Clock tower politics!

The resistance camp seems obsessed with the clock tower. Instead of holding rallies at the point where Nehru assured a referendum, they assemble at a place which has no historic importance

Thanks to misadventures of Bhartaya Janata Party (BJP), the clock tower at Lal Chowk, which by no standards can be termed historic, has gained much importance during the past two decades.  The place which hosts the tower is definitely very historic. Some major historic events have taken place at this place.

The first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru promised a fair deal to the people of Jammu Kashmir from this place. He had Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah besides him at the podium in 1948. Sher-e-Kashmir recited the famous Persian couplet Mun tu shudam tu mun shudi  (I became you and you became me) for Nehru to show his love for India.

Pleased by the Persian couplet, Nehru promised Kashmiris enforcement of their right to self determination. He said New Delhi shall make a reference to them after restoration of normal conditions in the state. He also promised that India will not hold Kashmir against the will of its people.  

The `love affair’ however did not last long. After just five years Sheikh Abdullah realised that India was no an ideal match and needed to be divorced.  According to Abdul Gani Goni (a member of Constituent Assembly and a close aide of Sheikh Abdullah in early 50s) Sheikh Abdullah categorically told Nehru that he wanted to severe relations with New Delhi. Sheikh was removed and imprisoned.

While Sheikh was behind the bars, Bakshi’s National Conference operated from Lal Chowk. However, during the Holy Relic movement in 1964, the general secretary of the organisation, Bakshi Rashid was heckled by angry demonstrators. His vehicle was set ablaze and Kangries were thrown at him. The National Conference office was ransacked. This was the end of Bakshi Rashid’s political carrier. Soon after, Bakshi was also replaced.   

In February 1975 when the Plebiscite Front ended its `political wilderness’ a huge rally was held at Lal Chowk. The organisation that had represented the aspirations of the people for twenty-two years was given a burial.  

Barring some feeble voices in the form of Peoples’ League and a few other groups, the resistance movement almost ended. But a huge portrait of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah looking at the place in the historic Chowk where he and Nehru had embraced in 1948 to a thundering applause from the people was ruthlessly pulled down by a group of angry youth in 1985. The group had just come out of the erstwhile Regal Cinema after getting `inspired’ from Omar Mukhtar’s heroics. The incident shook the administration and the movie was banned for obvious reasons.  

Meanwhile, a Clock Tower was erected in the heart of the city centre. Although the clock never gave correct time, yet it became the focus of attention in the coming years.

Former BJP president, Murli Manohar Joshi’s Bharat Yatra in 1992 ended at Lal Chowk. He hurled the Tricolor atop this tower. It was seen as an act of aggression by the resistance groups. They forged unity and gave sleepless nights to the authorities. When Joshi was hoisting the flag, a rocket fired from somewhere missed the tower by a whisker. Joshi had to board a plane to Delhi along with his workers.

After this incident, the armed forces manning the area made it a point to hoist the flag at the tower on January 26 and August 15. The practice, however, was abandoned last year.   A CRPF spokesman giving details said: “A meeting was convened in this regard. The participants found no reason for hoisting the flag there. Clock Tower is not a historic structure and should not be given so much importance. Therefore the meeting decided to abandon the practice.”

Surprisingly the resistance groups seem obsessed with the tower. Instead of holding allies at the point where Nehru assured a referendum, they assemble around the tower. On Eid-ul-Fitr last year, a procession led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq ended at the tower. Hundreds of flags were hoisted on all sides of the tower. The cement fencing that had been put in place recently gave way. The government is now using iron rods to give the much needed strength to the tower.   

Since 2008, the separatists tried several times to `conquer’ the tower. Every time the authorities clamped curfew to foil their move. The authorities even used barbed wire to keep the agitated youth away from the tower.
Now a time has come when every Tom, Dick and Hary hoists a flag atop the tower to prove his worth. Last year, a group of slogan shouting youth hurled a white flag atop the clock tower. The flag was, however, immediately pulled down and torched by a group of angry local youth.

A man who identified himself as Bashir Ahmad of Islamabad said the frequent curfews and hartals had made the life of a commoner miserable. “We are not against the movement but want an end to hartals and curfews”, he said.
 Bashir and fifty persons accompanying him disembarked from buses and Sumo vehicles near the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) on that day.  Carrying white flags, the group marched towards Lal Chowk and raised slogans against the resistance leadership for “holding the entire Valley hostage.”

Soon after their arrival near the tower, a youth soon unfurled a white flag atop the tower. This was followed by a brief speech by Bashir Ahmad. The local youth removed the flag immediately and set it ablaze. They later pelted stones on the group from Islamabad.

Now the BJP’s youth wing, Yuva Morcha intends to hoist a flag atop the tower on January 26. The Yatra from Kolkata has already commenced. It will end at Lal Chowk with the flag hoisting ceremony. Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman, Malik Muhammad Yasin has dared them to hoist the flag. Pro-Indian politicians including Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mufti Muhammad Sayed, Begum Khalida Shah and many others have urged the BJP to abandon the idea.  But the top BJP leadership has rejected their requests much to the annoyance of security agencies. The yatra, pro-freedom elements believe, will benefit the movement. In fact, they want the BJP to repeat the mistake of 1992.  

What does the BJP want to prove by hoisting the flag? According to Syed Ali Geelani hoisting a flag with one million troops around is useless. He said it is not going to have any impact. Khalida Shah said Kashmiris had been hoisting Pakistani flags since 1947 but it did not make Kashmir a part of Pakistan. Similarly hoisting the tricolor at Lal Chowk cannot make Kashmir a part of India.
The government also seems interested in the tower. Renovation is going on. A question arises. Why have a clock tower at a sensitive spot especially when it never shows accurate time? Omar Abdullah also talks about resolution of Kashmir dispute. His speech in the Legislative Assembly won him many admirers. He is the person who ordered beautification of Lal Chowk. So why not demolish the tower and construct a small memorial at the place where Nehru promised enforcement of right to self determination of the people of Jammu Kashmir?

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