A two judge bench on Friday stayed the Jammu and Kashmir High Court’s earlier order on hoisting of the state flag alongside the national flag on constitutional buildings. Whatever would be the fate of the case in the coming days, the controversy was an unnecessary one in the first place.
Jammu and Kashmir is the only Indian state permitted to fly its own flag along with the national flag owing to its unique status under the Constitution. This flag has a deep red field representing labour and a plough to represent agriculture. The three stripes located on the left side represent the three geographic regions of the state: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. This flag has its origins in events that took place on July 13, 1931, in Srinagar. A demonstration against the Dogra rulers by the locals led to the police opening fire in which 21 people were killed — the blood-stained shirt of one of the victims was then hoisted by the crowd as the new flag of Kashmir. This date subsequently became ‘Martyrs Day’ and is an official holiday in J&K. The flag was adopted by the National Conference.
Fast forwarding to the current era, based on a petition filed by a Kashmiri official in 2013, Justice Hasnain Masodi of the J&K High Court delivered on December 26, 2015, what could be interpreted as a landmark judgment that re-asserts “J&K’s lost autonomy.”
The high court had directed all constitutional authorities to fly the state flag on their buildings and official cars as mandated under Section 44 of the J&K Constitution. It observed that it was an “informed decision” of the J&K Constituent Assembly “not to recommend modification or change in the Article” and to “allow it to remain” in the same form even after the J&K Constitution came into force on January 26, 1957.
It must be, however, noted that the J&K state flag had been flying along the national flag for decades and it was only when the PDP-BJP coalition government came into power in 2015 that chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, under pressure from the BJP, allowed the removal of the state flag. The high court merely restored the status quo. However, the BJP has felt embarrassed as it has been pushing for the repeal of Article 370 as well as for government buildings and cars to fly only the national flag.
An objective appraisal of the judgment will reveal that local BJP protests were nothing more than a minor storm in a tea cup. Of far more significance for the Centre and state governments if the need to ameliorate the economic conditions in the troubled state, the creation of job opportunities for the restive youth who may be driven to join international terror outfit Isis’ calls to join the Sunni jihad or any of the many Pakistan-sponsored terror ‘tanzeems’ floating around in the Valley.
India has to tolerate dissent in the state, be it slogan shouting or even stone pelting but firmly put down seditious activities like waving the Pakistani or Isis flags.
The current state flag controversy can be legally managed but the machinations by some separatists to get the earlier nomenclature of Sadar-i-Riyasat or prime minister for the governor and CM of the state respectively should not permitted under any circumstances.
Kamal Davar is the first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency. The views expressed are personal.