The right-wingers demolished Sheikh Abdullah’s ‘empire’ by taking their battle – Eak Vidhan, Eak Nishan, against the twin flags system to Srinagar. They, however, did not know that Kashmir was already caught in their own battles of symbolism and political belief, writes M J Aslam
Flag is not a mere piece of fabric that flutters about in the breeze. It represents the feelings and ideas of the people and stands for them.
The first Kashmir flag was adopted by the first largest political party of Jammu and Kashmir, the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, which was formed in the lawns of historic Pather Masjid Srinagar during a meeting between October 14 and 16, 1932. It was undoubtedly first and last political body of Jammu and Kashmir that had drawn the support of entire Muslim population of the State.
The proceedings of the Muslim Conference began by the unfurling of its flag that had a green background with a crescent and a star. (See Sheikh M Abdullah’s The Blazing Chinar published by Gulshan Books Srinagar, 2016, page 122) The green background represented [then] 85 per cent Muslim population of the State of whom 96 per cent lived in Kashmir valley alone. The crescent and star were [Muslim] national religious icons. The flag was hoisted in presence of 200 Muslim leaders and 100 pressmen on the pandal, and three lakh people around on October 14, 1932, by Waliullah Zain-ul-Abedin, a prominent Punjabi Muslim representative of All India Kashmir Committee. (See M Y Saraf’s Kashmiris Fight For Freedom ( 2009) pages 482-83) The flag corresponded [corresponds] to the flag of Indian Muslim League which later became the Pakistani national flag with additional white stripes.
At the time of flag hoisting ceremony, Waliullah Zain-ul-Abedin spoke: “Today, the hoisting of the green flag with crescent opens a new chapter in the history of Kashmir. As such, it is the duty of the Kashmiris to see that it remains hoisted always. This flag of the [Muslim] Conference is the harbinger of love, peace and brotherhood among all the communities living in the State …” (See Alfazl, Qadian, October 25, 1932; F. M. Hassnain, Freedom Struggle in Kashmir (1988 edition), page 77)
The Muslim Conference flag evinced that the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir had then organised themselves under “a single flag, a single platform and an ideal.” (See M A Jinnah’s Address to Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir in 1944: Legal Document No 82 also cited in K-Ink dated 28-03-2016)
But within less than eight years, under the influence of Pandit Nehru, some local leftist and Pandit leaders, the Muslim Conference was rechristened by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to the National Conference. To be precise, at 1.45 am, during the intervening night of June 11 and 12, 1939, the Muslim Conference was converted into the National Conference at party headquarters, Mujahid Manzil Srinagar. The green flag with white crescent and a star in the middle was pulled down and replaced by a flag with a red background and a plough in the middle which, thenceforth, became the party flag of the National Conference. (See Gh Hassan Khan’s K-Freedom Movement from 1931-1940(2009) page 386)
The National Conference flag was prepared by Pandit Prem Nath Dwarika and designed by Sardar Budh Singh. On the day of transformation of the Muslim Conference into the National Conference, there was unsurprisingly huge jubilation among Kashmiri Pandits who celebrated it as their great achievement. But many prominent Muslims opposed the leadership’s move fearing “that the National Conference would become hand-maid of the Indian National Congress.” (See PN Bazaz, The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir (1954), pages 168, 170)
Rejecting that opposition, Sheikh Abdullah said: “We had to take a decision (of conversion of the party), so have taken; those who disagree with it may leave.” (See Shabnum Qayoom’s Comprehensive History of Kashmir (2014) vol 2, page 262-263)
But, as admitted by Sheikh Abdullah and Chowdhari Ghulam Abbas in their separate meetings in 1948, before Josef Korbel the split in Muslim unity of Jammu and Kashmir in 1939 “had been the beginning of all their [Muslim] troubles”. (See Danger in Kashmir (1954) page 23)
We may mention an interesting episode that took place after conversion of the Muslim Conference to the National Conference. To recall, the lawns adjacent to Pather Masjid, where the Muslim Conference was launched, were utilised for construction of a building that was named as Mujahid Manzil, which was used as party headquarters of the Muslim Conference. The green flag was fluttering on top of this building until it was replaced by the National Conference’s red flag. The building was constructed with a substantial contribution of money and labour from a staunch Muslim Conference leader Qureshi Mohammad Yousuf who had opposed the conversion, tooth and nail. Highly angered, the Muslim Conference leader asked for the return of his money or share in the building. Two rooms were allotted to him where he raised banners and flag of the Muslim Conference. It happened when Sheikh Abdullah was not present at the party headquarters. He had been on a visit to Jammu.
When Sheikh returned and was told about the development, he asked Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad to call one of the “ruffian-regiments” of the National Conference. The “ruffian-regiment” was called and “they” pulled down signboard and flag of the Muslim Conference and burnt it along with the furniture and record that was maintained by Qureshi Mohammad Yusuf in his allotted rooms. (See Shabnum Qayoom’s Comprehensive History of Kashmir (2014) vol 2, page 265)
The National Conference flag prima facie corresponded to the Communist flag with identical red background with a scythe, instead of the plough, in the middle. Both flags symbolise workers, labourers and peasants, the slogan of all leftist parties to date. (See Rasheed Taseer, Tareekh-i-Huriyyat-Kashmir (1967 -Mohafiz Publishers, Srinagar) Vol two, pages 76-77) Thus National Conference flag buried the Muslim Conference flag. Since the Muslim Conference flag contained Muslims’ icons of crescent and star, it was not liked by non-Muslims and leftists.
