The Lal Chowk of Srinagar which gained international publicity on January 26, 1992, when the (then) BJP President, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi hoisted the national flag, was given the name of ‘Lal Chowk’ in October 1947. Earlier it was known as ‘Palladium Chowk’.
The very name given to this place is the Urdu equivalent of the “Red Square” in Moscow, and is, obviously a brain child of the communists who had managed to gain entry into the National Conference.
January 26 (1992) was, however, not the first time that the Lal Chowk witnessed the unfurling of the national flag. Beginning from the hoisting in 1947 of the Red Flag with a replica of the plough in white, which was the party flag of the National Conference, the Lal Chowk has also seen the hoisting of the national flag by the National Conference and the Congress parties on Republic Days. It saw even the hoisting of the Pakistani flag by anti-national elements on certain occasions.
The hurried and unceremonious hoisting of the national flag by Dr Joshi claimed by him as “Symbolic Victory” was not the first time when the Lal Chowk witnessed its unfurling. The only distinguishing feature this time was that the national flag was hoisted by a non Kashmiri under cover of the bayonets of the security forces amidst firing of rockets by the militants.
The Lal Chowk gained importance on October 26, 1947 when the National Conference, headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, established its emergency headquarters in the building of Palladium Talkies. Maharaja Hari Singh had left for Jammu the previous night, on advice of Mr V.P. Menon, Secretary to the Minister of States. As admitted by him in his book, “integration of the Indian States”, “The first thing to be done was to get the Maharaja and his family out of Srinagar. The reason for this was obvious. The raiders were close to Baramulla. If the Government of India decided not to go to his rescue, there was no doubt about fate that would befall him and his familyin Srinagar. I advised him to leave immediately for Jammu and to take with him his family and his valuable possessions”.
This incident was however, exploited by the National Conference leadership to their own political advantage. It was in Lal Chowk that Sheikh Abdullah made a public declaration that the Maharaja had betrayed the people of Kashmir by leaving them at the mercy of the raiders. “We have picked up the administration from this Chowk with full determination to fight the two-nation theory, to maintain communal harmony and to save Kashmir from Pakistani raiders”, he declared emphatically.
The Historic Hand-Shake
On November 12, 1947, the Lal Chowk witnessed the historic hand-shake of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.
The Indian forced which came to the rescue of Kashmir, landed Srinagar on October 27, 1947. By November 8, the Indian army had succeeded in driving the Pakistani raiders beyond Baramulla. India’s Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, accompanied by Mrs Indira Gandhi and Mr Rafi Ahmad Kidwai paid a visit to Kashmir to boost the morale of the Army and the National Conference leadership. Accompanied by Sheikh Abdullah, the party drove to Baramulla on November 12, 1947. On their return to Srinagar, a mammoth public meeting was held at the Lal Chowk. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru praised the people of Kashmir and the National Conference for maintaining communal harmony and for helping the army in pushing back the raiders. He gave a solemn assurance to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that as soon as the soil of Kashmir was cleared of the raiders and normal conditions restored, the issue of accession will be finally decided by holding a plebiscite. “Even if you decide against accession to India, your wishes will be respected”, he declared amidst loud cheers.
Clasping the hand of Sheikh Abdullah, Pandit Nehru declared: “This hand-shake is symbolic of the hand-shake of India and Kashmir, not that of two individuals.”
Replying Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah said that the unity was based on the common ideals which guided the Congress and the National Conference. He quoted the following Persian couplet of Amir Khusrow, which, he said, aptly befitted the occasion:
‘I become you and you become me
I become the body and you the soul
Hereafter no one can say we are separate from each other’
To meet the challenge posed by the raiders and to maintain communal peace and harmony, the National Conference had organized a Peace Brigade in October 1947. Though unarmed it did commendable work. In November 1947, it was decided to raise the Jammu and Kashmir Militia. Selected volunteers were enrolled and given training in firing by Col Ram Lal.
The Lal Chowk witnessed the parade of the first contingent of the Militia when Mr DP Dhar accompanied by Col Ram Lal took the salute.
