Of late, the demand for a state flag has been gaining traction in Karnataka, and the committee set up by state government to study the feasibility of having a separate flag, will be holding its first meeting soon. India’s Constitution does not talk about states having official flags, so the committee is expected to ask the central government to allow Karnataka to make its unofficial red-and-yellow flag the state’s official flag. If the proposal gets through, Karnataka would be the second state to have its own flag after Jammu and Kashmir.So, what is Karnataka’s demand for a state flag about?Though the significant step of setting up a committee to examine the legality of the state was taken this year, the demand for the state flag has been around for over 50 years. It was during the mid-1960s, when the movement to promote Kannada in the state was at its peak, that the first design of the flag was drawn.Ma Ramamurthy, a social activist and the pioneer of the Kannada movement, is credited with designing the yellow-and-red flag. In 1964, Ramamurthy went on a rally demanding promotion of the Kannada identity in the newly-formed state. Realising the movement needed a unifying symbol, he created the yellow and red flag, which stood for peace and revolution.However, the flag was not created as the Karnataka state flag but as the flag of the movement he was leading – the Kannada Paksha. Ramamurthy’s movement over the years became popular among the people, and from a movement’s symbol the flag gained the status of an unofficial state flag.By early 2000, the flag had become a permanent fixture in Karnataka. The chief ministers hoisted the flag on 1 November, every year, to mark Karnataka Formation Day. Even though the flag found a place in official functions, it had no legal basis.This loophole was exposed in 2006, when the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samithi (MES) hoisted a saffron flag on top of the municipal council building in Belagavi district. Unlike the other districts in Karnataka, Belagavi has both Kannada and Marathi speaking population. After winning the elections, MES, which represented the Marathi population, hoisted a saffron flag on top of the municipal council building.Irked by the same, pro-Kannada activists replaced the saffron flag with a yellow-and-red flag. They argued that only the state flag should be hoisted in government buildings. The matter went to court and it was pointed out that the yellow-and-red had no legal status.Realising this, several organisations in the state asked the government to demand a legal status; however, the demands fizzled out over time.In 2012, the legality of the flag was questioned once again in court. During the Budget speech, the then BJP chief minister, DV Sadananda Gowda, announced that hoisting of the Karnataka flag on the state’s formation day will be made mandatory for all government offices and education institutions.This decision was once again challenged in the High Court.The HC once again pointed out that the state flag had no legal status. Apart from questioning the legality of hoisting any flag other than the national flag, the High Court also asked the Union government to clarify whether if there were any laws regarding having a state flag.The state government subsequently withdrew the circular.Following the setback in the High Court in 2012, several letters were written to the Central government asking for legal status for the flag. The campaign, however, lost its momentum with time once again.It was two years later that the issue was brought back to the mainstream. In 2014, Patil Puttappa, a veteran Kannada writer, wrote to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah asking about the steps taken by the government to get the flag a legal status. This was followed by a Right to Information (RTI) application by activist Bheemappa Gundappa, seeking the same information.Even though several writers and activists wrote to the government demanding legal status for the flag between 2014 and 2017, the state government set up a nine-member committee under the Kannada and Culture Department to study the feasibility and legal issues, only in July 2017.Realising that Siddaramaiah was using the flag issue to get votes in the 2018 elections, the BJP, which supported the demand for the flag in 2012, went on the offensive. Senior BJP leaders said that a demand for a separate flag was against the unity and integrity of the country.Siddaramaiah countered the BJP, asking them to take a clear stand on the flag issue. He said that the committee was only exploring the legal aspects of a state flag and it was not against the unity of the country.Even if the government gets the clearance of a state flag, it will be difficult to make the unofficial red and yellow flag the state flag. Kannada Paksha, the political movement started by Ma Ramamurthy, was registered as a political party several years after his death, and the party holds the rights over Ramamurthy’s flag design.Kannada Paksha party leaders have threatened to sue the government if the yellow-and-red flag is made the state flag. The committee on the state flag, which will be holding its first meeting soon, will have to come up with a solution for this problem, apart from studying the legality of the flag itself. We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.