What Does Karnataka’s Demand For A State Flag Mean For Our Idea Of ‘Nationhood’?

Posted by Somyajit Sarkar in Politics, Society
July 25, 2017

India is still an evolving nation where the people are trying to find new and varied ways of self-expression. With so many complexities in the country, it is only obvious to find a new phalanx of demands now and then.

Karnataka’s demand for a state flag is the new kid in the block. The state has had an unofficial flag since the mid 1960s. Nearly five decades have passed since then, but there is no doubt that the flag and the sentiments it embodies are still relevant to a certain section of Kannada society.

Now, what does the movement mean or stand for? For the naysayers, the recent turn of events can be described as chauvinistic at best, and xenophobic at worst. They are likely to brush this off as hollow tokenism.

For the votaries though, it is an emblem of Kannada pride – a way of preserving its distinct identity in a country of massive diversity. For them, symbolism is more valuable than the value itself.

Be it the anti-Hindi agitations (especially in states like Tamil Nadu) or the demand for a state flag, one thing is extremely clear – the question of identity and nationhood is very much alive in India.

The current Union government has aggressively pushed for Hindi, the most spoken language in the country. This has definitely pushed the non-Hindi-speaking states on the defensive. They are increasingly trying to resist this ‘absolutism’ by pushing for their own brand of ‘absolutism’ in their states, which, by no means, is monolithic or homogeneous. The Bengal government’s decision to make Bengali compulsory in all schools in the state and its subsequent fallout in the hills is a testimony to this. In fact, in June, it was reported that Mamata Banerjee, the Bengal CM, was composing a song and also designing a state emblem.

The wider objective of such moves may well be political. Regional parties and even the Congress in Karnataka is trying to corner the BJP – by delving into provincialism which has the potential to counter the equally polarising strategy of the Sangh Parivar. However, on a more poignant and perhaps, a philosophical note, it raises some uneasy questions about India’s nationhood.

As the Prime Minister (PM) talks about ‘cooperative federalism‘, he must also give weight to ‘cultural federalism’. This will not only guarantee India’s integrity but will also enhance its multicultural ethos – a feature that favours India’s global stance.

A symbol of identity-based pride?

One thing must be understood – ‘cultural assimilation’ in India is neither advisable nor feasible, because that will create an alien nation, and not India. Acknowledging the differences in opinions and ways of life is extremely necessary for maintaining domestic calm in India. This is a must for sustainable growth and development in the nation.

Furthermore, another thing must be understood. You can’t paint everyone with the same brush. The talk of ‘one India’, ‘one identity’ may be relevant at a global level, where naturally, the countrymen need to stand together, putting their differences aside. However, at a more domestic level, there will be cultural collisions. In fact, these are necessary for a country like India which is still growing, evolving and struggling for an image acceptable to the Kashmiri as well as the Malayalee, to the nationalist as well as the patriot, to the beef-eater as well as the cow-worshipper. However, it is equally important not to spark such collisions beyond a point which will brazen the image that the country has cultivated with much toil and hard work!

PS: There is a tendency to see sub-nationalism and regional pride as an offshoot of sedition and anti-nationalism. Such a view is not only ridiculous, but also naive. This shows the myopic understanding that a section of Indians have, regarding the nation.

Do remember, the Tamils, who had a brief history of separatist struggle, turned against the Eeelam cause soon after Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur. My ethnicity is neither lesser nor bigger than my Indian-ness, because India is incomplete without my ethnicity and my ethnicity is hollow without India!


Image Source: Shahul Hameed/Facebook