Should states have their own state flags?

February 9, 2018

 

India is a union of states. The term "federation" has nowhere been used in the Constitution of India.

India is a "holding together" federation, where the states have been held together with a stronger centre, unlike the USA ("coming together" federation), where the states have come together to form the country.

To cater to the regional aspirations, and the recent demand by states like Karnataka to have separate state flag, the question arises in the mind of the reader: How relevant it is to have state flags, when the national flag already exists?

Constitutional provisions:

  • Under the Indian Constitution, a flag is not enumerated in the Seventh Schedule.

  • Article 51A: Every citizen shall abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag, and the national anthem.

  • No provision for regulating hoisting of flags, either by the states or by the public.

  • Therefore, there is no prohibition under the Constitution to hoist any other flag other than the national flag.

  • Article 370 allows Jammu & Kashmir to have a separate state flag.

Parliamentary legislations:

  • To regulate the hoisting of the national flag:

    • I. Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950

      • The statutory prohibition is only against “use for any trade, business, calling or profession, or in the title of any patent, or in any trademark of design, any name or emblem specified in the Schedule.

    • II. Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971

      • There is no prohibition against any State hoisting its own flag.

      • What is prohibited under this Act is insulting the national flag by burning it, mutilating it, defacing it, etc.

    • III. Flag Code of India 2002

      • It also does not impose prohibitions on a State flag.

      • In the provisions regarding hoisting of the national flag by the general public, private organisations, educational institutions, etc., the Code provides space for a State flag as long as it does not offend the dignity and honour of the national flag.

      • The Code explicitly authorises (with restrictions) the flying of flags of other countries and also the flag of the United Nations.

Arguments in favour of having state flags?

 

When flags of other countries are allowed to b flown along with the national flag, the above provisions cannot be read as imposing a prohibition on having or flying a State flag.

  1. Historical legacy:

    • Linguistic organisation of states

      • In India, state boundaries are demarcated on the basis of linguistic homogeneity. This has naturally generated aspirations in the States for promoting their own languages and cultures. It is, therefore, natural for them to have symbols to recognise, protect and promote their own languages and cultures. A flag, which is both a benediction and a beckoning, serves this purpose better than any other symbol.

         

  2. Having a separate flag is not going to be an affront to national integration. On the contrary, a separate flag for each State would strengthen the federal structure and serve as a symbol for a much more specific identity.

  3. In India, even the Army, Navy, Air Force, and paramilitary forces have separate flags. They use these regularly in all their official functions, in national parades, and on Republic Day. 

  4. A democratic right:

    1. Examples: All the 50 States in the U.S. have separate and distinct flags, apart from the national flag. In the U.K., the political units of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own flags without offending or affecting the integrity of the U.K.

    2. Karnataka is justified and constitutionally empowered to adopt its own flag to uphold the pride of the State without infringing the law.  

 Arguments against having state flag.

  1. Historical legacy:

    1. Constituent assembly: The emphasis of the founding fathers was on sustaining and encouraging those markers of diversity that were considered to be in sync with the concept of an organic unity, regarded as the ideal for the newly founded republic.

    2. Even linguistic diversity, which eventually emerged as the pivotal marker of delineating internal boundaries, in the end was internally contested, for example, the Marathi-speaking areas of Karnataka were discontented.

 

2. India is not a federation, but a quasi-federal country.

  1. India’s trajectory as a polity is different from that of other countries, in the sense that despite being a federal republic, India was conceived of as a union of States and not as a federation. 

3. International examples:

  • Those countries with separate political identities like flags, dual citizenship, and State constitutions have followed a different trajectory from that of India. In the U.S., as the constituents were separate entities before they decided to form a federation, it is understandable that they were allowed their own political identities.​

 

Judiciary on the issue:

 

Democracy and federalism are essential features of the Constitution and are part of its basic structure.

The S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994) judgment, which is being cited to make the case for a separate flag for States, revolved around arbitrary actions of the Union against the States and provided a much-needed safeguard to them. It should not override the values enshrined in the Constitution unless there is a compelling case that something fundamental has gone wrong. Jammu and Kashmir is an exception; it cannot be made a rule.

 

 

The solution?

 

The meaning of nationalism has been evolving since time immemorial. By envisaging a separate flag for a State would be to open a Pandora’s Box. It would likely lead to a demand for subregionalism in most States. This would weaken the idea of fraternity, which is enshrined in the Constitution and lies at the heart of the idea of citizenship.

 

The challenge then is not to cut out other identities but to help create an hierarchy of loyalties that helps strengthen the Indian nation. 

 

And the hierarchy should be:

 

The Karnataka flag would have to recognise not just the dominant Kannada identity but also other smaller identities within the States, such as those of the Kodavas or the Tulus. The flying of flags could then reflect this hierarchy with the national flag on top, followed by State flags, and then by smaller regional flags.
 

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