Politics of Symbols


Section 144 of the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir says in the plainest of words: “The Flag of the State shall be rectangular in shape and red in colour with three rectangular white vertical strips of equal width next to the staff and white plough in the middle with handle facing the strips.

Politics of SymbolsThe ratio of  the  length  of  the  flag to its width shall be 3 : 2”. All the holders of office under this Constitution are required (Ss. 40, 64, 97 and the Fifth Schedule) to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the State as by law established”. This holds good for Ministers, legislators and Judges of the State’s High Court. S. 31 prescribes separately the text of the oath of the office of the Governor. He “will to the best of my ability to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”.

The three vertical lines represent each of the three provinces of J&K – Kashmir, Jammu & Ladakh. The plough represents the peasant on whom the State’s economy rests. Flags represent the people’s emotions. It was only on 10 July 2015 that South Carolina lowered the Confederate battle flag from outside its State House where it had flown for decades. It required the massacre of black churchgoers at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, on 17 June, to move the legislators to decide to remove the flag; and then after days of emotional debate in the State Legislature.  It was a symbol of the Deep South and its history of resistance to the Union and racial hate. A kindergarten teacher accurately summed up popular reaction “I thought about all of the African-Americans that lost their lives because of the flag, because of hatred that this flag symbolises.”

South Carolina led the South by its Ordinance of Secession, 1860 which “repealed” the Constitution of the United States of America and declared “that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States under the name of the United States of America is hereby dissolved”. The Constitution of the Confederate of America, adopted on 11 March 1861, declared explicitly (Art. 1; S. 9(4)) that no “law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed”. The Confederate Flag stood for slavery and racial hate.

The history behind the adoption of Kashmir’s flag reveals in a flash that it was meant to signify secularism, communal harmony, the unity of Jammu & Kashmir, emancipation of the oppressed peasant and end to the slavery of the people under the Dogras. They had acquired the State from the East India Company, uniquely, by what Gandhi aptly called a “sale-deed”, the Treaty of Amritsar 1846. In doing so, the Dogra ruler of Poonch, Gulab Singh betrayed his masters, the Sikh Darbar in Lahore, as Capt Amrinder Singh, former Chief Minister of Punjab, has so ably documented in his book The Last Sunset: The Rise and Fall of the Lahore Darbar  (Roli Books; 2009).

On 17 July 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Jammu to participate in the birth centenary celebration of Girdhari Lal Dogra whom all hailed as a veteran “Congressman”. Along with him, G. M. Sadiq and Mir Qasim merged the State’s National Conference with the Indian Natinal Congress as Sadiq got a host of the provisions of the Indian Constitution extended to J&K. It bears recalling now that Kashmir’s flag was praised by G. L. Dogra with great fervour. He was a devoted follower of Sheikh Abdullah and a member of the Working Committee of the National Conference. More, he was also a member of its Special Committee set up in May 1953 to consider proposals for a settlement fo the Kashmir dispute. The other members, besides the Sheikh himself, were Maulana Masoodi, Mirza Afzal Beg Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, G. M. Sadiq, Sardar Budh Singh, Shamlal Saraf and Girdhari Lal Dogra. Unknown to the Sheikh, barring Beg and Masoodi; the rest had been won over by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who then cited disunity in the Sheikh’s Cabinet to have him sacked by Karan Singh as Prime Minister on 8 August 1953 and imprisoned for 11 long years.

Despite all upheavals Dogra’s commitment to the flag continued. It was left to Syama Prasad Mookerjee to challenge it as he looked for emotive issues after he set up the Jan Sangh.

If Kashmir’s flag still arouses deep emotions it is because its origin lay in the bloodshed on 13 July 1931. Some one picked up the blood-drenched shirt of a martyr, tied it to a pole and declared amidst acclamation – this will be our flag.

Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz has given a gripping account of that fateful day’s events in his magisterial work Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir (Chapter 7). One Abdul Qadir was arrested, put up and for delivering an inflammatory speech. A large restive crowd gathered outside the prison walls. Arrests were followed by the time-honoured Kashmiri response, since the days of Akbar, stone pelting. The police opened fire killing 21 persons. The dead bodies were carried in a process on charpoys. “They carried a banner of blood in front”. Kashmiris had acquired a flag of their own, rejecting the Dogra flag and Dogra rule with it.

“Historically and politically the 13th July 1931, is the most important day in the annals of contemporary Kashmir. From this day the struggle for independence and freedom in the most modern sense started openly.” Initially communal, “it was in essence the struggle of a victimised and enslaved people against the despotic rule. It was sooner or later bound to proceed on the right track.” It did fairly soon.

“The incident of the 13th July shook the whole State including the Administration. … Immediately after the jail incident, most of the chosen representatives of the State Muslims including Abdullah and Abbas were arrested and kept in Hari Parbat Fort. It proved no remedy to restore law and order in the State. As a matter of fact it added fuel to the fire of wild excitement which held the people in its grip. As it was, 13th July saw the beginning of the gigantic force behind the mass movement.”

On 11 June 1939 the J&K Muslim Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah, converted itself into the National Conference at his instance. Beg recalled in the J&K Constituent Assembly on 7 June 1952, “in 1939… we adopted our own flag”. The flag of the National Conference was first treated as the “National Flag” once a proper constitutional set up was organised, the flag was adapted with modifications and given constitutional sanction. The J&K Constituent Assembly was convened on 31 October 1951. On 7 June 1952 Sheikh Abdullah moved this resolution in the Assembly. “Resolved that the National Flag of the Jammu and Kashmir State shall be rectangular in shape and red in colour with three equidistant vertical strip of equal width next to the staff and a white plough in the middle with its handle facing the strips. The ratio to the length of flag shall be 2:3.”

He recalled: “It was the 13th July 1931, when for the first time the people of Kashmir raised their voices against the system which had trampled upon their hopes and desires. This voice made their aspiration obvious and the sacrifices they had to undergo in raising this voice, from part of history now which I need not reiterate here. People marched on consistently and underwent various privations. They went ahead unflatteringly. It will not be out of place to give a brief description of their desires and aspirations in this House. Kashmir has always been the cradle of humanism, knowledge, unity, brotherhood and religious tolerance (cheers). A conspicuous thing in the history of Kashmir is, that it has never differentiated between high and low or between Hindus and Muslims, that is why in India, Kashmir had not only the status of a country but it was considered a place of religious pilgrimage. In knowledge, religion, brotherhood and tolerance Kashmir had a high position. The symbol of all the desires and aspirations of a country is its flag. …

“The Basic Principles Committee, after giving due consideration to all matters and keeping in view all those facts and desires, has proposed this flag.” At his request the President unfurled the flag. In our country the prominent and salient symbol of a peasant is his plough and that is why the plough must form a part of the flag.”

“The second salient feature in this flag is its red colour. This colour represents workers and labourers. The world has accepted the fact that the progress and welfare of the world depends on the toil of a workers and a peasant. Progress either in the field of science or elsewhere is mainly due to the worker and the peasant. The condition of a peasant and  of a worker was very bad and the big people exploiting their work lived luxuriously and wee busy in self-indulgence while the class who contributed for their luxury was in a miserable bad plight. Another class is of workers and it is an admitted fact that unless workers and peasants work hard, the world cannot progress. The red colour represents the working classes and that is why the basic Principles Committee has put forth the suggestion that the red colour should form the background. …

“The third feature of the flag is that it has three vertical, parallel and equidistant lines. Our State is generally and geographically divided into three parts i.e. Jammu Province, Kashmir Province and the flag will, be flown by the coming generations. This is a magnificence and a great flag bequeathed to us by our struggle for freedom.”

Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad said: “Sir, allow me to speak a few words on this auspicious day. Today is the day of great importance in our national history. Today we see that dream being materialised which our leader Qaid-i-Azam Sher-i-Kashmir dreamt some twenty years back. … Sir, I am growing sentimental. I heard speeches of my Hon’ble comrades and while listening to them the whole picture of the events from 1931 to the present day passed before my eyes. I remember the 13th day of July, when bullets were showered. I remember the 21st of September 1933 and the years of 1934, 1935, 1936, 1938 and 1946 when thousands sacrificed their lives to carry forward the movement. I recollect all the oppression and torture which the nation suffered; and especially I remember the day when Qaid-i-Azam pledged to a dying martyr that he had done his duty and that they would shoulder the responsibility for marching onwards. Thanks to the Almighty that we have fulfilled our promise.

“The colour of this flag is not an ordinary one but is dyed with the blood of these martyrs. I dare say that whatever they did, it was for the freedom of the country and the nation. They performed their duty and passed away. Today it is our responsibility to give to the country a flag in their name dyed in their blood, as a symbol. This is a great and an auspicious thing. … With full determination we are giving this flag to the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. This is the flag we are giving to the nation as a national trust and all of you, friends, are the trustees. …

“Today this flag is not of any single individual but this is common flag of the whole country. I know it full well that our Qaid-i-Azam has not or is not devoting only 24 hours a day to the cause of freedom but he has devoted every moment of his life to this cause. Today Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is not giving you this flag in the name of his person but as a trust. He is giving you this flag in the name of those oppressed and martyrs who were subjected to untold miseries. … In every respect we must have faith in our Qaid-i-Azam. Unless we have blind faith in anything we cannot derive any pleasure by merely giving the flag to the world. This is the flag of the people living on both sides of the cease-fire line. As my comrade Beg Sahib has stated we will be successful only when this flag will be flown on the other side of the cease-fire line; when this flag will fly on the lofty mountain of Gilgit, on the vast fields of Mirpur and Poonch and on the mansions of Bimber. It is only then that we will think we have been successful in our mission.”

Mir Qasim proposed an amendment. “That the words “National” occurring before the word “Flag” in the first line of the resolution be deleted.” He said: “Because this flag was first prepared by the National Conference, it runs by the name of National flag. The members of the very same National conference who are now at the helm of affairs now present it as the State-Flag. Therefore, my submission is that the word “National” occurring before the word “Flag” be deleted.” Sheikh Abdullah readily accepted this amendment.

The motion was adopted with prolonged Cheers. G. M. Sadiq said “I think it proper that the Hon’ble members should rise for a moment to honour the flag”. They did. The National Conference under Abdullah was a leftist body. The CPI supported it.

On 19 August 1952 when the Delhi Agreement was debated, after the Sheikh had made a statement explaining it, Girdhari Lal Dogra said: “The statement which is now under the consideration of the House, is not an isolated thing of sudden growth. It is a product of the continuous development of the circumstances since 1931. It is a result of the sacrifices offered by the martyrs for the emancipation of this country.”

He fiercely attacked the Jammu communalists, especially their leader, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. “They are the same communalists who caused the death of Mahatma Gandhi, but today they have the check to say that they are not communal-minded. By saying so today they insult the one-nation theory of India. Praja Parishad element of Jammu is allying itself with the traitors of India, and most of what is being against us today is being propagated by these very communalists. But while giving our decision regarding India, we must not take into account these people only. Amongst crores of Indians, we find traitors as well as honest gentlemen. We should not form our opinion about the general mentality of the Indian people by the actions of these few communalists. But the stooges hailing from Jammu declare their unwillingness to accept anything so long as they do not come to know of the true spirit underlying the statement.

“I would remind these people whether they be within or outside the State of some established facts. Perhaps some of the Hon’ble members do not know as what has been the role of Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerji in the past. … We all know as to what was the role of Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukerjee At the time. In the days of famine in Bengal, Shyama Prasad Mukerji happened to be the Finance Minister there. The role he played in this capacity is hidden from none and I think that it needs no repetition. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukerji is responsible fort the division of Bengal. Even today the people Bengal want that their motherland should be reunited. Not being satisfied with the division of Bengal, he has come here to divide our State and that too on the basis of the two-nation theory. This is his unholy design and he wants us to play into his hands and become tools of his provocation. Mr. Mukerji is playing the same game which is being played by the reactionary elements  of the whole world. Mr. Mukerji has launched this crusade against us in support of the vested interests.”

