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Kashmir-flag: From birth to death

By M J Aslam

In this age of mass communication, the printed press & online press are major source of information on multifarious subjects, past & present.  

“Past” political history is one of those subjects that has always found considerable space in the press which remains abuzz with opinions, editorials, columns and the responses thereto, of political analysts, columnists, researchers and academics.  The object obviously should be telling actual facts & events which are well recorded & documented.

It is also memorialized by people from generation to generation by oral storytelling. If it is just few decades old, it is as good as present, & not past or ancient, history. So, there shouldn’t be any difficulty in understanding it.

But, sometimes, in some sections of the press, opinions on certain things are published which on a cursory reading appear obfuscation & distortion of real recorded facts of history.

Just doublethink, if motive is not attributed to the opinion-writer.  Whatever the captions, whatever the cosmetics, whatever the brands, applied to the half-truths to peddle them in the market, they still remain what they are.

One is always within one’s right of thinking & asking, how much the opinions of a columnist, or a writer, howsoever big or small, hold something that would make them worth serious reading or something new to be preserved for the posterity. The present generations abhor the very idea of being governed by herd-mentality as its ill-effects cost men & communities hugely.

The able youngsters know how to differentiate between fiction-telling & fact-telling. Education & information have enabled them to understand what holds good for their future generations, from their present. Kashmiris are no exception to this lot of new enthusiastic & educated truth seeking youngsters of the world, They are not what their elders happened to be decades before: largely less-informed about their own history, identity & culture, because they were innocently & credulously simple, and so, their credulity & ignorance were taken for granted by those who knew this art of enrapturing them by false-folk-tales.

As information reached every door of the world, so every home of Kashmir got blessed by the information about everything that “happened”, in the past in & around their homeland. And, after all, the present is the age of information, mass communication, so, the truth can’t be kept concealed, for long, behind the dark veil of false or fabricated narratives & counter-narratives about past history.

One always wants to know what is being conveyed after all via such columns & opinions written by some known unknown journalists in papers. What is intended in those posts to be conveyed to the present, or preserved for the future, generations of Kashmir, the posterity, is debatable.

One of such opinions I came across recently in the media is about the political history of Kashmir flag where the author tries to trace the origin of the “red colour” flag of NC, which was later adopted with slight modifications as “State flag”, in the “blood-drenched shirt of a martyr of 13th July, 1931”. “Anecdotes” don’t form history. While narrating a historical fact or event, no popular or unpopular folklores should be mixed up with the narrative to make it gobbledygook. 

How can one write that a myth that on that fateful day, “a protestor picked up the blood-drenched shirt of a martyr, tied it to a stick and declared amidst acclamation, “This will be our flag”, handed over it to Sheikh Abdullah”, while writing such a historical event of gigantic importance in the history of Kashmir.

 The origin of political awakening of the majority community in pre-colonial days being traceable to the fateful day of 13th July, 1931 is historically correct which should not be distorted by adding anything to it which does not have historical evidence.  It will not present the true picture of the past. Supposing it was true. Even then, that protester’s acclamation “This will be our flag” was only important symbolic message in the hour of grief, the great sacrifice, echoed from farsh to arsh by “the blood of martyrs”, that was spilt on that day, to the leadership of the hour to honour & respect the sacrifice till attainment of political rights for which the sacrifice was given. 

It never, never, meant the red-colour-flag of NC or erstwhile State of JK. The handing over of blood-drenched shirt as “flag” to Sheikh Abdullah is a “myth” or “legend” which no one historicize. It is only distraction & distortion of history. False narratives, in particular in this age of information, can’t become legends or histories.  It is true that for decades a myriad number of myths had big audience among the populace of Kashmir.

  The propaganda & doublethink always find rich fertilizing soil in Orwellian lands. But the time expounded & debunked the reality of Kashmir-myths, and it became clearer than azure sky that myth never replaces the history of mankind. Nor can anyone historicize his mythical posts.What is recorded history is this: On that fateful day, a martyr before breathing his last in the lawns of Jamia Masjid, Srinagar, sent for Sheikh Abdullah, looked straight in his eyes & whispered in his ear, “We have done our duty.

Now it is for you and the nation to carry it through to a successful end”. (Ref JK Constituent Assembly Debates, also cited by Hasnain Masoodi , Lok Sabha MP of NC , in his GK write up dated 6-12-2016)It was exactly in the background of those 13-07-1931 sad developments in Kashmir, when the first Kashmir flag was adopted by the first largest political party of J&K Muslims, All J & K Muslim Conference, which was formed in the lawns of historic Pather/Shahi Masjid Srinagar on 14-16 October, 1932.

It was undoubtedly first and last political body of J&K that had drawn support of entire Muslim population of the State; something like that never happened thereafter among the majority community of the State. The proceedings of that new organisation, All J & K Muslim Conference, had begun by unfurling of its flag that had a green background with a crescent & a star. The green background represented [then] 85% Muslim population of the State with 96% of them in Kashmir valley alone.

