Battle for Lal Chowk

Lal Chowk seemed in no mood to mourn the loss of Abdullah’s portrait much to the disappointment of National Conference workers who would guard the portrait with their life. But a new era was about to commence.
Battle for Lal Chowk
File Photo

Since 1947 the state and its people are involved in a fight for Lal Chowk. The fight has achieved significant importance since 2008 when the administration prevented people from assembling at the historic place. The fight continues unabated and yesterday (July 26), the police used excessive force near Jehangir Chowk to foil an attempt by the people from Shaher-e-Khas to reach the city centre. A police officer was seen thanking his stars for succeeding in foiling the attempt.  "Thank God, we stopped them here otherwise they would have reached Lal Chowk," he was heard saying.

Lal Chowk, political circles believe has been politically important since 1947. According to them, it represents the political mood of the Valley.  However, they agree that major political developments that took place here have been consigned like other developments to history books. 

In 1975 , Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah  buried the twenty-two year-old Plebiscite Front at this place.  He addressed the people in Lal Chowk. The city centre was ashamed on seeing the people greeting the leader.  A few days earlier, same people had observed total strike against the sell-out in response to a call by Pakistan Prime Minister, Zulifkar Ali Bhuttoo.  The  people, it seemed lost the control of the  historic place for good but thanks to Omar Mukhtar, government once again lost Lal Chowk  though for a brief period.

Ten years later, a huge portrait of the `beloved' leader was pulled down by an irate group of youth who had just come out of the erstwhile Regal cinema after witnessing Omar Mukhtar (Lion of Desert). The city centre heard anti-Sheikh slogans for the first time.     

The incident shook the administration and the movie was banned. Lal Chowk seemed in no mood to mourn the loss of Abdullah's portrait much to the disappointment of National Conference workers who would guard the portrait with their life. But a new era was about to commence. The new generation had no love for  Sher-e-Kashmir.

This was the first time when National Conference lost its hold on Lal Chowk.  Sheikh Abdullah must have turned in his grave that day. It was the same place where he had, in 1948, 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 a fair deal. 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. 

However, after just five years Sheikh Abdullah realized that India was not 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 in, Bakshi's National Conference operated from the Lal Chowk. The historic place remained in government's hold. The ordinary people gained control of the place in December 1963 during the Holy Relic agitation.  The news of the theft of Holy Relic from Hazratbal shrine caused a stir in the Valley. People took out processions across Kashmir. A procession marching through Lal Chowk turned violent when Bakshi's brother, Bakshi Rashid appeared on the scene and tried to lead the procession. The people threw kangris at him and torched his vehicle. The National Conference office was ransacked.  Lal Chowk was manned by the masses for quite some time.

 Then came 1990 and people once again captured Lal Chowk but only for a few years. The historic Chowk continues to be in government hold. In 1992, the then BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi `encroached' upon the sanctity of the place but had to hoist the tricolor in haste as a rocket fired by militants fell a few yards away from the clock tower.

 The battle for the historic place intensified since 2008 agitation. All attempts by the pro-resistance camp to march towards the city centre were brutally foiled.  The place was finally `captured' by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq on eid-ul-Fitr in 2010. The government responded by imposing curfew which lasted about a month. A case was also registered against the Mirwaiz for   instigating violence.

The police caged Sher-e-Jammu as well who dared to prove his political worth at the historic place on July 28 , 2010. The police also beat three persons to pulp last year when they tried to hoist the tricolor on the Clock Tower.

The city centre has now been dismembered and mauled in the name of restoring its glory. But insiders believe the cosmetic surgery has been done to prevent people from assembling there. But what would happen if protesters reach Lal Chowk some day?  Political circles believe the government wants to "de-politicise" the city centre. But why? A pro-Pakistan rally or a hoisting a Pakistani flag at the historic place may be a big news but cannot make Kashmir a part of Pakistan. The CRPF manned the area for two decades. Every year they would hoist a tri-color on January 26 and August 15. Then one fine day, the CRPF issued a statement stating that hoisting the tricolor at Lal Chowk was not needed.  

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