Bengaluru: The Karnataka government on Thursday unveiled a state flag in line with chief minister Siddaramaiah’s platform of Kannada pride, as campaigning heats up for the assembly elections slated for this year.
The state flag—Nada Dwaja in Kannada—that has already been approved by the cabinet, will now be sent to the Union home ministry for its approval, the chief minister’s office said.
Once approved, Karnataka will become only the second state in the Indian Union to have a separate flag, after Jammu and Kashmir.
“There was always a debate that the state needed a separate flag. All Kannadigas aspired for this as well. The state government did not join in this debate, but also took a historic decision to get a state flag,” Siddaramaiah said after he unveiled the flag.
Siddaramaiah had re-introduced the Kannada pride debate as one of the main poll planks in the run-up to the 2018 assembly elections where the Congress government will be defending its five-year rule against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attempts to return to power in Karnataka.
Siddaramaiah had held meetings with pro-Kannada organizations, senior officials and literary personalities, among others, for suggestions on the new design. The new flag has yellow, white and red colours, with a state emblem in the middle.
To be sure, Karnataka already has an unofficial state flag since 1960s, created by Kannada writer and activist Ma Ramamurthy who founded pro-Kannada political party Kannada Paksha. This flag—yellow and red—has been associated with all pro-Kannada movements and rallies across the state. Karnataka also has a “Naada Geethe” (state anthem), a famous composition by Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa (better known by his pen name, Kuvempu), which is accorded the same respect and status as the national anthem.
The new flag is also an attempt to corner the BJP in the state, which has, in the past, not favoured such a move and dubbed it an effort that goes against national sentiments and also a diversionary tactic by Siddaramaiah.
However, the BJP’s election campaign is being handled by Hindi-speaking central leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah among others, which has not had the same impact as Siddaramaiah’s hyper-local campaign. Though Modi starts his election rallies in Karnataka with two lines in Kannada, well-appreciated by the crowds, much of the speech is delivered in Hindi, which is not well understood by Kannadigas.
Siddaramaiah has also thwarted moves by the centre to impose Hindi by removing sign boards on the metro and joining other south Indian states to oppose the idea of Hindi as a national language. The opposition to Hindi has even brought together groups such as Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (pro-Kannada), Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (pro-Marathi) and pro-Tamil groups that for decades have fought each other on river water sharing.
Narendar Pani, a political analyst and professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) says the flag is part of Siddaramaiah’s larger plan of bringing Kannada identity to the fore, which has defined his style of politics. “This will be seen as a clear case of regional sentiment,” he said.
Some members of the Congress had also expressed their reservations against the move when it was mooted last year. Pani says the BJP, which may not know how to counter this, cannot benefit by calling the Congress anti-national. The Congress high command, Pani says, will also have to “look the other way” on this issue.
Pani says the move could reap electoral benefits if the BJP continues with its out-of-state campaign strategy in the run-up to the elections. Pani said Siddaramaiah is using the state identity as an argument against the national identity and Hindutva lines pushed by the BJP campaigners like Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.