Flagging Kashmir

The BJP may not have been able to hoist a flag at Lal Chowk but it sent a message across the country appealing to the nationalistic sentiments of voters. However, the strife-torn state does not need any further aggression. Ilham Hassan reports.

Narendra Modi during the flag hoisting event on 26 January 1992 in Srinagar.

The high-voltage drama on flag hoisting at Lal Chowk ended on January 26 evening and the following day was business-as-usual in the most bustling street of Kashmir. The Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha activists failed to enter Kashmir Valley yet they claimed that they have achieved their goal of sending a message across the country that Kashmir can not be seceded from India.

The JKLF and Hurriyat activists failed to lodge their party flag at the Lal Chowk yet they claimed that their resistance saved the dignity of Kashmiris and defeated the aggression of Sangh Parivar. The state and the central governments ensured an incident-free Republic Day but the entire Kashmir Valley was besieged and people were subjected to humiliation.

The BJP and the coalition government have threatened to drag each other into legal battles in the aftermath of Lal Chowk fiasco. The BJP leader Arun Jaitley declared in Jammu that the yatra has ended but the issue will continue. The party’s Parliamentary Party Chairman LK Advani threatened to move the court against the “unconstitutional” and “criminal” steps taken by the government.

The steps include detention of Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar at Jammu airport and escorting them out of the J&K boundary. The coalition government threatened legal action against the desecration of state flag following BJP activists’ assault on Finance Minister A R Rather’s official vehicle. As Kashmir University’s law professor Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain puts it, “We were thankful to the BJP for announcing a march towards Kashmir on January 26. This only brought the disputability of Kashmir into focus. The common Indians ask, why is it impossible to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk”.

Lal Chowk is the political space of Kashmir where secular politics was nourished by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah who was highly influenced by the Russian Revolution. Sheikh Abdullah used this space to demonstrate his love for India and hatred for Pakistan. From the Palladium Cinema building, where Sheikh Abdullah’s office as Emergency Administrator appointed by Maharaja Hari Sigh operated, was used to show captured Pakistani raiders to the people. And, then Shiekh Abdullah and Jawahar Lal Nehru merged into each other and decided the fate of Kashmiris.

“These secular credentials of Lal Chowk were threatened by the BJP. It is good that the government did not allow the saffron brigade to show up at Lal Chowk,” said a veteran National Conference worker.

The theme of the BJYM’s ekta yatra (unity march) was a complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the union of India. This is the ideological cornerstone of the party that seeks to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution guaranteeing special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah opposed the BJP’s plans on seemingly plausible logic. Saying that Kashmir had to returned to normalcy with great difficulty after months of unrest and the BJP’s flag-hoisting would enrage people and create another law and order situation. Omar did not oppose the flag hoisting but its place and timing.

Common Kashmiris, besieged in the backdrop of shutdown call by separatists and tight security arrangements, watched the developments with curiosity.

The BJP started the march from Kolkata for two reasons. First, it is the birthplace of Dr. Shama Prasad Mookerjee, who raised first voice against the special status of J&K and played his role in abolishing the permit system that was mandatory non-state subjects to enter J&K. Second, the assembly elections in West Bengal where the Communist regime is showing signs of downfall are close.

Kashmir is one emotional issue, which can be highlighted to get closer to the electorate. Interestingly, the West Bengal link also forced Congress to fully back the Omar Abdullah government to sabotage the BJP plans. This explains why the government did not contemplate on inviting a delegation of BJP leaders to symbolically hoist the Tricolour in Lal Chowk if allowing hordes of their activists was not possible. In fact, that was done in 1992 when the then BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi was flown in to hoist the national flag at the same venue. That time, the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway was virtually under the control of insurgents.

The BJP finds that India’s position on Kashmir is under more threat externally and internally than it was ever. The leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, during his detention in Jammu, repeatedly referred to former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri’s assertion that they had reached on an agreement with India on Kashmir during Musharraf regime.

Internally, Omar Abdullah says on the floor of the House that J&K has only acceded to, not merged with, Indian union under various conditions, which remain unfulfilled from Indian part. He is vociferously taking up the issue of internal autonomy, which was consigned to the dustbin by the BJP in July 2000 when it led the NDA regime at the Center.

That time Farooq Abdullah, as Advani puts it, allowed the issue to lapse to save his ties with NDA. But now BJP cannot exert with that potential. The BJP’s ideological outlook apart, one section of opinion in Kashmir holds that the flag issue was unnecessary and ill-timed. They say that national flag has always been hoisted in Srinagar and other parts of the Valley and people have shown up on public galleries and local students participated in the march past. The BJP’s programme created a sense of insecurity among the people.

They say that BJP must have gained a point or two, at the national level but this cannot be said about India as a country. To win over the people of Kashmir, affection rather than aggression is required. That was perhaps the roadmap of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who wanted to find the solution of Kashmir issue, in the realm of humanity.


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