Atop at the recently renovated Clock Tower in the historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar, flutters Indian tricolor, in a clear signal to the world that how the times and symbols have changed in once restive Kashmir, known for its status as conflict zone, and this place had become a symbol of that. It is now emerging as, rather it has established itself as iconic place where India’s unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty have come to define themselves without any challenge from any quarter.
More than that, there is an excitement about the Independence Day function and parade that will be held at this history defining place. It will be for the first time that I-Day function will be held at such a large scale. The message is loud and clear; Kashmir is one with the rest of India.
In many ways, this function will carry greater importance than the official function at Bakshi Stadium, Srinagar, where Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha will hoist the national trcolour and take salute of the parade. The official functions have always been held in Bakshi Stadium except of five years beginning 2018 because the stadium was being redesigned and renovated.
The changing times in Kashmir, and particularly at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, nerve centre of Kashmir politics, from where the message of the times is sent across the Valley and beyond.
Lal Chowk, as it is preparing for the massive 76th Independence Day, is decorated with buntings and unending rows of tricolors to mark the occasion.
Lal Chowk carries a different message. It was from here that the politics of Kashmir found its direction since pre-independence days. It was here where Sheikh Abdullah used to hold rallies challenging autocratic rule, ad after independence, it was here again where India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah addressed a joint rally in 1949 when tricolor was unfurled for the first time to the cheers of the thousands of Kashmiris.
Later on in 1950s, the scene changed, Lal Chowk reverberated with the plebiscite slogans, as people used to gather in large numbers and call for plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir under the United Nations Security Council resolution, which offered a choice to the residents of the state on both sides of the border to opt for country of their future- India or Pakistan. And during militancy, the terrorist groups had made it a point to hoist Pakistani flags at Clock tower and other places, including roof tops, electric poles. That was a moment of a great embarrassment for the country on Republic Day and Independence- Day every year.
A small continent of BSF used to hoist the national tricolor in very, very brief ceremony every year. But by afternoon, the flag was removed for the fear that terrorists might attempt to insult it. Those were the days when unfurling of Tiranga or national tricolor would mean death, such was the grip of terrorists on the situation and the place.
There were occasions when the BJP leaders had to undertake yatras – named as Ekta Yatra in January 1992, and 19 years later, in 2011, “ Tiranga Yatra” to strive to unfurl tricolor at Lal Chowk . In January 1992, the “ Ekta Yatra” or Unity March , led by then BJP chief Murli Manohar Joshi , had reached Lal Chowk and unfurled the tricolor at Lal Chowk . Alongside with him was then party General Secretary Narendra Modi, who is now Prime Minister of the country. That ceremony on January 26, 1992 had lasted for 17 minutes, and militants had fired rockets, which missed the target. Tricolour hoisting was a matter of challenge, involving life and death. In 2011, however, the yatra was stopped midway. In 2023, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who led Bharat Jodo Yatra, had unfurled the national trocolour at Lal Chowk to showcase that he stood by the unity and integrity of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
Now when special function would be held in Lal Chowk tomorrow- on the 77th Independence Day, it will be great symbol of Indian Unity and integrity. This is where the importance of Lal Chowk and Independence Day celebrations lie. The whole of India is looking forward to this moment.
(Arun Joshi is author of “Eyewitness Kashmir; Teetering on Nuclear War and senior journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir, writes on South Asian affairs)
Disclaimer: This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.