Karnataka's own Don Quixote: Siddaramaiah perplexes with demand for state flag
One would have least expected or suspected a peaceful and docile state like Karnataka to suddenly develop separatist tendencies. But in a Quixotic turn of events, it may do so, if Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has his way.
As next year's state Assembly elections approach, Siddaramaiah has begun to resemble the literary character of Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.
Recently, Siddaramaiah announced a nine-member committee to “design and find a legal framework” for a state flag at the earliest, even as people of the state and the country watched aghast.
As per the special provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, only Jammu and Kashmir has a state flag to go with the national flag. But, unfazed by the criticism all around, Siddaramaiah has asked plaintively: “Is there any provision in the Constitution that prohibits a state from having its own flag?”
The national flag, the Tricolour with the Ashok Chakra in the centre, is covered under the National Flag Code, which elaborates on how, when and where the national flag can be hoisted with solemnity, dignity and honour, and what punishment can be meted out to those who disrespect or dishonour it.
However, there’s no mention of a state flag or separate flags for the states, as perhaps nobody thought it was necessary.
A Union Home Ministry official clarified: “We are one nation, (and have) one flag. Legally speaking, there is no provision either for providing or prohibiting a separate flag for any state.” He also pointed out that Karnataka already had a flag, which represented the people, and not the government.
While denying that he had initiated the move with the forthcoming elections in mind, a combative Siddaramaiah made his intentions clear when he directed his question at the BJP and asked: “If the BJP is opposed to it, can they say openly that they are against a state flag?”
Many pro-Kannada organisations have wholeheartedly welcomed the proposal, but state BJP leaders have remained muted in their reactions.
On the other hand, JD(S) leader and former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy hit out at Siddaramaiah, saying: “It looks like the government is trying to divert the attention of the people from the many scandals and controversies plaguing it.”
The Congress high command, too, has frowned upon Siddaramaiah’s surprise step. AICC general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, KC Venugopal, said: “The Congress does not have a policy for a state having a separate flag. I have asked the government to clarify.”
Considering that the proposal for a separate flag follows a string of pro-Kannada decisions taken by the Siddaramaiah government in recent weeks, many observers believe that the CM is trying to play on the language sentiments of the people to counter the BJP’s Hindutva agenda.
There is a perception that the Siddaramaiah government’s deliberate slant towards the ‘Ahinda’ (an acronym for Dalits, backward classes and minorities) over the last four-and-a-half years has alienated the forward castes like Lingayats and Vokkaligas. As language is a unifying factor, he is trying to woo back these dominant communities by playing the pro-Kannada card.
It all began with the state government fully backing the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike and other Kannada organisations protesting against the ‘imposition’ of Hindi at Metro stations. It has asked the Union Urban Development Ministry to withdraw its circular on ‘the three language policy’ in the Metro, by asserting that the Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (BMRCL) is not a central PSU, and the language policy cannot be enforced.
As late as last week, primary and secondary education minister Tanveer Sait announced the compulsory teaching of Kannada in all schools across the state, including those following ICSE and CBSE syllabus, from 1 August. All schools will also have to adopt ‘Naada Geethe’ (the state anthem) along with the National Anthem.
This appears to be a counter to the Presidential order passed by the BJP-led NDA government on 17 April 2017, making Hindi a compulsory subject from standard 1 to 10 in all schools teaching a central syllabus across the country, apart from Kendriya Vidyalayas.
The state government has also decided to reserve 5% seats in the state civil services for the students passing out in the Kannada medium.
The latest brainwave of the Siddaramaiah government is to hold a ‘World Kannada Meet’ in December, spending around Rs 20 crore. And when there emerged murmurs of protest from sections of people, saying it was no time for celebrations when the state was staring at a fourth consecutive drought and farmers were in distress, the government called a meeting of writers and artistes and obtained a ‘majority support’ for the world meet.
An established flag
Siddaramaiah’s attempts to win over the pro-Kannada constituency also reflect his anxiety to avoid division of votes in the coming Assembly elections, as some of the organisations are gearing up to put up their own candidates.
By adopting their demands just before the polls, he possibly hopes to make their electoral fight redundant.
The red-and-yellow ‘Kannada flag’ designed in the 1960s by strong votaries of the Kannada language movement like Ma. Ramamurthy and Aa. Na. Krishna Rao is widely used by pro-Kannada organisations, and even by the state government in cultural events.
Many people are perplexed that when the state’s identity is already so well defined through a popular and widely-accepted flag, where is the need for another flag?
But, when Don Quixote is in the mood for a battle, what can stop him from inventing one?