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Punchline: Politics Of Flags

By Z. G. Muhammad

27 April, 2015
Countercurrents.org

Is battle over flags battle of ideas or battle of ideologies? Is it an expression of the conflict between the ‘dominant discourse’ and the popular narrative? These question might have stirred the minds of scholars in our universities after cacophonous debates on the corporate television channels over some boys carrying green and white flags with white crescent moon and a five-pointed star in the middle at a public rally in Srinagar.

The rally had been organized by the APHC (G) to accord reception to its leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani on his arrival in Srinagar from New Delhi. The unfurling of green flags at religious and political functions is not an unfamiliar scene in the State. It is the white stripe by the hoist side of the flag that made it news for the reporters and bête noire for some corporate television anchors. And in New Delhi sparked debates amongst political parties.

The white stripe in the traditional green Muslim flag with crescent and star makes it Qaumī Pārc̱am (National Flag) of Pakistan. The five cornered star in traditional Muslim flag is seen as symbol representing five fundamentals of Islam. In Pakistani flag, the star symbolizes light and knowledge; the crescent moon symbolizes progress and the white stripe on the hoist side minorities in the country.

In 1947, when British Empire closed its show in the sub-continent, the new born dominions of India and Pakistan based their national flags on the parties that were in the vanguard of the freedom struggle. Indian National Flag or tri-colour was based on the flag of Indian National Congress and QaumīPārc̱am of Pakistan was based on flag of the All India Muslim League.

On April 15, it was not for first time that QaumīPārc̱am of Pakistan was unfurled at a public rally in Srinagar. In Kashmir politics hoisting of flags has got so intricately woven in the peoples narrative that it has in itself become a political phenomenon having potential to change the political discourse in the state. The battle of flags, historically speaking in fact for past seventy six years has become synonymous for the battle of ideologies in the state. The green flag with crescent and star entered for the first time into political narrative of Kashmir on 15 October 1932, when it was hoisted on the founding day of the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference at a three day convention at Shahi Masjid, Srinagar. Some twenty six years before, in a similar way same flag had entered into India’s political narrative, when Muslim elite of India, Syed Ahmed Khan, Khawaja Salimullah, Vikar-ul-Mulk under leadership of Agha Khan had founded the Muslim League. There is no recorded evidence to my knowledge suggesting that founding of the Muslim Conference was inspired by establishment of the Muslim League. Nevertheless, with the Kashmir movement having its roots in Lahore, inspiration from the League cannot be ruled out. From 1919, the plight of the Muslims of Kashmir was highlighted by the Muslim League and on 21 March 1932 Allama Iqbal bringing in presidential address at Lahore bringing it sharp focus and giving it centrality in the League politics.

In 1938, under the influence of Jawaharlal Nehru and communist ideologues deputed by him to Srinagar, Sheikh Abdullah converted the Muslim Conference into the National Conference. And on the pattern of the Soviet Communist Party adopted red flag with plough in the middle as its flag. And with both parties vying for bigger political space by hoisting their flags at important places the battle of ideologies became synonymous with battle of flags.
The Pakistan flag was officially hoisted all over Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. On 12 August 1947, the Maharaja Hari Singh’s government entered into ‘a Stand Still Agreement’ with the Government of Pakistan.On August 14 birth of Pakistan was celebrated in the state as well. British historian Victoria Schofield records, “In the state of Jammu and Kashmir there were staunch Muslim League supporters who believed they would become part of Pakistan at independence and when freedom came at midnight on August 14, they rejoiced. The Pakistani flag was hoisted on most of the post offices…..It was a spectacle to watch streams of people from all directions in the town and its suburbs swarming towards the post office in order to have a glimpse of their hope and desire.” (Kashmir in Conflict page 40-41).

The Pakistani flags from post offices were removed under instructions from the Maharaja but history does record defiance shown by some Muslim officers against removal of these flags. Notwithstanding, the orders from the Maharaja government, ‘people continued to hoist Pakistani flags on the roof tops and lamp posts.’ The hoisting of Pakistani flags became game of hide and seek between troops of theMaharaja and the League supporters, till Hari Singh on the advice of Indian Home Minister Sardar Patel appointed on 31 October 1947 the National Conference leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah as head of emergency administration in the state. The soldiers of “Abdullah Guard” and Peace Brigade were tasked to remove the League and Muslim Conference flags from all over the state. Notwithstanding, the repression, the voice of dissent found expression in youth splashing pro-Pakistan graffiti’s on wall and hoisting green flags on lampposts night. “From 1947-1953, for dissenting with the “dominant discourse” ten thousand political workers were jailed.”(Bazaz).

In 1953, after arrest and deposition of Abdullah and launching of the Plebiscite Front, instead of the green flag it was the hoisting of black flag on lamp posts and roof tops on 9th August every year that gave Goosebumps to powers that be. Not green or red flags but black flag became the flag of resistance and it was only after the 1964 Holy Relic Movement that the green flag with crescent and star forcefully re-entered the political narrative of Kashmir and students and youth once again started splashing walls with pro-right to self-determination graffiti’s.

In 1990, after a gap of forty three years, during the rule of Governor Jagmohan the city and towns were flooded with green flags with white stripe on hoist side. For days, this flag remained hoisted on this politically significant clock tower in historic Lal Chowk till it was removed by troops. To establish government writ in the state in 1992 (BJP) president Murli Manohar Joshi hoisted the Tricolour atop the tower on the Republic Day under full security...

Z.G.Mohammad is a reputed columnist who writes regularly on Kashmir affairs E mail: zahidgm@gmail.com


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