Lal-Chowk (Red-Square) is the heart of Srinagar. It is a business hub in the capital city which is named after the central market place of Moscow Red Square. It is believed that a group of enthusiastic Communists in Srinagar named it Lal Chowk after Lenin seized power in Moscow in 1917. Over the decades, it became the symbol of left-leaning Kashmiri nationalistic politics practiced by the then ministers when Soviet Union was ascending to power. During that time it was a spot kept particularly for holding protests. Then in 1980, Bajaj Electricals raised the Clock Tower in the middle of the Chowk called ‘Ghanta Ghar’ which initially served as an advertisement for Bajaj Electricals in Srinagar and later for years it was not renovated and it stopped functioning. Over the years, the advertising symbol became a political symbol. The Lal Chowk and the Ghanta Ghar have become a new symbol of Kashmir politics. During that time, the successive Indian governments tried to control the turmoil ridden circumstances and bring peace in the region.
After the abrogation of Article 370, unprecedented opportunities for J&K tourism sector unlocked. Many things were happening for the first time. As if we all were a neglected lot on the earth. A positive impression has gained momentum everywhere that in past 70 years Kashmir was on another planet and it was brought on the earth only after August 5, 2019. One such thing is the resurgence of city centre Lal-chowk.
The present Lal Chowk (now Srinagar Square) is undoubtedly iconic than the erstwhile one. It has got refurbished and redesigned to appear superb; currently witnessing an awe-inspiring surge in tourist footfall. One can see here something different than before. Earlier it used to be worn out and the main place for protests. But now a complete metamorphosis seems to have occurred. Things are clearly visible. In fact, some years before, it used to be sealed off by the heavy security because of the apprehensions of any untoward incident. One can see for himself that it has got revamped to a new version. On 19th of August, when I happened to see the site myself, literally, it was altogether a different experience to witness changes having taken place. Not only here, even the entire city seems to have redeveloped.
Honestly, some years before no sooner it became evening than people would start disappearing especially from Lal Chowk because of the volatile situation which people had no control over. But now, the circumstances seem to become normal. People love to spend time at this renewed location not only during day but in the evening time as well because for them it is not lesser than a spectacle of beauty and bliss.
One can see peace prevailed and patriotism spread around. Visitors can see for themselves the change where heritage meets innovation. From classic to contemporary, they feel the revival of Lal Chowk embracing modernity with style. And what is interesting to know that in the old Lal Chowk, one could see the historic clock tower been occupied by the pigeons only with things quite haphazard all around. The clock of the tower never showed the exact time. In fact, during 90s, this tower housed a bunker of security persons inside its basement. But the present tower adorns a new look. It has been so beautifully revamped and decorated that in the evening one totally gets fascinated to see the whole structure of it beaming in tricolor with a separate tricolor flag fluttering on top of it.
Redevelopment of it is clearly visible on ground. Just in front of the tower towards West, there has been kept a big LED video screen on which some significant events are shown on daily basis.
In fact, hundred of tourist, pedestrians and locals watched the momentous Chandarayan-3 landing on 23rd of August while sitting so comfortably in the peaceful ambiance of colorful Lal Chowk within the elegant company of leaping fountains, gleaming floor-lights fitted in tiles, swings for kids, flower-beds amid lit-up surroundings and more.
My intention of writing this piece is to enlighten people to evaluate renovation of things in the city with a positive attitude instead of having a particular mindset of discrediting things. It is completely unwise to say that development has not taken place.
Things have taken a paradigm shift in and around Srinagar besides the magnificent Lal Chowk. Peace & prosperity also prevailed at large with vibrancy in the corporate sector. What else is, by the way, required than living in unison with peace, harmony and brotherhood?
Finally, I hail the sincere efforts of CEO Smart City Project Mr. Athar Amir Khan for being so passionate always for the development of the city and urge everyone to have a positive outlook to appreciate governmentt’s sustainable efforts instead of disapproving them illogically.
The author is a teacher and regular columnist from Rafiabad