Controversy over separate state flag for Jammu and Kashmir goes to the root of its autonomous status

Recent judicial orders over the Jammu and Kashmir state flag have brought to the surface the multiple ironies around the status of that state. It is the only state in the Indian Union with not only a separate flag but also a separate constitution. Both are intended to symbolize the special and autonomous status of the state, but neither actually satisfies those for whom they are meant as palliatives.

The J&K state flag issue at a time of heightened terror attacks is only making matters worse

The J&K state flag issue at a time of heightened terror attacks is only making matters worse

When Sheikh Abdullah got the central government to accept the state’s constitution and flag through the New Delhi agreement of 1952, he probably viewed them as the first steps on the road to a sovereign independent country – with himself as its ruling potentate. He argued long and hard, refusing to yield an inch on any of his demands.

Maulana Azad, who led the negotiations on behalf of the Centre, resisted Abdullah’s demands as much as he could. However, Nehru agreed, realizing astutely that Abdullah was looking for an excuse to reverse the state’s accession. Maharaja Hari Singh had made his accession conditional – limiting it to only defence, external affairs and communication.

No doubt Nehru thought that autonomous status would be acceptable as being half-way to independence. It was not. Abdullah, who clearly had not expected Nehru’s flexibility, delayed signing the Agreement for a few months. His continued rebelliousness even after it was signed led to his dismissal and arrest in August 1953.

One of the many ironies of Kashmir’s modern tragedy is that those who have backed an independence struggle in Kashmir have, over the past four decades, presented Sheikh Abdullah as a traitor who sold out to the Indian Union. They do not relate to the state flag which he gave them much more than they relate to the Dogra flag of the pre-1952 period.

Rather, the large majority of separatists look up to various green flags, whether these be Pakistan’s (with a white stripe), the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (with a blue stripe), or the basic white-crescent-on-green-background Muslim flag that is sometimes mistaken for Pakistan’s. Now, a black Islamic State flag can occasionally be seen in Srinagar.

On the other hand, Hindutva-oriented nationalists too hate the state flag – and the fact that the state has a separate constitution. The state flag, which is predominantly bright red, is to such nationalists as well as to various Islamists what the metaphorical red flag is to a bull.
Hindutva disgust too goes back to 1952.

For, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerji resigned from Nehru’s inclusive cabinet to protest the New Delhi Agreement that year, and founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. His party metamorphosed into the Bharatiya Janata Party after merging into the Janata Party between 1977 and 1980.

For close to 65 years, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and their brethren in the Sangh have held to the slogan Dr Mookerji gave in 1952: `ek vidhan, ek pradhan, ek nishan (one constitution, one prime minister, one flag)’ to oppose a special status for Jammu and Kashmir.
At that time, the state’s head-of-government was also called Prime Minister. That continued until 1964, when GM Sadiq took the oaths of office as chief minister, and subsequently got the assembly to amend the designations in the state constitution. Prime Minister became chief minister and the sadr-e-riyasat became governor.

Close on the heels of the flag controversy, the CPI(M)’s lone MLA has now proposed a house resolution to restore the title of sadr-e-riyasat too. It would almost appear as if a concerted set of moves are afoot to achieve the agenda laid down by Dr Mookerji, who is still held in very high regard by RSS activists.

In fact, there is no contradiction between the state constitution and the Indian constitution. Indeed, it is the state constitution that unambiguously states that Jammu and Kashmir is an `integral part of India’ – a term of which BJP activists are rather fond. It is an evocative term, though it means very little in any legally enforceable sense. Indeed, it ends up having the opposite effect politically.

So steeped are they in the rhetoric of their early years in politics, however, that the state flag and the separate constitution still irk RSS and BJP activists. Over the past three decades, the party’s public campaigns (particularly when it was in the opposition) have focused most powerfully on a Ram temple in Ayodhya, doing away with Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and, third, a uniform civil code.

No wonder, the flag issue has come up now that the BJP is a major coalition partner. Many BJP ministers and others have been loath to fly the state flag beside the Indian flag, as the rules require. Some of them have ignored administrative orders asking them to follow the norms.

Last week, the issue became a political shuttle-cock in the High Court. Justice Masoodi passed an order requiring that the state flag be given the same respect as the national flag. No sooner had Justice Masoodi retired at month-end than a bench of two non-Muslim judges stayed his order.
Either way, it is an unnecessarily divisive issue, particularly at a time when the country faces renewed militant attacks.

Updated Date: Jan 03, 2016 10:54 AM

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