Can Karnataka have its own flag? No provision in Constitution that prohibits states from doing so

The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka constituted a nine-member committee on Tuesday to design a state flag and look into the legalities of it. While the issue is being debated by all political parties and has sparked a row over the legality of the demand, it should be noted that there is no provision in the Indian Constitution which bars states from having their own flags.

Can Karnataka have its own flag? No provision in Constitution that prohibits states from doing so

Activists carrying the unofficial Karnataka flag. PTI

Former advocate-general of Karnataka, Ravivarma Kumar, told The Hindu that in SR Bommai vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court had declared that federalism is a basic feature of the Constitution and States are supreme in their sphere.

"This being the constitutional position, there is no prohibition in the Constitution for the State to have its own flag. However, the manner in which the state flag is hoisted should not dishonour the national flag. It has to be always below the national flag," the Supreme Court had said.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer and constitutional expert Pavani Parameswara Rao told Kaumudi Online, "A state can have its own flag. I don't see any provision anywhere, if they want to have state flag, there is nothing wrong in it."

Although there is no bar in the Constitution, experts feel that the head of the state should think about its impact on the unity and integrity of the country. "The head of the state should strengthen relations between states and the Centre. We say India is known for unity in diversity. At the same time, we give scope for issues like a separate flag that will affect the integrity," The New Indian Express quoted a former Supreme Court judge as saying.

However, former Advocate General Ashok Haranahalli said that the state should frame a flag code without giving scope for it to affect the unity and integrity of the country if it wants to have a separate flag.

If the state government does have its way, Karnataka will become the second state after Jammu and Kashmir to have its own flag. While political parties like the BJP and the Shiv Sena are accusing the Karnataka government of whipping up divisive emotions ahead of Assembly election, Siddaramaiah was quoted by The Indian Express as asking, "Is there any provision in the Constitution that prohibits a state from having a flag?"

Karnataka has had an unofficial flag since the mid 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. The unofficial flag is a common sight in Karnataka and the pro-Kannada activists have virtually adopted the flag as a symbol of state pride, The Indian Express reported. During agitations and protests in the state, the unofficial flag serves as a protection against mob attacks.

The red and yellow flag was once accorded official status by the BJP government through a notification. DV Sadananda Gowda said in his 2012 budget speech that it would be compulsory to hoist the state flag on government buildings, schools and colleges. However, the notification was withdrawn later when activists started misusing the flag.

While the Constitution is silent on the issue of states having their own flags, Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in the Indian Union to have a separate flag and Constitution. On 13 July, 1931, 22 Kashmiri protesters were gunned down by the army of the Dogra ruler after the people rose against the Maharaja’s rule, according to Deccan Herald. The blood tainted shirt of one of the victims was hoisted as the new flag of Kashmir by the crowd.

Later National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah got the central government to accept the state’s constitution and flag through the 1952 Delhi Agreement. The separate constitution of the state makes it mandatory to hoist the state flag along with the national flag. The Constitution of the state works under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

There were also reports of Nagaland getting its own official flag as part of the final accord which was expected to be signed by the Union government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim in 2016. The issue of giving the northeastern state its own flag is almost decided, sources told Hindustan Times in this 2016 report.

However, when it comes to other states, the Constitution is largely silent on the issue. While it does not bar states from having their own flags, it also does not condone having a separate state flag. The silence is open to interpretation and has therefore, triggered a row over Karnataka asking for its own flag.

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Updated Date: Jul 19, 2017 18:06:21 IST

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