Flag Politics

Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah rechristened the Muslim Conference to appease Congress leaders – who had greatly influenced him – and went on, in 1938, to demand Responsible Government.

A special issue of the Hamdard, published from the Punjab, and in colour, around the same time, carried a picture of a procession led by the Sheikh, with him holding a flag. The colour combination of the flag in the Sheikh’s hands speaks of his mind – it is the same as that of the Indian National Congress.

(The special Hamdard issue, of which this author possesses a copy, was proscribed before it could be circulated)

The Sheikh could have used a different colour scheme, but the Congress flag had gone to his head, and this was amply reflected in his campaign for Responsible Government.

In response to my write-up, Nehru in Kashmir, Pandit BK Das had mailed me some vital details – information proving that NC toughs were out to oppose Pakistan tooth and nail even before the new state was born.

Writes Das:

“In 1946-47, Maharaja Hari Singh had opted for a stand still policy. It was still British India; the Maharaja had agreed to part with Posts and Telecommunication, because it was already being governed by the undivided British Indian Government.”

“The British Indian Government had asked all Post Offices and their office-bearers to choose whether they wanted to opt for the Pakistan Posts & Telegraphs or for the Indian Posts & Telegraphs. All post offices were sent forms to indicate their choice.

“The Anantnag Post & Telegraph Office near Nagabal was manned by:

  1. Pandit Sarwanand Tikoo of Anantnag as Postmaster
  2. Pandit Srikanth Dhar as clerk
  3. Pandit Mohishwar Nath Koul Teli of Anatnagh
  4. Ghulam Mohammad Shah of Bijbehara

 “All the four opted for Pakistan.

“They did so because all mail (to and from the state) used to go via Rawalpindi. The officials were familiar with the Rawalpindi Road. It was a beaten track for them, and they were strangers to the Banihal Cart Road, little known to them. Besides, Jammu had relatively no importance and was underdeveloped, without any infrastructure.

“The forms were followed by a packet of Pakistan flags. As per their choice, they had to hoist Pakistan flags atop their respective Post Offices to differentiate one from the other.

“But before the Pakistan flag could be hoisted on the Anantnagh Post Office, Sheikh Abdullah’s volunteers, headed by one Habibullah, stepped in and set it on fire.

“Professor Manohar Nath Tikoo, son of Pandit Sarwanand Tikoo, shudders even today recalling how his mother, Kakani, was dragged down from the top floor of burning building. Ghulam Muhammad Shah to was dragged and brutally beaten for hoisting the flag.

“In view of the choice given by the Head Post Office at Srinagar, its employees led by Ghulam Muhammad Najar of Zaindar Mohalla, hoisted the Pakistan Flag, sent by the British Indian Posts & Telegraphs Department, on their building situation on the Bund.”

It is quite safe to presume that on August 12, when Hari Singh offered Pakistan his Standstill Agreement, he was un-decided about the future of Jammu and Kashmir. But the National Conference knew what it had to do, and made it clear immediately after the Agreement was signed. The NC was going against the tide yet again.

Further, in his Aatish-e-Chinar, the Sher-e-Kashmir writes that all officials who had hoisted Pakistani flags on post offices were dismissed by his government.

BK Das contests this as well:

“Pandit Sarwanand Tikoo, the Postmaster in Anantnag, retired as Postmaster at the Head Post Office in Srinagar in 1966. Likewise, all (posts personnel) retired on their regular superannuation, irrespective of their choice. None were dismissed, as claimed in the book (the Aatish-e-Chinar).”

When, a few years later, the Sher-e-Kashmir realized his mistake, the colour scheme in the Pakistan flag became suddenly clear to him.

In his absence, Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad adopted the state constitution, and Jammu and Kashmir got its own flag.

This, the rightwing forces in Jammu could never digest, and repeatedly desecrated what was supposed to symbolize the state’s constitutional status.

Last week, less than 24 hours after issuing it, the new J&K government chose to withdraw a circular about displaying the state flag alongside the tricolor.

It said that since the matter was in the High Court, it would not be proper to sustain the circular.

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?

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