The decision of the BJP to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar this Republic Day could be an act of political expediency, but it’s not a prudent step in the long run.
The timely counsel of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah not to pursue this short-term political vision, seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the BJP as it aspires to regain its status in national politics.
Surely, nobody can challenge the legitimate right of a free citizen to hoist the national flag anywhere within the boundaries of India. But the issue of raising the tricolour in the Valley isn’t merely about that right. It is about being sensitive to the feelings of a silent majority of Kashmiris whose fledgling hopes swell with the promise of peace in the streets of the Valley. It is about not rupturing the veneer of thin ice and provoking vested interests to fish in the troubled waters lurking below. It is about being aware of a litany of woes that have largely gone unnoticed.
The issue is about looking straight at the citizens of the Valley with compassion and not driving flagpoles in the name of patriotism through their fragile dreams. Populism and brinkmanship may have considerable space and importance in the political arena. But in Kashmir, it is about holding hands precariously. For a long time, we have pushed, prodded and hoped that our hard-hitting postures and actions would bring us the desired results in Kashmir.
The proponents of the flag hoisting ceremony the coming Wednesday may well argue that Lal Chowk is just another destination, a final stop in their ongoing exercise within the nation. Even if we were to agree to this proposition of equivalence, we should understand what net gains and losses may accrue at the end of it.
Three main compulsions drive the BJP to extend its flag-hoisting yatra into the Valley: One, to proclaim ultra-patriotism through this action to outsmart the political adversaries in the eyes of the Indian public. Two, to reiterate the might and writ of Indian Statehood that encompasses the Kashmir Valley. Three, to demonstrate loud and clear to citizens and separatists of the Valley that India is here to stay whether they like it or not.
There could be more reasons, but considering that these are the main ones, it is evident that a pan-Indian political party doesn’t need to do what they intend to on Republic Day. To be a worthy aspirant for ruling the country, the BJP’s political leadership needs to gain the confidence and acceptance of Kashmiris. The January 26 gesture won’t help one bit.
On a more symbolic level, flag-hoisting signifies stamping one’s writ over a people. By hoisting India’s national flag at Lal Chowk, we mustn’t be led into believing that the geographic contours of the Valley have been irrevocably subsumed into the Indian map. By inhabiting that small space for an hour or two, we wouldn’t automatically have occupied the vast space of the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris.
The challenge is not to spend energies on restating the geographic contours of our nation, but to find ways and means to fill the void spaces within those contours.
Maharaj Pandit is a professor at University of Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal