labour, three vertical sripes to represent the divisions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and had a plough to represent agriculture. Ever since the flag was approved by the Jawaharlal Nehru government under the provisions of Article 370, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, BJP's predecessor, had launched an agitation against 'one nation, two flags, two constitution' concept as the northern state had also a separate constitution. When the President withdrew the special provisions under Article 370 on August 6, the Jammu and Kashmir flag too was lowered for the last time across the three divisions, as the state itself was divided into two Union Territories.

Column | Yediyurappa treads cautiously on emotive Karnataka flag demand
H D Kumaraswamy.

The flag issue is part of the offensive by the Kannada groups against the BJP leadership for not opposing the imposition of Hindi for central government jobs in Karnataka. When a couple of BJP MPs praised Hindi there were strong reactions. Yediyurappa, who is not conversant with Hindi, has been telling MPs that they should not comment on emotional issues and allow the controversies to subside over time. He has also tweeted that his government will be second to none in defending and promoting Kannada, and has assigned the Kannada development portfolio to senior minister C T Ravi, while earlier governments had treated the portfolio as a light one given to junior ministers.

The only state where a flag is now used to represent the state is Sikkim, but the flag does not have the sanction of the central government. In fact most states have not clamoured for separate flags. The last major claim was made by Tamil Nadu in 1970 after the DMK came to power for the first time in the 1967 general elections. The state government proposed a grey flag with the tricolor national flag on the top and the state emblem of temple gopuram at the bottom corner. The recommendation was not accepted by the Indira Gandhi government and it did not become an emotive issue.

Big countries which have many states have permitted states to have their own flags. In the United States every one of the 50 states and five territories have their own flags. California even uses the world "Republic" on its flag.  In Indian constitution-makers felt that there should be one national flag and adopted the tricolour which was already in use. Only the armed forces of the Union - the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Coast Guard - are permitted to have their own flags. For a brief period from 1947 to 1950, the Governor General (Lord Mountbatten and then C Rajagopalachari) had a separate flag. But once the first president was appointed, the practice was discontinued. However private organisations like Olympic associations and some voluntary organsiations have their own flags, but these are not recognised by the central government.

Elaborate laws cover the way to use the national flag during normal period, as well as during celebrations and mournings. As television coverage showed flag waving in other countries, then Home Minister L K Advani ordered a review of government policy in 2002. The home ministry review noted there was"perceptible lack of awareness" in the country on the use and misuse of national flag. The government came out with a new flag code which listed how citizens can honour the tricolour, but reiterated prohibition on misusing or insulting the flag, which is a symbol of the nation.

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