Humiliation of RC Kak
Pandit Ram Chandra Kak, Prime Minister of the state was unceremoniously removed from the service by Maharaja Hari Singh on August 10, 1947. He was charged with corruption and held in prison by the government of Sheikh Abdullah in 1948. Charges were framed against him under section 409 and 161 of the Indian Penal Code by a special magistrate trying the case.
One day when he was being brought on foot from the Kothi Bagh sub jail to the court, the route passing through the Lal Chowk, a huge mob abused him. Pandit Ram Nath Bazaz has described the incident in his book ‘Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir’ in the following words:
“Throughout the way the nationalist workers threw stones, dust and other refuse at him. Some spat at his face and not a few loudly spoke vulgar, obscene and vituperative language while abusing him”.
The Holy Relic Episode
On the morning of December 27, 1963, news spread like wildfire that the Moo-e-Mubarik (The holy relic) kept in the famous Hazratbal Shrine had mysteriously disappeared. The news caused a mass upsurge and thousands of devout Muslims marched into the city of Srinagar, weeping, wailing and chanting hymns from the Holy Quran. Besides sitting at dharna in the spacious grounds of Hazratbal Shrine, a very large number of devotees from mufassils sat at a nine-day long dharna in the Lal Chowk.
Various rumours were set afloat. Among them the loudest was that the removal of the Holy Relic was the work of the BBC (The Bakshi Brothers Corporation). Another rumous implicated Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s party while the third was that this was the handi-work of Sadiq Qasim group.
The intensity of the mob fury against BBC, may be judged from the fact that Bakshi Abdul Rashid’s car was set ablaze in the Lal Chowk while he himself ran for his life. The irate mob pulled down the National Conference flag and hoisted a black flag of mourning in the Lal Chowk. They burnt the two cinema halls (Regal and Amresh) and the posh hotel Pamposn, which were the property of Bakshi Brothers.
Public fury was brought under control by Moulana Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi, who addressed the congregation in the Lal Chowk and warned them that their enemies were setting afloat all sorts of rumours.
“Hoshiar”, he said repeatedly and this became a watch word. Have faith in the Almight by whose grace the Holy Relic would soon be restored. The Kashmiri Pandit community expressed their whole-hearted sympathy with their Muslim brethren and they joined the processions and sat on dharna in the Lal Chowk. Their leader like Pandit Shiv Narayan Fotedar addressed the congregation.
India’s intelligence Chief Mr Bhola Nath Mullick, was specially deputed to enquire into this case. The holy relic was replaced in the Hazrat Bal Shrine on January 4, 1964 and the dharna at Lal Chowk ended the same day.
The name of the real culprit was never disclosed. Mr Mullick in hisbook “My days with Nehru” has said:
II cannot describe the process which led to its replacement at the place from where it was removed on December 27. This was an intelligence operation never to be disclosed.
Following the Indira-Abdullah accord of 1975, Sheikh Abdullah assumed office as Chief Minister of the state on February 25, 1975.
Eqrlier on February 15, the Plebicite Front headed by Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg had approved the accord, Clause 1 o which read:
”The state of Jammu and Kashmir which is a constituent unit of Union of India, shall, in its relation with the union continue to be government by Article 370 of the constitution of India”.
Mirza Beg also declared that the Plebiscite Front ceased to exist. The declaration was much resented by a number of workers, who had been fed with the idea of a plebiscite ever since the dismissal of the Abdullah government in 1953. So when, after assuming power at Jammu, Sheikh Abdullah decided to visit Srinagar and address a public meeting in Lal Chowk, it was feared that dissidents who described the Accord as “betrayal” would disrupt the meeting.
Contrary to the expectations, the mammoth crowd “largest in public memory” as described by a local newspaper, listened to Sheikh Abdullah’s speech on March 3, 1975, in pin drop silence.
Sheikh Abdullah criticized the Pakistan rulers for spreading all sorts of rumours to mislead the people of Kashmir by saying that the Security Council resolutions had been flouted and reduced to scraps by paper by us. This, he said, was not correct. “We have gained the right of self-determination after offering many sacrifices. If the Pak rulers are so keen about self-determination, let them make a beginning by granting this right to the 15 lakhs of Kashmiris in the so called “Azad Kashmir”. He said the Accord was in the best interest of the people.
The article has been taken from the archives of veteran journalist Late Shri B.P. Sharma.
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