Complementary colours?

A history of the J&K flag-that sets it apart

Complementary colours?
When Karnataka Chief Minister K. Siddaramaiah announced on March 8 that his government had adopted its own state flag, it inadvertently brought into focus the separate Jammu & Kashmir state flag.

Since the state government had no power to adopt it, it sought the Government of India’s permission. “The state government had no power to announce its state flag,” Siddaramaiah said. “A proposal will be sent to the union government. We will urge the center to approve [it] and make an official announcement at the earliest.” His words highlight the distinction between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India’s 20 states.

The story of a separate flag for Jammu and Kashmir has been an old one and a separate constitution gives it a different context. It is part of the larger autonomous character enjoyed by the only Muslim-majority state. Of late, however, it has become the subject of debate. Notwithstanding its existence as parallel to that of the Indian national flag, it was challenged in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member, Farooq Khan, in 2015. The court has been silent for some time.
In 1931 the Dogra government ordered firing on a procession near Central Jail Srinagar, killing 21 civilians. As protested erupted, someone picked up the blood-stained shirt of one of the victims and it was hoisted up by the crowd

Khan, a retired police officer, was later appointed Administrator Lakshadweep. His petition was filed after the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government issued a circular reiterating that the state flag be respected in view of its constitutional sanctity. That was the result of another petition by a citizen, Abdul Qayoom Khan, who had sought the court’s direction to respect the flag. This was the first showdown between the newly formed Peoples Democratic Party-BJP government and the circular was silently removed from the government website.

But the petitions came at the time when the BJP had already joined hands with the PDP under an agreement called the Agenda of Alliance. It says among other things that, “While recognising the different positions and appreciating the perceptions the BJP and PDP have on the constitutional status of J&K, considering the political and legislative realities, the present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K, including the special status in the Constitution of India”.

The J&K flag with its red background, plough and three strips denoting the regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh has its own history and is deeply connected to the political movement from 1931 onwards. It is believed that its origin dates to July 13, 1931 when then Dogra government ordered firing on a procession near Central Jail Srinagar, killing 21 civilians. As protested erupted, someone picked up the blood-stained shirt of one of the victims and it was hoisted up by the crowd as the flag of Jammu and Kashmir. On July 11, 1939, the flag was adopted by the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, a political party that was leading the movement against the Dogra rulers. Then on June 7, 1952, a resolution was passed by the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, making it the official flag of the State.

However, it is said that the flag was seen as the national flag right from 1947 to 1952. The National Conference also had a tarana (anthem) penned by its veteran Moulana Mohammad Saeed Masoodi, but it was not incorporated into the state set-up. It was last played in 2001 when Omar Abdullah was made president of the party.

Things changed after then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah reached an agreement in 1952 aimed at defining the powers of both the center and the state. The tricolor was introduced as the national flag and the J&K flag as the state flag—both would flutter together. The agreement reads in Section IV as: “the Union Government agreed that the State should have its own flag in addition to the Union flag, but it was agreed by the State Government that the State flag would not be a rival of the Union flag; it was also recognised that the Union flag should have the same status and position in Jammu and Kashmir as in the rest of India, but for historical reasons connected with the freedom struggle in the State, the need for continuance of the State flag was recognized”. Subsequently the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution adopted it.

It is not known who designed the flag, but one name, Mohan Raina, has come to be associated with it.. He belonged to a family of artists. One view is that the original “halwala janda” (the flag with a plough) of the National Conference was designed by PN Dhar, who was associated with the party and was a short story writer with Radio Kashmir. He later became advisor to Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah after he returned as chief minister in 1975.

In addition to this is a story that it came up at the time of the killing of 21 civilians in 1931; the flag represented a political movement that was centered on the rights of and against the exploitation of the peasantry before 1947. “It was not imposed from the outside. It was not an elite construction but it represented the ethos of a political movement,” says Gull Wani, a political scientist. It is a fact, however, that the “Naya Kashmir” (New Kashmir) agenda of the National Conference was inspired by a Communist ideology.

As of now, the state flag in Jammu and Kashmir remains and Karnataka’s attempt to join its league may not materialize given the completely different political backgrounds. This also seems difficult in view of the BJP’s policy of complete integration of the state that stems from its core ideology. Giving more powers to states and putting them as separate entities through the steps like having a flag may not gain favour from the center as long as the BJP is in power. But in Jammu and Kashmir it is an emotive issue that is protected by regional parties such as the National Conference and the PDP and also by a central party such as Congress.