Summary-The Hindu-Should States Have their Own Flags?


Authors: Ravivarma Kumar, Ravi K. Mishra, Narendar Pani

Read the full article here.


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

Recently, Karnataka constituted a committee to design a flag for the state. No law prevents the state from such exercise.

There are multiple laws (as given below) which uphold the respect of the national flag, however, neither the Constitution nor any other law prohibit hoisting any flag other than the national flag:

  1. A flag is not enumerated in the seventh schedule of the Constitution of India.
  2. 51 A of the Constitution requires the citizens to respect the national flag and the national anthem.
  3. Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 prohibits 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”.
  4. 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.
  5. Flag Code of India, 2002 – 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. The Code also explicitly authorises, with restrictions, the flying of flags of other countries and also the flag of the United Nations.

A flag for the states may be used as symbols to recognise, protect and promote their own languages and cultures.

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.

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.

States may be allowed to adopt their own flags as long as they are not infringing any law and without offending the dignity and honour of the national flag. This would strengthen the Indian democracy and federalism, the two basic features of the Constitution of India.


Federal units cannot aspire to have distinct symbols that compete with national symbols

Given the symbolic diversities of federal units in India, the Constituent Assembly focused on sustaining and encouraging the 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.

Envisaging a separate flag for states would likely lead to a demand for sub-regionalism in most States weakening the idea of fraternity enshrined in the Constitution.

India is not a federation

Despite being a federal republic, India was conceived of as a union of States and not as a federation. Therefore, these federal units cannot aspire to have distinct political symbols that compete with national political symbols; the markers of cultural diversity are already given suitable representation.

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.

For a strong Centre

In India’s case, the founding fathers decided to depart from the Government of India Act, 1935, which had envisaged a loose federation and thereby created a strong centre.

Against this backdrop, the demand to have a separate flag for any State is based on the logic of electoral incentives rather than a principled and well-considered argument. It not only goes against the constitutional vision but also against the very idea of India.


The challenge is not to cut out other identities but to help create a hierarchy of loyalties

The support and opposition over the idea of states having flags of their own relate to two very different conceptions of how to build Indian nationalism.

The opposition to the idea of states having their own flags revolves around the argument that it would erode other territorial identities, particularly those built around the nation.


The meaning of nationalism

One view of nationalism demands that the majority will determine the nationalism that is taught, but expects the minorities to be loyal to it.

The other approach to building Indian nationalism is much more closely linked to everyday life. This view recognises that in the course of a person’s everyday life, she would develop associations that go beyond herself. It could begin with loyalty to her family but that could soon extend to her community, state, and nation. At the heart of this understanding is the idea that nationalism requires individuals to look beyond their immediate self-interest to the interest of the nation. And any effort to look beyond their self-interest is a stepping stone to thinking about the nation. Celebrating all the social loyalties a person comes across in her everyday life is a way of preparing her for the selflessness that nationalism can demand. A flag for her State is then a step towards building nationalism, not one away from it.


No contradictions

This conception of nationalism as the pinnacle of all identities, and not necessarily competing with other identities, is consistent with what we see in the everyday happenings around us.

The challenge then is not to cut out other identities but to help create an hierarchy of loyalties that helps strengthen the Indian nation. Such an approach would require us to develop not just State identities but also those at a sub-State level. 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.

Categories: POINT IAS

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