Published On:23 January 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Flag fever in Lal Chowk – Then and Now

By Bashir Assad

Srinagar: With police foiling the attempt of BJP activists to hoist a flag at Clock Tower on Sunday, the Lal Chowk in Srinagar once again turns into a battlefield, the only difference that this time around it is the BJP replacing separatists.

Srinagar city’s historic Lal Chowk, the commercial hub, had been a battleground between the state and the non-state actors over past twenty years or so and it is for the second time that BJP is all set to march towards the Clock-tower in the heart of Lal Chowk for flag hoisting ceremony on the eve of Republic Day of India.

In what can be termed as rehearsal drill, two BJP activists appeared near the Clock Tower on Sunday evening (January 23, 2011) and tried to hoist the tricolor. However, policemen deployed there prevented them from doing so and the duo was later arrested.

With a glance at the historical events that shaped the politics in Kashmir, the Lal Chowk has been the epicenter of contending ideologies. After India gained freedom, the first ever massive public gathering that poured in the Lal Chowk to listen to the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaherlal Nehru and the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1948 marked the new era of political equations in Kashmir. However, the transition from pleasant to unpleasant political events was also marked in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar city in 1990. In between 1948 and 1990, the Lal Chowk has been a rendezvous of many historical events such as in 1964 when Bakshi Rashid brother of then Prime Minister Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad had a narrow escape at Lal Chowk after thousands of people ran after him and set ablaze his car and also the office of National Conference.

Since then, the flag hoisting at Lal Chowk has been cherished desire of contending political actors representing polarized ideologies in terms of ethno-religious identities. During contemporary period, Pakistani, Indian and Kashmiri nationalists have been engaging themselves in flag-fever at Lal Chowk.

However, many people still remember the times when flag-hoisting at Lal Chowk would provide an opportunity to cheer and celebrate.

“For me January 26 celebrations have seen a paradigm shift from the times when Sheikh Abdullah was a prime minister to flag hoisting attempt by Murli Manohar Joshi in early 90s.
It has gone from one wave to another,” says an old bakery owner in Lal Chowk, who refuses to give his name fearing repercussions. For him Indian Republic Day was something to celebrate in his youth when he along with friends used to go to Bakshi Stadium to see the spectacle of parades, music, and folk dance. Police band pageant was his favorite. But then things changed. Certain watershed events shaped the course and the way Indian Republic Day will be perceived in Kashmir.

“The hanging of Maqbool Bhat made a phenomenal shift. The follow up was not the open outcry but a sense of realization and it was never same after that,” he remembers. According to him, a total shock gripped the government at the State and Centre when youth after watching Omar Mukthar burned the posters of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in the city centre. Government eventually banned the film, but the course for the future events was very much visible.

In the beginning of militancy in Kashmir in early 90s, Murli Manohar Joshi of BJP started a Yatra which ended at Lal chowk, Srinagar under heavy security and rocket fire from militants when he attempted flag hoisting on clock tower (Ganta Ghar) on 26th January. He was escorted and sent back to Delhi in airplane. “I still remember kind of panic that gripped valley then. They started the march with thousands people joining them across India, but the moment they were it city center, Joshi was just with a handful of supporters. It was such a tense day and when the rockets were fired on them, jubilation was felt across my locality in downtown,” he remembers.

For Kashmiris January 26 is now synonymous with security checks, frisking, beating and unnecessary tension and fear for life.

“Everywhere in world, New Year brings joy and celebration, but for Kashmiris, it is the wakeup for the troubles they have to face in the very first month of New Year,” he said.

For last twenty years, this day has always been associated with fear and insecurity and as BJP plans another flag hoisting attempt on Ghanta Gahr, Kashmiris worry another tragedy on the cards.

[Bashir Assad is a senior Journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. He is now Bureau Chief (J&K) of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at bashirassad@rediffmail.com]

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on January 23, 2011. Filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on January 23, 2011. Filed under , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

3 comments for "Flag fever in Lal Chowk – Then and Now"

  1. When separatists can hoist Pakistani flag at Lal Chowk, then why can't BJP activists be allowed to hoist the Indian tricolor. After all,Kashmir is an integral part of India. The best thing would be that the state presidents of all political parties in Jammu & Kashmir should jointly hold flag hoisting ceremony at Lal Chowk this Republic Day. This would also be the sane and best way to assert the Indian identity in Kashmir.

  2. Flagging of Tricolor is an offence in Kashmir. CM is treating Kashmir a seperate country and is supporting the traitor bodies......Congress is failed so why BJP should do it.......

  3. virendra singh view....
    non of Indian as well as Kashmirian leader are interested to do so,,, they want to just enjoy the issue with public blood.

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