One People, One Nation, Different Flags

Different Flags

“The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history” Woodrow Wilson clearly knew the relevance of a flag in patriotism and when he said the above words, he meant how well a flag can act represent the patriotism and feelings of people in a country. Flags have a long tradition of their role as symbols with a subsequent amount of meanings attached to them. Whether it is a peaceful demonstration or a violent revolution, flags have been there always in the forefront. A war is declared and a peace accord is signed in the presence of a flag. Flags come and go along with the changes in the dominant ideologies and the regimes that possess power. Flags, as a medium of expression of feelings and emotions, have grown to the extent that defaming and disrespecting a flag almost equates to a direct attack on the underlying ideology that the respective flag bears. India’s tricolor flag has a long history and it has witnessed several important moments in the nation’s freedom struggle. For several decades since independence, Indian flag has stood as a symbol of national integrity and unity, across all the diverse cultures in the subcontinent. It has been traditionally been protected from vandalism and disrespect by both the constitution as well as the judicial system. Once again, the national flag is in news; though this time, it is not owing to any incident of disrespect or abuse. The Southern State of Karnataka has decided to adopt a ‘State Flag’ for the Kannadiga Diaspora across the world. The concerns regarding its constitutional validity and relevance have already become the talk and in the coming days, the matter will bring in the questions on the need of having separate flags for the States in a federal republic like India.
Though the primitive forms of flags have been floating across the civilizations from the early centuries itself, they got widespread popularity in the middle ages, when most of the empires and the kingdoms across the world were fighting each other. Apart from the differences in the armors and shields, flags were yet another instrument that was used effectively for identifying the friends and foes in a battlefield, were a ‘false recognition’ can cost one’s life. The flags further evolved to become the part of national identities, when nationalism surges across the European continent in the late 16th century. As the imperial expeditions ventures in the new world, flags also got introduced into the new land. Later, when the same colonies started to revolt against the masters, they too found the effectiveness of a flag in mobilizing the people. In the case of India, the tricolor flag that we see today is the result of several phases of transition from the early versions of Swaraj flags used by the freedom movement to the present version designed by Pingali Venkayya. The early version of the law that prohibits the unconventional use of the national flag could be traced back to a legislation passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly in the early 1960s. This was followed by a law enacted by the parliament as The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. However, the same legislation is silent about the legal validity of State flags.
In fact, nothing is mentioned in the constitution regarding the status of State flags; and J&K already has a State flag due to its special status in the constitution. Many experts are of the opinion that the new proposal from Karnataka to have a State flag holds good in the current legal framework and it is not legally invalid. It was this same recommendation from the expert panel appointed by the Karnataka government, which propelled the government to proceed further with the dream of having a State flag. However, there are already serious concerns regarding how this would shape the future of the federalism in the country, that is based on the principles of unity in diversity. Once the State is granted with its demand for an exclusive State flag, several other States may come out with the same demand. Though the State flag itself would not destroy the spirit of national integration, it may add to the already widening cracks in the federal structure, that our country has been upholding for a long period of time. However, this also does not mean that the demand for a State flag should be rejected. What could be done is a solution that will not hurt the honour of the national flag at the same time accommodating the State flags. Since there are no clear legislative measures to define the protocols in using State flags, the Centre must consider sorting the issue in the parliament. Similarly, there must be provisions to ensure that the use of the State flags does not come at the cost of the tricolor flag.
Indian federalism is all about cooperative behavior. Though the States are embedded in the federal structure, they too have the right to protect their identity. Whether this identity is expressed through a flag or the use of a language, it should ever come at the cost of disintegrating the feeling of the national unity.

– Contributed by Jiss

Picture: Proposed State Flag for Karnataka along with National Flag of India (Credits –

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