Karnataka designs panel of nine to decide whether Karnataka can have its own flag.

The Congress government in Karnataka has set up a nine-member panel that will explore how the state can legally have its own separate flag and suggest a design, a move questioned not just by rival parties but also the Congress’ leadership in Delhi.

It comes ahead of assembly elections in Karnataka next year and amid a renewed assertion of Kannada identity in the state as activists protest against the use of Hindi in the Bengaluru Metro.

Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah has defended the plan and denied it was made with an eye on elections. “Is there any provision in the Constitution which prohibits a state from having its own flag? Have you come across any such provision in the Constitution? Did the BJP come across such a provision?” he said today.

His minister for Kannada and Culture Umashri said, “This is not a political gimmick. This is respecting the sentiments of the people. Why is it wrong? Is making a committee to study this wrong? Doesn’t the government have the right?”

But in Delhi the Congress said, “This is not the state government or the Congress party’s position, they do not support the idea or a suggestion of a separate flag.” KC Venugopal, the party’s leader in charge of Karnataka said a separate state flag was just a suggestion from some “literary people” in the state and had been sent for a legal opinion on whether it was at all possible.

“The Karnataka flag already exists and is revered and respected by one and all. This is just a planned controversy to divert people from the jail scandal,” said Karnataka’s BJP spokesperson S Prakash.

Five years ago, when the BJP was in power in Karnataka, it had opposed a separate flag, rejecting a suggestion that the red and yellow flag used in the state for cultural and other events be declared the state’s official flag.

The then BJP government had told the state’s High Court that a state flag would be against the unity and integrity of the nation.

BJP ally the Shiv Sena, not a major player in Karnataka, has criticised the move for a state flag. “If a state makes a demand like that then it is against the Constitution. Such a government should be suspended and Presidential rule should be imposed,” said the Sena’s Sanjay Raut.

People in Bengaluru have differed too. “If the local people want it, why not?” said Lalit, a techie.

Another person, Arpit, said, “This is a divisive move – the country should be together, not have separate flags…”

“Prima facie we believe in one nation one flag. There is no formal proposal as such by the state,” said officials in the Union Home Ministry. Right now, they said, they can find no legal provision to allow or prohibit a separate flag.

Jammu and Kashmir, which has special status under Article 370 of the Constitution, is the only state in the country that is permitted its own flag.

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