19/07/2017 11:10 AM IST | Updated 19/07/2017 11:17 AM IST

Does Karnataka Have A Case For Demanding Its Own Kannada Flag?

A matter of pride.

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Pro-Karnataka activists wave the Karnataka flag at a rally during a statewide strike in Bangalore on September 9, 2016.

It's been around since the 1960s, but the formation of a nine-member panel to study the feasibility of its official existence has opened a can of worms.

The Congress-led Karnataka government, headed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, has run into trouble over the possibility of legitimising a distinctive flag for the state. The BJP, which is the Opposition in the state, has accused the CM of playing party politics, especially in anticipation of the 2018 assembly elections. But the issue is much older and has once, ironically, been endorsed by the BJP itself.

In the 1960s, when Karnataka had erupted into protests against anti-Kannada movies, the flag was used by a party, Kannada Paksha, as its own symbol. Over the years, the yellow and vermillion colours came to be adopted as a symbol of Kannadiga pride, which has been challenged by the steady influx of migrants into the state. Till this day, the perceived undermining of Kannada language and culture by the settlers is seen as a flashpoint for the politics in the state.

In spite of its informal status, the flag has much currency in indicating support for Kannada identity, language and culture. It is especially used during the anti-Tamil Nadu protests over the sharing of the waters of River Cauvery, when vehicles brandish it to earn safe passage from troublemakers on the streets.

In 2014 Patil Puttappa, a journalist and Kannada activist, and Bheemappa Gundappa, an RTI activist, made a demand for the legitimisation of the official flag of the state. But it was only on 9 June this year that the Kannada and Culture Department of the state government set up a committee to investigate whether the Constitution allows for such a provision at all. At present, legal and executive views suggest no consensus or any specific direction in this regard.

So far Jammu & Kashmir is the only Indian state allowed its own flag under Article 370 of the Constitution. The government is debating whether it should accord a similar status to Nagaland under a a treaty likely to be signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M).

While Siddaramaiah has categorically stated that the state flag will not undermine the national tricolour, which will always fly higher, the BJP and the Shiv Sena have alleged that concessions made in this regard would amount to divisive politics, contradicting the spirit of 'one nation, one flag'.

Unsurprisingly, the BJP has not been consistent in its position on the validity of the state flag.

In 2009, then Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa dismissed the demand because it went against national unity, but in 2012, another BJP Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda said in his budget speech that the hoisting of the state flag on government offices and buildings would be made mandatory.

Challenged by a Kannada activist in court, alleging the misuse of the state flag by the party to influence the support of the people, Chief Justice Vikramjit Sen of the Karnataka High Court questioned the validity of such an imposition. He ruled that only the hoisting of the national flag can be made mandatory for state government offices and other related buildings.

The Congress in Delhi is uncomfortable by its Karnataka chapter's demand, though it comes in the wake of public protests against the Centre's forcible imposition of Hindi in the non-Hindi-speaking states in the south. Sources say the Congress in the national capital is worried that the move by Siddaramaiah's government may be seen as appeasement of public sentiment and a means of consolidating its vote-bank in view of next year's polls.

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