The crescent & star were [Muslim] national religious icons. The flag was hoisted in presence of 200 Muslim leaders & 100 pressmen on the pandal, & three lakh people around on 14th October, 1932 by Waliullah Zain-ul-Abedin, a prominent Punjabi Muslim representative of All India Kashmir Committee.  At the time of flag hoisting ceremony of All J & K Muslim Conference, Waliullah Zain-ul-Abedin spoke: “Today, the hoisting of the green flag with crescent opens a new chapter in the history of Kashmir.

As such, it is the duty of the Kashmiris to see that it remains hoisted always. This flag of the [Muslim] Conference is the harbinger of love, peace and brotherhood among all the communities living in the State …”.  Sheikh Abdullah in his Presidential address assured & appealed “his countrymen”, minorities of JK, for mutual love & respect for each other. So, the first political flag of Kashmir was not distantly related to “red-flag” of NC or erstwhile JK State. (Details coming in next paras) It will be a gross error if one states that Kashmir’s NC-cum-State-flag  was “conceived on the 13th July 1931” . Iterating, it was green colour flag of Muslim Conference that was conceived on that day which is “by far the most important day in the annals of contemporary history and politics of Kashmir”. It is insulting to those sacrifices to state that the “red colour, of the flag was drawn from the blood of the 13th July martyrs.”

Both the colour & sketch of the NC-cum-State-flag were drawn from the communist ideology. The red-colour State flag which was adopted from the NC-flag was actually & originally conceived in “socialist” political outlook which was adopted by the NC leadership at critical moments of Kashmir history. The child of socialism & liberalism was nurtured & grown by the NC till it was formally clothed in new uniform of “New Kashmir Manifesto of 1944” & set in for acceptance in the newly invented socialist school of politics in NC’s Naya Kashmir.

