OPINION

Should States have their own flags?

It would strengthen the federal structure andserve as a symbol for a more specific identity

The committee constituted in Karnataka to design a flag for the State is said to have finalised a design. The flag is reportedly a tricolour, modifying the popular yellow and red one seen in the State. Since the proposal has given room for questioning the legal sanctity of such an exercise by the State government, it is appropriate to ask: do existing laws prevent this? The answer is no.

Under the Constitution, a flag is not enumerated in the Seventh Schedule. However, Article 51A ordains that every citizen shall abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag, and the national anthem. There is no other provision regulating hoisting of flags, either by the States or by the public. It is clear that there is no prohibition under the Constitution to hoist any flag other than the national flag.

Parliament has framed legislation regulating the hoisting of the national flag. One is the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950. The other is the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. In the former, 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”. Under the 1971 Act, 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.

No prohibitions in law

Even the Flag Code of India, 2002 does not impose prohibitions on a State flag. On the contrary, in the provisions regarding hoisting of the national flag by the general public, private organisations, educational institutions, etc., the Code expressly authorises the flying of other flags under the condition that they should not be hoisted from the same masthead as the national flag or placed higher than it. By implication, the Code provides space for a State flag as long as it does not offend the dignity and honour of the national flag. Similarly, the Code explicitly authorises (with restrictions) the flying of flags of other countries and also the flag of the United Nations. When flags of other countries are allowed to be flown along with the national flag, the above provisions cannot be read as imposing a prohibition on having or flying a State flag.

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.

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.

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.

A democratic right

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. Karnataka is justified and constitutionally empowered to adopt its own flag to uphold the pride of the State without infringing the law. Democracy and federalism are essential features of the Constitution and are part of its basic structure. It is the democratic right of Karnataka to assert its identity through a separate name, emblem and flag.

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