'BJP Gimmick,' Say Kashmir Politicians as Tricolour Disappears Within Hours

Rightwing quarters celebrated it by claiming this was the first time that the tricolour had been hoisted at Srinagar's Clock Tower. Several in Kashmir have questioned this claim.

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New Delhi: On January 26, 2022, as India celebrated its 73rd Republic Day, a flag hoisting ceremony was held at the Lal Chowk area in Srinagar’s city centre.

The national flag was unfurled on the Clock Tower. On social media, rightwing quarters celebrated the flag hoisting by claiming this was the first time that the tricolour had been hoisted in the location. While several in Kashmir itself have questioned this claim, the flag itself was taken down in a few hours’ time.

The Flag Code of India 2002 and The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971, have it that, “Where the Flag is displayed in open, it should, as far as possible, be flown from sunrise to sunset, irrespective of weather conditions”.

Thus the code of conduct renders what occurred in Kashmir an insult to the tricolour. The decision to keep the tricolour up in Srinagar only until midday also raises the same questions on democracy that already deafen Kashmir.

National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah was among the first who brought to light the removal of the national flag at midday. He also accused the administration of actively using the temporarily unfurled flag as a photo opportunity.

On January 26, the Valley saw a muted celebration of Republic Day under massive security cover. Notably, this is two and half a years after the unilateral reading down of Article 370 by the Modi government.

With the release of politicians detained since Article 370 was read down, conversations have been afoot in Kashmir on a post-370 future.

Tanvir Sadiq, National Conference leader and adviser to Omar Abdullah, told The Wire how he felt that patriotism does not and should not come through the barrel of the gun, it has to come from within. He added that if one wants to unfurl the flag, they should do so by all means. But one shouldn’t make it look like it was never done before, he added.

Also read: Two Years Without Article 370 Has Done Little to Benefit the People of J&K

“Like yesterday, at Lal Chowk a couple of guys put up the flag and then suddenly it disappeared, it was there only for that brief period and then taken off, as if the only intention was to tell the people of the country, look this was not done before and what great service they have done,” he said.

Sadiq also explained how there is anger, dissatisfaction and disappointment amongst the people of Kashmir for how the very constitution that people celebrated on January 26 was abused and misused on August 5, 2019 – the day of the Article 370 move.

The act of removing of the flag had defenders too. Some spoke of logistics and blamed the sturdiness of the structure.

“This is not only amusing but saddening,” said Sadiq.

“In the past, at times, the whole Clock Tower of Lal Chowk has been draped in the national flag, such functions have been taking place on every January 26 and August 15. But unfortunately, they have reduced these events to photo ops to earn brownie points,” he said.

Sadiq added that spread of false narratives would do well to stop. “It also looks so staged and unreal, how sitting in Delhi and elsewhere some self-styled journalists and activists share such videos, use hashtags and also words like ‘goosebumps’ and ‘emotional’ just to make it look as if this was never allowed in the past,” he said.

Peoples Democratic Party’s spokesperson Mohit Bhan echoes Sadiq and said that in spite of false narratives peddled by the the Bharatiya Janata Party, there was never a doubt that J&K was not a part of India. “This was peddled by BJP to polarise the country and vilify Kashmiris so it could garner votes and drive away the country’s attention from issues such as economy, healthcare and development,” Bhan added.

Bhan also pointed towards public sentiment on the eve of the celebration. “Militants striking on the eve of Republic Day in the heart of the city amid such high security vindicates our claim that situation is far from normal, and that it has only gone from bad to worse. A Republic Day where a citizen cannot wish fellow countrymen due to internet suspension and restrictions speaks volumes about the gravity of the situation,” he said.

Taking off from Bhan’s point, political commentator and historian Siddiq Wahid says that the flag episode displays two rather obvious conclusions on the Article 370 decision. One, he said, is that the Union government’s 2019 hopes for the former state of J&K have not gone as planned and secondly, the government is unsure as to how to deal with it.

Jammu & Kashmir Peoples’ Conference spokesperson Adnan Ashraf feels that the unfurling and quick lowering of the flag did not do anybody any good except the BJP.

Ashraf told The Wire, “It’s highly unfortunate that they feel that to suit their own narrative they need to do such gimmicks on such days. Since August 5, 2019, the state has been sidelining local politicians who have often been chief guests on such events.”

Security personnel stand guard at a blocked road near the venue of 73rd Repubic Day function, in Srinagar, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Photo: PTI

He adds how the current dispensation feels that the political class is not worthy of invitation to such events. According to Ashraf, such demeanour spells utter disregard for people who have been torch bearers of democracy in Kashmir. He said, “The current dispensation is just white washing history to suit its own narrative.”

Senior PDP leader and former minister, Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura is also angry at the BJP’s habit of politicising national days, “Unemployment is here, conflict is still here, we are still miles away from development, but they leave no chance aside when it comes to swaying the narrative,” he said.

Hanjura also added, “The Indian tricolour has been unfurled in J&K since 1947, nothing new happened this year, but to market it as a new thing is the BJP’s style. They behave as if they have only recently conquered Lal Chowk. This is nothing more than a gimmick ahead of the election in five states.”