Lal Chowk: Tiranga betrayed
by Nancy Kaul on 27 Jan 2010 23 Comments

The non-hoisting of the national tricolour at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, the failure of the Security Forces to hold their own traditional celebrations there with the unfurling of the flag, singing of the anthem, followed by distribution of sweets, will surely be the enduring memory of Republic Day 2010.


Leading the national celebrations down Rajpath, the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces, President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, took the salute presented by the Defence and Security forces of the country. It was a day to commemorate the Indian Republic with somber remembrance of the bravest of the brave soldiers at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, followed by an exultant flag hoisting and salute – in respect of the Nation, its Forces, its unity and integrity, its sovereignty.


The Flag : the tricolour, the ‘Tiranga’, symbol of the nation, representative of the pride of the country and the valour of our Security Forces who are ready to shed their blood for the dignity, defence, and sovereignty of this very Nation under this very Flag.


Even as India and we Indians take pride in singing, “Vijaye Vishwa tiranga Payara, Jhanda Ooncha rahe hamara,” it was with shock, sorrow, and anger that we learnt that the hoisting of the National Flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar was not done or rather, was not allowed, this year. For the last twenty years, after the eruption of the most deadly terrorism in the State, every year, Security Forces in the vicinity of Lal Chowk have unfurled the tricolour with the respect it deserves.


Yet this year, inexplicably, and without a word of explanation, there was no Republic Day celebration in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk by the security forces; nor was the tricolour hoisted atop the clock tower there, which has been customary over the last 20 years of militancy. Instead, this bustling business hub was in a state of uneasy calm as people all over the Kashmir Valley remained indoors due to a shutdown call by separatists and the heavy presence of security forces.


Till the time of writing, there was no official word on why the celebration was not held Tuesday. Who withheld it?


As Lal Chowk, which recently witnessed a long terror siege of nearly 23 hours, wore a deserted look, the gun-toting men in uniform were alert and in battle-ready mode. Would it not have boosted their morale to hoist the most visible symbol of the Republic on Republic Day?


Security forces used to have their own Republic Day celebration in Lal Chowk, and would distribute sweets and sing the national anthem, which would be followed by the hoisting of the Tiranga over the clock tower situated right in the centre of the market, a wire service from Srinagar noted. But this year was unfathomably different.


To suggest that the 23-hour-long fidayeen attack at Lal Chowk was a reason not to hold the function is frivolous, smacks of a hidden agenda, and puts a question mark on the preparedness of the security forces. In reality, Lal Chowk has seen far more testing times in the last twenty years; many more fidayeens have gone on for more than 24 hours. The security forces have neutralized many deadly fidayeen attacks and grenades in the vicinity of the Lal Chowk clock tower, where the national flag would flutter with the same honour, even as terrorists would be killed.


The recent repeated declarations of Defence Minister AK Antony and Jammu & Kashmir State DG Police Kuldeep Khuda led the country to believe that violence in the Kashmir Valley had declined and that the situation was moving towards normalcy. So why were security forces withdrawn from Kashmir if the threat loomed to such an extent that Security Forces could not even unfurl the Indian Flag on Indian soil in Jammu & Kashmir?


The deadpan silence and offering of lame excuses raises a question mark over the Government of Jammu & Kashmir. The whole exercise seems to be a pre-calibrated move to appease certain elements, and reeks of deeper dangers on the ground.


At whose behest was this done, and why? The question is of prime importance and is interrelated to the country, the security apparatus, the citizens, and the country’s sovereignty.


It is also pertinent that though the BSF and the CRPF have been unfurling the flag on Republic Day and Independence Day, one never sees officials of Jammu & Kashmir Police, not even the closest police station SHO, attend it? True, the official Government function takes place in Bakshi Stadium, but that does not mean that hoisting the flag at the Lal Chowk Clock Tower is unconstitutional or not within the parameters of Indian democracy.


This abject negation of a ceremony so pregnant with the symbolism of the Republic cannot be without an ulterior motive. Behind the façade of untruth are murmurs that point a finger at the corridors of power. Indeed, the courage of men involved in counter terror operations is unquestionable, but the conduct and aspirations of certain politicians and top level officials is debatable.


During the unrest created by the PDP and Hurriyat and other politicians in the Kashmir Valley over the making of makeshift Yatri tents in Baltal to provide better facilities to Amarnath pilgrims, the National Flag was torn down and spitted upon.


De ragda, de ragda, Hindustan (after vehemently beating their shoes on the flag and ground), jive jive Pakistan,” was followed by a mad frenzy of slogans and hoisting of the Pakistani flag. The CRPF was asked to be a mute spectator to disrespect of such magnitude, and State DG allowed it to flutter at Lal Chowk for hours, atop the very same clock tower!


Interestingly, it was the son-of-the-soil inclination of the PDP-NC combine that allowed the coronation of Kuldeep Khuda as State Police Chief, though better, more competent officers were available. He also enjoys an enviable proximity to certain Central leaders (the Home Minister attended the marriage of his daughter in Jammu).


Today there are whispers that he suggested that the act of unfurling the flag was resented by the local population and the CRPF should not unfurl it, though they had been maintaining this tradition for two decades.


The present Chief Minister, then a Member of Parliament, in his by now famous speech had asserted that he was a Muslim and he was an Indian. He had said that not even an inch of land would be given.


Is this a pointer to an emerging pattern, where the Union Home Minister favours secret parleys with secessionist and separatist forces? Was this disregard done to please these very elements? What is the Government up to? Is it another symbolic tactic to distance Kashmir from India?


Or is Ghanta Ghar (clock tower) Lal Chowk not India at all; has it been handed over to Pakistan and Islamic terrorists?


All along, the separatists and other terror-supporting forces have been against the Indian flag flying from this clock tower, and at the peak of terrorism the Pakistani flag would often be hoisted over it. The then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi hoisted the flag at very clock tower on 26 Jan 1992, amidst rocket attacks at the venue, for this very same reason.


But today even the BJP is mum at this national sacrilege. Is this silence in acceptance of the separatists’ demands or self-rule and the erosion of Indian sovereignty in Jammu & Kashmir? Recently, BJP think tank Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation invited a supporter of PDP’s demand for self-rule at a function to observe Exodus Day on Jan. 19!


The signals emanating are clear and an alarm bell for the country to recognize another conspiracy.


The author is convener, Daughters of Vitasta

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