How the State CMs got to hoist the Tricolor on Independence Day

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

Thanks to M. Karunanidhi, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the Chief Ministers of the States of Indian Union got the privilege to hoist the National Flag on Independence Day every August 15. Until 1973, only the Governors were hoisting the Tricolour on both the occasions of Republic Day and Independence Day in all the States capitals. However, in the national capital of New Delhi, it is the President on January 26 (since 1950, first by Dr. Rajendra Prasad), and the Prime Minister on August 15 (since 1947, first by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru). As the Governors are considered to be the representatives of the Central Government, the State CMs had no role on both these national occasions. Karunanidhi (of DMK party and the then CM) felt slighted & ignored, and the scene changed in 1974, forty-five years back. Earlier, the DMK founder CN Annadurai had even equated the governor’s post to a goat’s beard, thereby driving home the point that the governor’s post  was as useless as the goat’s beard which in no way aided the goat’s livelihood. “Aattukku (goat) thaadiyum (beard) nattukku (country) governor-m thevai (necessary) illai (not)”, Annadurai rhymingly hit the nail.

As the CM of Tamil Nadu for the second time, Karunanidhi took up this issue with the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in February 1974. He argued that as in the case of Prime Minister unfurling the national flag on Independence Day in the national capital as the representative of the nation’s people, the Chief Minister, who is a representative of the peoples of the State concerned, should legitimately have the right to unfurl the tricolour on I-Day in State capitals. ‘The present practice was a discrimination against the chief ministers and the federal structure of the nation’, he pointed out in his communication to the Centre and demanded change of protocol. Maybe Indira was in a good mood, hence this was agreed upon and in July of that year the Centre announced that while the Governor of a State will unfurl the tricolor on Republic Day, the CM will hoist it on I-Day. And that is how since August 1974 the State CMs are hoisting the national flag on I-Day in State capitals. So, thanks, once again, to Karunanidhi!

 Thus, in 1974, Karunanidhi got what he justifiably demanded and, for the first time in the State, hoisted the tricolour on August 15 in Madras (now Chennai) from the ramparts of the historic Fort St. George! However, it is a classic case of irony that Karunanidhi, whose political party DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) was once so vocal in demanding a separate nation ‘Dravida Nadu’, fought for the right of State CMs to unfurl the national flag on I-Day! Later, however, the party shifted its stand and stood for national integration.  

DMK, having given up the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu, was, by 1970s, stressing upon state autonomy. ‘Autonomy for states, federalism at the Centre’, was its focal & vocal issue.  This was also in the light of submission of Rajamannar Committee report on Centre-State relations (1969-1971). The then DMK Government of Tamil Nadu headed by Karunanidhi (1969-71) set up a Committee on Centre-State Relations under the Chairmanship of Dr. P.V. Rajamanar to study the entire gamut of relationship that should exist between the Centre and the States in a federal set up. It recommended setting up of an Inter-State Council to discuss issues pertaining to one or more states and, most importantly, recommended curbed usage of Article 356 which should be used only in the event of complete breakdown of law & order in a state. Karunanidhi strongly felt that CMs hoisting tricolor would be symbolic of more autonomy for the States, which cause he was strongly fighting for. He even got a resolution passed in Tamil Nadu assembly in 1974 for greater autonomy to states.

Karunanidhi headed DMK from 1969 until his death on 7th August 2018, almost for 50 years. Born on 3rd June 1924, he was Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu five times, though not continuously, and the first time being in 1969. In all, he ruled the State for a total of 6,863 days, holder of the longest tenure as TN CM. He contested the state assembly election 13 times and invariably won all the times. Karunanidhi went on to unfurl the tricolour as the State CM thirteen more times, even wheelchair-bound in 2009 and 2010. Finally, as a former CM of Tamil Nadu, his mortal remains were covered by the tricolour as a mark of respect when he passed away a year back on 7th August 2018.   

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