Responding to Mookerjee’s criticism, Dogra said: “Second objection raised by him is that why do we celebrate the Martyrs’ Day? I would like to ask if he wants us to celebrate a day in the remembrance of those acts which have put the whole humanity to shame. You cannot make any distinction among the martyrs’ on the basis of religion. We celebrate the Martyrs’ Day in memory of those who raised their voice against the autocracy in this State and made the backward masses politically conscious. I would refer to him the speech of our leader which he delivered at Udhampur wherein he paid tribute to those martyrs’. Regarding the question as to why the Kashmir issue was taken before the Security Council, I would say that he too must share the blame because he also was one of the members of the Central Cabinet.”

The Delhi Agreement between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah dispelled all doubts on the flag. By mid-1952 Nehru had begun planning for closer integration of Kashmir with the Centre. In a Note dated 3 July 1952, he discussed various issues including the flag. “The National flag must be the symbol of authority in Kashmir. The new State Flag might continue, but not as a rival of the National Flag.”

Nehru met Kashmir’s delegation on 20 July 1952. It comprised the Sheikh, Beg, Bakshi, G. L. Dogra and D. P. Dhar. They met for four and a half hours. The minutes recorded: “Sheikh Abdullah had already made it clear in his public statements that the National Flag was the supreme flag and that it had the same status and position in the Jammu and Kashmir State as in the rest of India. The State flag was in no sense rival to this. But for historical and sentimental reasons, connected with the freedom struggle in Kashmir, they wanted this symbol to continue.

“This was agreed to. It was stated, however, that it would be desirable to make this perfectly clear. As the Constituent Assembly of the State had passed a resolution in regard to the State flag, it would be desirable that the Assembly made it clear what the position of the National Flag was.”

On the conclusion of the Delhi Agreement, Nehru explained its provisions to the Lok Sabha on 24 July 1952. he said: “Then there has been a good deal of misunderstanding in regard to the National Flag. This has been cleared up, I think, adequately by public statements made. Nevertheless, we thought that this should be further cleared up. Shaikh Abdullah, the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir State, had stated publicly that the question did not arise so far as they were concerned, because the National Flag was the supreme flag and it had exactly the same status and position in the Jammu and Kashmir State as in any other part of India. The State flag was in no sense a rival to the National Flag, but for historical and sentimental reasons connected with their struggle for freedom in Kashmir, they wanted this State symbol to continue. This was agreed to. It was added that this should be made clear in a formal manner, preferably by the Constituent Assembly of the State.”

The Government of J&K issued a White Paper entitled “India and Kashmir – Constitutional Aspect”. It said: “With regard to the State Flag, it was made clear by the State Government that it was in no sense a rival of the Union Flag. It was also recognised that the Union Flag had the same status and position in the Jammu and Kashmir State as in the rest of India, but for historical and other reasons connected with the freedom struggle in the State need for the continuance of the State flag was recognised.”

In his statement to J&K’s Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1952 Sheikh Saheb said: “We agreed that in view of the clarifications issued by me in my public statements while interpreting the resolution of this House according to which the old State flag was substituted by a new one, it was obvious that the new State flag was in no sense a rival of the National flag. But for historical and other reasons connected with the freedom struggle in the State, the need for the continuance of this flag was recognised. The Union flag to which we continue our allegiance as a part of the Union will occupy the supremely distinctive place in the State.”

Significantly the men who had conspired to depose the Sheikh in 1953 did not repudiate the agreed constitutional position on the flag. On 6 November 1956, Mohammed Ayub Khan said: “It is indeed a great pleasure that the flag of the State will be the same as has already been decided upon. So far as the flag of the Indian Union is concerned we have every respect for it as every Indian must have. But we cannot deny the fact that the official flag chosen for our State has a bearing on our history. We have made sacrifices of men and material under this flag during the struggle for Independence. Many people gave their lives for it. Giving up this flag today would mean that we are forgetting our past struggle and that there is no guarantee for a glorious future for those who break all their relations with the past.”

