One Nation, Many Flags

Among the multiple paradoxes that characterise the Political spectacle in India, there is one in particular that deserves serious attention: the ruling Congress party in Karnataka has decided to start the process for adopting a state flag. A nine-member panel is likely to do the job much to the surprise of regional as also ‘mainstream’ parties. The move come at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was championing ‘One Nation, One Flag’ concept and ‘One Nation, One Market’ idea with a kind of fanatic zeal. The committee to design the state flag was set up in June following representation from an obscure outfit called Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha. Many see in Congress party’s move a ploy to woo voters with elections to the state assembly barely a few months away. Harried by communal riots in southern Karnataka and gross administrative irregularities, the Congress party needs something chauvinistic to win elections. Quite expectedly Karnataka government’s move to have the state’s own flag, is fraught with controversies as most politicians across the country have slammed the attempt.

Right now Kashmir has this extra privilege because of historical reasons. Karnataka is not Kashmir. Nor does it enjoy special status under Article 370. If anything Congress party has virtually lost ideas as to how to combat marauding BJP that now controls most of India’s population and territory as well. People in the southern state are aggrieved over the alleged imposition of Hindi and Congress party’s efforts to convert anti-Hindi sentiments into vote by way of fuelling regional passion may be the prime consideration in taking such a parochial decision to fly a state flag.

India seems to be returning to the good old days of kings and princes. The princely states used to fly flags of their own to exhibit their valour and glory. Now princes are reborn through electoral process and they need separate flag identity in a situation where too many identities are chasing the polity to make the much publicised idea of ‘Unity in Diversity’ a joke. To the regionalists and chauvinists national identity of tricolour is not enough. So they need sub-nationalism—or plain parochialism—to assert themselves for an India that lives at many levels. If all states and union territories fly their own flags a chaos is likely to erupt affecting national integrity. Today it is Karnataka, tomorrow it might be Manipur or Gujarat. In truth insurgent groups operating in the North-East have their own flags. By floating the very idea of state flag the persons concerned are actually demanding more autonomy because federal India is anything but federal. It’s out and out unitary and the ruling dispensation at the centre—BJP—is hell bent on curbing whatever autonomous rights states have at present under the constitution. This ‘One Nation, One Market’ scheme through GST has literally eroded state’s powers to the point of insignificance.

That the Congress—the sole claimant of nationalist movement—is opting for state flag in addition to national flag is no less intriguing. In other words all their tall talks about national integration sound funny. Regionalism, if not crass provincialism, rules the roost. Already migrants from eastern India and North-East feel parochial heat at workplaces. Recurring anti-migrant riots in Mumbai and elsewhere show national integration is a far cry. And this state flag will be quite handy to bash migrants. Pulled in two directions by a past that weighs it down and dynastic charisma, the Congress, with its political paralysis, is facing existential challenges. So this obnoxious idea of state flag.

They are not interested in major issues that affect the public. People are now being continually haunted by the twin nightmares of digitisation and GST. So flag is a good diversion. Small traders, self-employed persons and wage-earners simply don’t know how to cope with the suffocating situation they are being forced to live in. Organised multi-national retail chains are forcing small enterprises to shut-down. How GST has affected ordinary people is yet to be assessed in full but they are already paying higher prices for essential necessities. Prices of essential medicines have gone up and in many places life-saving drugs are not available. Of all the countries that have introduced GST, India has the highest tax slabs.

Too much centralisation of power, both economic and administrative, at the centre, over the years, is sure to create a backlash that may strengthen regionalism—or provincialism. If a state flies its own flag in a poorly articulated federal set up; loyalty to national flag is bound to wean.

The point at issue is why so-called mainstream parties or national parties are resorting to regionalism. Appeal to chauvinism is so strong that it sells in vote market. Also, it is the easiest way to mobilise the disgruntled and aggrieved youth, rather educated youth, who find it increasingly difficult to have a place under the sun.

Chauvinism at state level is fuelling chauvinism at national level as well. So anti-China hysteria is back in view of the Sikkim border stand-off between Indian forces and the Chinese army. So Samajwadi Party (SP) leader and former Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav claimed the other day, in his wildest imagination that China was ready to attack India in collaboration with Pakistan, and asked the government to reverse its stand on Tibet by supporting its independence. Not very long ago Defence Minister Arun Jaitley made an oblique comment to China that ‘‘this is not India of 1962’’. But China can return the same comment by saying ‘‘China is also different from [how it was in] 1962’’. With the economy down-sliding and the socially and economically disadvantaged suffering at the hands of saffronite vigilantes, this type of jingoism could help them remain in limelight, while jeopardising national interests in the long run.

Vol. 50, No.4, Jul 30 - Aug 5, 2017