Notwithstanding these developments, a bosom-liking for green flag remained deep inside the state Muslims. On June 13, 1941, with the active support of Mirwaiz M Yousuf Shah and Chowdhari Ghulam Abbas revived the All J and K Muslim Conference. He was convinced that Sheikh Abdullah had drifted away from core-principles (See Chowdhari Ghulam Abbas’s Kashmakash (1950, reprinted edition of 2017) page 178) and made the National Conference “hand-maid of the Indian National Congress”. And, in view of the fast changing political scenario of British India, “the Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir began to return to the Muslim Conference led by Chowdhari Ghulam Abbas, abandoning the ranks of the National Conference of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah” till he “played a poor card” (see Josef Korbel, Danger in Kashmir (1954) page 22 or a “political ploy” of Quit Kashmir. (See Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy (1991) page 95)
With the revival, the visits of Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Srinagar in 1941 and finally in 1944 providing much needed “vitamin” to the Muslim Conference workers. Its green flags were publically hoisted by them at all offices and units of the party in Jammu and Kashmir.
The events of August-1947, the partition unfolded the hidden sentiment of the state Muslims. So, at midnight on August 14, 1947, they rejoiced and hoisted “Pakistani flags”, which resembled the green flag of their own Muslim Conference, at their rooftops and post offices believing or expecting that they had become or would become part of Pakistan. It was a spectacle to watch streams of people from all directions swarming towards the post office in order to have a glimpse of their hope and desire. (See Victoria Schofield, Kashmir in Conflict (2003) page 41) And, when the day of August 15 dawned, the state Muslims celebrated a “Pakistan Day” with Pakistani green flags enthusiastically displayed throughout the State. The Maharaja ordered them torn down and retaliated by closing all pro-Pakistani newspapers. (See Josef Korbel, Danger in Kashmir (1954) page 63)
It was not only the Maharaja alone who had shown aversion to green flags. Under a well thought out plan, the National Conference workers, whose leader at that time was in jail, too pulled down the “Pakistani flags” from the post and telegraph offices and all other buildings all over the State. (See Greater Kashmir dated August 11, 2016: Post Office in flames)
But the people continued to hoist “Pakistani flags” on government buildings and electricity poles which were again and again removed by the police. Ultimately, the job of removing “Pakistani flags” and dealing with “flag-hoisters” and supporters of the Muslim Conference was given to NC cadres. Sheikh was released on September 29, 1947, under a pre-planning by the Maharaja at the behest of Nehru and Patel and appointed “Head” of the Emergency Administration of the State. (See letter dated October 27, 1947, addressed by Nehru to Patel) “The soldiers of ―”Abdullah Guard” and “Peace Brigade” were tasked to remove the Pakistani and Muslim Conference flags from all over the State”. (See History of flag politics in Kashmir, article posted by ZG Muhammad on his blog “Peace Watch” on April 29, 2015)
Under Delhi Agreement of July 24, 1952, it was agreed that the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall have its own flag which shall be hoisted alongside the Indian tricolour flag at all government functions and properties. The National Conference flag was adopted as the State flag with the addition of “three equidistant white vertical stripes” on left side representing three regions of the state: Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. (See section 144 of the State Constitution; The Hindu (Madras), September 29, 1949)
In March 2015, the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayed, issued a circular directing all constitutional functionalities of the State to hoist State flag in their offices and on their vehicles. But as the coalition partner, BJP, refused to hoist the State flag alongside Indian tricolour, thus, paying no importance to the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution that requires it, Mufti had to buckle under the partner pressure and withdraw the circular. (See The Hindu dated March 13, 2015) Later, two judges bench of the High Court also stayed the order of a single judge bench that had directed hoisting of the State flag along with tricolour on all official buildings and vehicles of constitutional authorities. (See India Today January 1, 2016, and Times of India January 2, 2016
In the aftermath of Sheikh Abdullah’s unceremonious removal as the State Prime Minister and arrest on August 9, 1953, Mirza Afzal Beigh, his deputy together with other leaders, renamed the National Conference as Mahaz e Rai Shoomari (the Plebiscite Front) on August 9, 1955. The renamed party, however, very belatedly, following its first three-day annual convocation held at Sopore between November 14 and 16, 1964, “adopted a rectangular flag, with green colour for 2/3 of its length representing Muslims of the State and saffron for 1/3 of its length representing the non-Muslims. In the middle, there were three motifs a green chinar leaf at top symbolising Kashmir, a pair of clasped hands below it symbolizing friendship between India and Pakistan and a crescent at the bottom”. (See Indian Express, December 11, 1964, cited in Shodganga, Chapter IX, Dismissal and the Plebiscite Front, page 233)
However, after Sheikh Abdullah signed Accord with Indira Gandhi on February 12, 1975, the Plebiscite Front along with its flag was permanently buried.
(Author is an academics, story-teller and freelance columnist, who is an AVP in JK Bank. Views expressed are personal and not of the organisation the author works for.)