Chief minister Siddaramaiah on Thursday unveiled Karnataka’s flag and said it was a “historic decision” taken keeping in mind the history of the state and to promote people’s self-respect, in what is being seen as an attempt to push a pro-Kannada agenda ahead of the upcoming assembly elections.
“This is for the first time that the state will have its own flag. There is no provision in the Constitution that prohibits any state from having its own flag,” Siddaramaiah said adding that it will be flown below the national flag.
The chief minister said the state cabinet had asked him to take a decision after taking the opinions of the pro-Kannada organisations and intellectuals.
“This is a historic decision. However, we cannot take the decision by ourselves and will require the Centre’s approval,” he added.
The proposal will be sent to the Union home ministry for approval of the red, white and yellow flag. “We will press upon the Centre to clear this soon,” he said.
The new flag is a departure from what was earlier unofficially used as the Kannada flag. It retains the classic bands of yellow on top and red at the bottom with the addition of a strip of white in the middle symbolising peace. At the heart of the flag is the official emblem of the state.
Patil Puttappa, a veteran journalist and one of two people who petitioned the government urging it identify a state flag, said he welcomed the move. He said the older Kannada flag was meaningless and that he suggested there should be three colours in the flag.
“I had suggested that the state needed a cultural flag that will be flown under the national flag. I am happy with this flag because it also has our state emblem,” he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party called the move a diversionary tactic by the government as it was facing flak over the lack of security in the state.
“Siddaramaiah has unveiled the flag because his government is on the backfoot over the stabbing of the Lokayukta on Wednesday,” the saffron party’s spokesperson S Prakash said.
“Let us not forget that it was the former chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda who initiated the move for identifying a state flag. Siddaramaiah sat on this decision for four years and has used it now because he is in trouble politically in the state,” Prakash said.
Prakash said the BJP had no objection to the state flag or its design.
“Let them recommend it to the Centre, which will decide on the issue after getting a legal opinion,” he said.
The Karnataka government has over the past year introduced a series of measures that aim to project the local identity with an eye on the state elections, scheduled to be held in May. It has made the singing of the official state anthem and the learning of Kannada mandatory in schools.
Last year, the government also weighed in on the side of pro-Kannada organisations that protested against the use of Hindi in signboards at Metro rail stations.
Chandan Gowda, a professor of sociology at the Azim Premji University, said the inclusion of the state’s emblem, that includes the Indian state’s emblem of four lions found on the Ashoka pillar signalled an attempt to affirm Karnataka as an integral part of India.
However, Gowda said whether this move would stoke an electoral mobilisation in favour of the government is yet to be seen.
“I doubt that there is a Kannada vote that can be electorally decisive in the coming elections. It could at best mean an increase in a few thousand votes in Bengaluru, but not sufficient to swing an election in any constituency,” he said.