Jhanda uncha rahe hamara!
With caste and cash calculations ominous to go out of kilter in the run-up to the 2018 Assembly polls, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah seems to be using Kannada and Kannadiga pride as the tools to wring sympathy from the people and checkmate BJP which is playing the 'Hindutva' card. The longstanding demand by Kannada activists for an official state flag exploded into a major controversy on Tuesday, triggering allegations of subverting the Tricolour and playing the political field ahead of Assembly elections.
Not to forget, the Siddaramaiah government has made at least a dozen odd pro-Kannada announcements in the last five months, including making Kannada a compulsory subject in ICSE and CBSE, five per cent reservation for Kannada-medium students in state civil services and getting government hospital patient cards printed in Kannada. Siddaramaiah's energetic manipulation of the linguistic card is beginning to make the political race more dramatic. The biggest challenge after consolidating Ahinda (an acronym for Dalits, backward classes, and minorities) votes is to woo the dominant Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities. And, he has realised that the common thread for these communities is Kannada.
That is why his government decided to rush with the Kempe Gowda Jayanthi celebrations on June 27 as the Bengaluru founder is symbolic of Kannada pride. In 2014, Patil Puttappa, a 96-year-old veteran journalist and Kannada activist, and Bheemappa Gundappa, a 56-year-old RTI activist, made a demand for an official flag for Karnataka. On June 6 this year, the Kannada and Culture Department of the state government notified the setting up of a nine-member committee to examine the feasibility and legal issues around the demand. The matter had been reported in the local media at the time, but it was picked up again on Tuesday and projected as an effort by Karnataka's Congress government to subvert the national flag and the laws that allow only Jammu and Kashmir to have its own flag. On the other hand, BJP leaders alleged the government was 'going against the nation' by setting up the committee to look into the demand for a state flag. Incidentally, Karnataka has had an unofficial state flag since the mid-1960s when pro-Kannada groups were agitating against the screening of non-Kannada films in the state. The red and yellow flag was created by Kannada writer and activist Ma Ramamurthy for a pro-Kannada political party called the Kannada Paksha after he observed that many parties representing non-Kannadigas had flags of their own.
This unofficial flag is flown every year on November 1, Karnataka's foundation day, and is a common sight at public places. Interestingly, in 2012, the then Karnataka's BJP government accorded official status to the Karnataka flag through a notification. Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda said in his 2012 Budget speech that it would be compulsory to hoist the state flag on government buildings, schools and colleges. However, while hearing the case between Kannada activist Prakash Shetty Vs T A Narayana Gowda, the then Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, Vikramajit Sen, raised questions on the legality of states having their own flags when the law permitted only the national flag to be flown officially.
The government then said it would not make it mandatory to fly the state flag. Eventually, on October 4, 2012, it withdrew the notification ordering the hoisting of the Kannada flag on government offices on November 1. However, harping on the Kannada identity is nothing new for Siddaramaiah, who headed the Kannada Watchdog Committee now called Kannada Development Authority in 1983. Right now, it appears that promoting and protecting parochial interests could be a political game-changer for Siddaramaiah and the Congress party as well. Moreover, if PM Narendra Modi can invoke the Gujarati pride to win polls, Congress activists feel there is no harm in Siddaramaiah working on the Kannadiga pride.
He drove the message into the bureaucracy first by announcing: "All officers working in Karnataka should learn Kannada and officiate in Kannada. We will not tolerate any official who is against Kannada and against the interests of Kannadigas." On the other hand, in New Delhi, for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), "legally, there is no provision either for providing or prohibiting a separate flag for any state". This issue had been raised earlier too, but such a flag only represents 'the people and not the state'. As per the MHA records, the Kannada flag was not raised on Republic Day or Independence Day, but on occasions like the state's foundation day.
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