I-Day in J&K, then and now | india | Hindustan Times
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I-Day in J&K, then and now

Independence Day in the Valley has for the past 19 years since the separatist struggle began, always been fraught with tension and drama, of a kind unimaginable in the rest of the country. Arun Joshi reports.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2008 23:49 IST

What happened this year in Srinagar on August 15, the Indian flag being hoisted in the morning and the Pakistani flag in the late afternoon, may never have happened before, but Independence Day in the Valley has for the past 19 years since the separatist struggle began, always been fraught with tension and drama, of a kind unimaginable in the rest of the country.

National Conference leader Mohammad Yusuf Halwai was killed five days later because he dared to leave his lights on during Independence Day in 1989, when the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front had called for a blackout. Indeed every August 15 is routinely a ‘black day’ for the separatists.

Farooq Abdullah fulminated against the murder of his partyman, calling upon then PM Rajiv Gandhi to “bomb Pakistan”, which was backing the separatists. But by next Independence Day, Abdullah had left the country for London — where he would remain a long time – while BSF men unfurled the flag in Srinagar, but taking care to lower it before the sun set.

The ritual of I-Day celebrations was carried out year after year by security forces, but was usually no audience, even senior government officers preferring to stay away, fearing they would be spotted and targeted by separatist militants. BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi sought to hoist the flag on Independence Day 1993, at the end of his eight month long Ekta Yatra across the country. He could only reach Udhampur in Jammu by road, after which he had to be airlifted to Srinagar, and was made to wrap up the flag hoisting in 15 minutes flat for his own safety.

Only in the last five years was a distinct change being seen. On August 15, 2003, chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had an audience of 10,000 cheering for him as he raised the Indian flag and called Kashmir “the core of Indian nationhood.” Now, as his PDP joins the separatists on their symbolic march to Muzaffarabad, the ground that has been lost once more is starkly visible.