Another member Abdul Ghani Goni said: “Today, it gives me a great pleasure to see the national flag fluttering which we have adopted after a great struggle. We have made great sacrifices for it. Lakhs of peasants, labourers and workers were united under this flag and carried on their struggle. The outcome of this struggle was that we convened the Constituent Assembly under this flag and today this Constituent Assembly is deciding the fate of our country.

“This is the result of our own sacrifices which we all have made so far for our country. We have adopted this flag after giving it our full consideration. The red colour and the plough mark of the flag brought about the unity of our country. On the one hand, it united Hindus and Muslims in our country while on the other it rooted out provincialism between Dogras and Kashmiris. It is the flag which was all along recognised by the National Conference and it is the same flag under which we are framing the Constitution for our country. We agree that the Indian flag is supreme in many respects and we honour it, but we have been given a special position by the leaders, Parliament and the Government of India. In view of our special position, we have our own flag and keeping in view our freedom struggle our own flag is supreme.”

It was sentiments like these that underly the cold print of S.144 which the Constituent Assembly adopted that day, 6 November 1956. When, half a century later, the State’s Assembly discussed the Report of the State Autonomy Committee,  on 8 April 2000, its Chairman Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah made a pointed reference to the accord on the flag.

None of this of course can mean anything to Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, a Johnny-Come-Lately. His entry into State politics under Sadiq owed a lot to Indira Gandhi. He has always been Nw Delhi’s man in Srinagar. On taking the oath of office, on 1 March 2015, he struck heroic postures. In less than a fortnight he beat a retreat on several issues. Kashmir’s flag was one of them. On 12 March, a Government Circular said that it had, according to the State’s Constitution, the “same sanctity and position as the National Flag.” It said in explicit terms “The flag shall always be hoisted jointly on the buildings, housings, and shall be used (sic.) on the official cars of Constitutional authorities.” It was issued by the Commissioner Secretary of the General Administration Department, Mohammed Ashraf Bukhari. He warned that “Its non-hoisting along with the National flag, amounts to insult to the flag as per the provisions of the Jammu & Kashmir Prevention of Insult to State Honours Act, 1979.” (Muzaffar Raina; The Telegraph; 14 March 2015).

The State’s High Court was then hearing a petition by a former Indian Forest Service Officer, seeking directions inter alia for “demonstration of dignity to the State Flag by the State Government.” Mufti fell in line with the BJP. In 1952 Mookerjee gave it the slogan “Ek desh men do vidhan, do pradhan aur do nishan nahin chalega” (There cannot be two constitutions, two Premiers and two flags in the country). The officer was let down – the Circular was not sanctioned by the “competent authority”. It needed no such sanction. It has he sanction of Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly, its own Constitution, and the Delhi Agreement.

Matters did not end there. Zahid Rafiq reported in The Hindu (14 July 2015) that “for the first time in Jammu & Kashmir, a ruling party has refused to be part of the official Martyrs’ Day function that pays homage to the 21 Kashmiris who were killed by the forces of the Dogra Maharaja in 1931.”

The BJP leader Ravinder Rana said “13 July was a black day in Kashmir’s history when some goons revolted against the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh…. We observe it as a black day and not as a Martyrs’ Day. We want the Government to revoke the official holiday.”

This is what Mufti has accomplished, not the unity of Jammu and Kashmir, but by giving the BJP legitimacy into Valley, he has widened the rift. We do not have G. L. Dogra to oppose the BJP which has nailed its mast to the Counter – it stands by Dogra rule from the traitor Gulab Singh of 1846 to Hari Singh who fled from Srinagar when the raiders from Pakistan entered the State on 22 October 1947. By allying himself with the BJP, Mufti has betrayed the ideals for which Kashmiris fought the Dogras.

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