Whose Flag, Anyway?

Barely hours after trying to come out with flying colours, again, the new state government has had to eat its words, rescinding an order (now rechristened a circular) issued on Thursday instructing government functionaries to display the state flag together with the tricolor. Obviously, someone in the dispensation has suddenly stumbled on the “fact” that the “issue” is in the High Court, and come to the logical conclusion of the “circular” not being “proper to sustain.” Though the sequence of events in this particular episode would lead many to an identical conclusion about this particular government itself, a note of commendation must nevertheless be pasted on the file – if only for matters of record.

Still, it would do no one much harm to recall that the state flag has always been an eyesore for the sangh parivaar which has opposed it, tooth and nail, even during the Sher-e-Kashmir’s times, giving him and the National Conference sleepless nights with slogans like ek vidhan, ek pradhan, ek nishaan. And for around three years now, the number of issues the BJP has been agitating against vehemently feature the state flag prominently, with Ashok Khajuria and his denunciations in the forefront. His statements, repeatedly made, have drawn severe reactions from the National Conference, and also from the Awami National Conference (ANC), both saying that the people of the state had laid down their lives for the flag. Two years ago, the daughter of the Sher-e-Kashmir, Khalida Shah, who heads the ANC, had said: “People of Kashmir identify themselves with the flag.”  The then additional general secretary of the National Conference, Dr Mustafa Kamal, too had lashed out at Mr Khajuria, and said: “The flag has been accepted by New Delhi, and Article 370 of the Indian constitution makes a mention of it…Nobody becomes an Indian by chanting the Jana Gana Mana…Every Indian must have faith in secular principles that form the very foundation of the country.” The PDP president, Mahbooba Mufti, too had taken strong exception to the `sacrilege’ of the state flag by the BJP.

There is no denying the fact that Kashmiris, by and large, have identified themselves with the flag during the Sher-e-Kashmir’s lifetime. But contemporary Kashmir has a different story to tell.  The priorities in Kashmir have changed. Today, the Kashmiris perceive the flag as a symbol of enslavement. As for the people in Jammu, they have not liked the flag from day one, to the extent of even launching an agitation against it. And people in Ladakh are as indifferent to it as present-day Kashmiris. Then whose aspirations do the three white stripes and plough on a red background represent?  This overarching question notwithstanding, the state government has to ensure that the flag is accorded due respect.  The people of Jammu and Kashmir may not be sentimentally attached to it, pro-India political parties are under a constitutional obligation to uphold its honour.