The Naya Kashmir model of which the red flag was an essential offshoot was prepared by well known Communist leader BPL Bedi who was Sheikh Abdullah’s eminence grise. (Josef Korbel, 252) Acceptance of his appointment as Chief Emergency Administrator  & then PM of JK, with a written oath of allegiance under the monarchial rule of the Maharaja right, on 29-10-1947 & 30-03-1948, respectively, by Sheikh Abdullah after his “orchestrated” release from prison on 29-09-1947 ( Ref Nehru’s letter dated 27-09-1947 addressed to Sardar Patel, reproduced in First Volume of Sardar Patel Correspondence ), belies such avowed claims on media by some people that red colour flag of NC had become “flag of successful anti-monarchy revolution”, though it may be said that it was “the symbol of a failed rebellion”.    The flag of the All J & K Muslim Conference evinced that the Muslims of J&K had then organised themselves under “a single flag, a single platform and an ideal” for their basic rights. But within less than eight years, under the predominant influence of INC leaders, leftists & Pandit leaders, the Muslim Conference was rechristened by Sheikh Abdullah as the National Conference. Contrary to MC flag that was adopted in daylight in the lawns of Pather Masjid, Srinagar before lacs of people, the NC flag was adopted at the dead of the night. To be precise, at 1.45 pm night of 11-12 June 1939 the Muslim Conference was converted into the National Conference at party headquarters, Mujahid Manzil, Srinagar. The green flag with white a crescent & a star in the middle was pulled down & replaced by a flag with red background & a plough in the middle which, thenceforth, became the party flag of the National Conference, which was later adopted as State flag with modifications in June, 1952.The National Conference flag was prepared by Pandit Prem Nath Dhar and designed by Sardar Budh Singh. On the day of transformation of the Muslim Conference into the National Conference, & adoption of new red-flag, there was unsurprisingly huge jubilation among Kashmiri Pandits who celebrated it as their great achievement. But many prominent Muslims opposed the leadership’s move fearing “that the National Conference would become hand-maid of the Indian National Congress”. (Pre Nath Bazaz, Freedom Struggle) Rejecting that opposition, Sheikh M Abdullah said: “…..We had to take a decision (of conversion of the party), so have taken; those who disagree with it may leave.” (Shabnum Qayoom)  But, as was admitted by Sheikh Abdullah & Chowdhari Ghulam Abbas in their separate meetings in 1948 before Josef Korbel, the split in Muslim unity of J&K in 1939 “had been the beginning of all their [Muslim] troubles”. ( Josef Korbel, 21).The National Conference flag prima facie corresponds[ed] to the Communist flag with identical red background with scythe, instead of plough, in the middle. Both flags symbolise workers, labourers & peasants, slogan of all leftist parties till date. (Rasheed Taseer , 2: 76-77; Blazing Chinar, 2016:176, M J Akbar, The Siege Within, 292) The National Conference flag buried the Muslim Conference flag. Since the Muslim Conference flag contained Muslims icons of crescent & star, obviously, it was not liked by the leftists & the KPs.Under the Delhi Agreement of 24-07-1952, it was agreed that the State of J&K shall have its own flag which shall be hoisted alongside the Indian tricolor flag at all government functions & properties. The National Conference flag was adopted by JK Constituent Assembly on 7th June, 1952 in Assembly Chamber, Rajgarh Palace, Srinagar, as the State flag with addition of “three equidistant white vertical stripes” on left side representing three regions of J&K: Kashmir, Jammu & Ladakh. (JK Constituent Assembly Debates, I;379;  Resolution became section 144 of the State Constitution)  It was hoisted & unfurled at Mujahid Manzil by G M Sadiq well known leftist comrade of Sheikh Abdullah amid clapping of hands by members of the Constituent Assembly. Mawlana Masoodi  had earlier written a poem about NC’ flag, “Lehra Kashmir kay Janday” , as early 1939 , and that poem was recited at the time of unfurling of now what was going to be henceforth “State flag” in the State’s Constituent Assembly & that poem or song has been deemed as the so called “national song” or “anthem”  of Kashmir by the  NC. (Ref Blazing Chinar, 2016:176)  It seems that the adoption of State flag had created an impression in the mind of NC leadership that Kashmir had become something, if not sovereign, at least, semi-sovereign country, by adopting a flag & singing a song in the Constituent Assembly hall. Thus, writes his private Secretary, Ghulam Ahmad, IAS, Sheikh Abdullah used to visit to newly built Nehru Park in his “Cadillac convertible car flying two flags, one of India & the other of the State …. he would …acknowledge disdainfully like a Mughal Emperor salutations from the awe-struck subjects”. (Ref My Years with Sheikh Abdullah, 30-31, 112) This fact is borne out by a lucid admission of Sheikh Abdullah himself where he has compared his 9th August, 1953 ejection from Office of premier of JK with Yousuf Shah Chak losing sovereignty of his kingdom of Kashmir to the Emperor Akbar in 1586 AD. (Blazing Chinar, 2016; 435)On 5th August, 2019, the Central Government revoked the State’s autonomy which put an end to its NC’s chosen State flag, too. So, if one chooses to write a column like an ode to the Kashmir-flag for its “glorious” birth as “national flag” , with a lament therein, that the flag was relegated to a size of  “State flag” or “government flag”, by subsequent governments from 1953-1975, and that it was unceremoniously pulled down from civil secretariat on 25th August, 2019, he has to keep in mind certain glaring facts that too deserve mention in the journalistic-ode to the Kashmir-flag. Before 5th & 25th August, 2019, there were certain significant developments vis a vis “State flag” or “NC flag” which are two sides of the same coin which can’t be lost sight of in writing journalistic- ode to the flag. The “State flag”, though was hoisted on official buildings & cars from 1953 to 1975, the original NC flag of 1939, which was its twin brother, was disowned by the founding father of the flag: NC. During those 22 years of “political bewilderment” , the same flag was pulled down from political headquarters & all offices of NC, nay, Mahazi Raishoomari, whether that was “properly folded up” or not, who knows. During those 22 years of political bewilderment, it wasn’t red colour NC flag but new Mahazi Raishoomari green flag that remained fluttering about on the party’s HQS & offices, throughout erstwhile State of JK. Then there are the developments that took place during the “PDP rule” which were pre-cursor to the grand action of 5th August, 2019. In March, 2015 the then Chief Minister, Mufti M Sayed, issued a circular directing all constitutional functionless of the State to hoist State flag in their offices & on their vehicles. But as the coalition partner, BJP, refused to hoist the State flag alongside Indian tricolor, thus, paying no importance to the J&K Constitution that required it, Mufti M Sayed had to buckle under the pressure of coalition partner & withdraw the circular.  (The Hindu dated 13-03-2015)  Later, two Judges Bench of the JK High Court also stayed the order of a single judge bench that had earlier directed hoisting of the State flag along with tricolor on all official buildings and vehicles of constitutional authorities.  (Indian Today 01-01-2016; Times of India dated 02-01-2016)  These developments about “disrespect” shown to the “State Flag” by the coalition-partner before 5th August, 2019 must be within the knowledge of any “student- of journalist”, what to talk of “master journalists” who teach & train the former about the professional ethics of probity in journalism. Tailpiece:Let me conclude by quoting a Historical Fact For Posterity. When legendary poet of Kashmir, G A Mehjoor, was asked by Sheikh Abdullah to write “history of freedom movement” in Kashmir, the poet replied: “What history, it has been distorted; you have changed your stance, you have changed your destination, you have become wayward and forgotten the pledges you made to the people. What an irony of fate, the movement of the march has been brought to ignominy, changing the centuries old traditions, ethos and history of a nation which had a proud past but has now a dismal future.” (Prof Chitralekha Zutshi, 2018: 286; Ghulam Ahmad, My Years with Sheikh Abdullah 2008: 113)

(The author is a political analyst and commentator. Views expressed in this article are his own)