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Foisting the tricolour?

The BJP's plan to hoist the national flag in Srinagar is threatening to disturb the hard-earned peace in the valley after months of bloody unrest. Arun Joshi writes.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2011 12:05 IST
Arun Joshi

The fears of "Hindu India" versus "Muslim Kashmir" are being revived again in the manner they had been during the Amarnath land agitation of 2008.

What's stoking such anxieties is the BJP's "tiranga yatra" or the march to hoist the tricolour at historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar on January 26 - at a time when things have started showing signs of normalcy in the Kashmir valley, the scene of prolonged street violence and clashes in the summer of last year.

If national solidarity is the sentiment that's driving Bharatiya Janata Party Morcha activists, led by its president Anurag Thakur, in this endeavour, there are fears of a backlash as well.

"If the Indian tricolour is atop the civil secretariat, the seat of government, the unfurling of the flag would provoke a reaction in which the youth may turn out on the streets and trample or burn the flag," said Noor-ul-Qamrain, political commentator and editor of Voice of Valley newspaper.

"In such a situation what's the point in hoisting the flag," asked Qamrain, who saw the 1992 flag hoisting by the BJP, an incident that created a "sense of persecution" among Kashmiris.

Chief minister Omar Abdullah echoed similar fears. "Now when Kashmir is showing signs of returning to normal after months of trouble, this flag hoisting may only (serve to provoke) the youth," he told Hindustan Times, referring to the summer unrest, in which 112 people, mostly youngsters, were killed.

The communal feelings triggered during the 2008 Amarnath land row are alive. It was during this agitation that the term "Hindu India versus Muslim Kashmir" was coined.

The issue behind the agitation was that the Jammu and Kashmir government had given land for Amarnath pilgrims and that sparked widespread protests. The land order had to be rescinded. Following this, a counter-agitation started in Jammu, leading to an economic blockade of the Kashmir valley.

Omar is miffed because the BJP, which claims "Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part (of India), is trying to do something to show that the state is different from others".

The flag issue was hyped after Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik came out openly against the idea and gave the call Lal Chowk chalo or march to the historic square, where the national tricolour was first unfurled by Jawaharlal Nehru as PM in the presence of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Omar Abdullah's grandfather.

Yasin Malik attempted to underline the message that Kashmir is different from the rest of India. As he came out against the BJP's plans, the message was clear because the party is viewed as right-wing. The JKLF chief sought to convey that the Muslim-majority valley would not tolerate it.

In the same scheme of things, hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is known for his fundamentalist views, has given a call for observing January 26 as "black day" and also sought to revive his "Go India go" slogan of last summer. He has asked the people to "hoist black flags with the slogans of Go India Go".

This is what has angered the BJP and the youth outside the valley. The president of the state unit of the BJP, Shamsher Singh Manhas, said it would go ahead with plan to hoist the flag as "neither the JKLF nor Omar Abdullah can prevent it from doing so".

The sentiment on the streets of Jammu, especially among the youth, is equally strong.

"It is no issue at all. Separatists and Kashmiri politicians have made it an issue - now the BJP must go ahead and unfurl the flag.

It's a question of our prestige as Indians," said Rajesh Sharma, who is not a member of any party.

As Republic Day approaches, there is growing polarisation and mounting tensions, which has left the official machinery worried.

"The flag hoisting at Lal Chowk in Srinagar can complicate matters and the valley can re-erupt. That's not in national interests," a senior police officer told Hindustan Times.

"Not allowing the yatra to Kashmir would save the situation from worsening, but a final decision would have to be taken by this weekend."

Omar said he would discuss the matter with his colleagues and "take a decision at an appropriate time".

This wait-and-watch situation is keeping the state on tenterhooks. The suppressed passions, it is feared, may get inflamed if the things are not handled in time.