From Joshi’s Ekta Yatra in 1992 to Naqvi’s ‘outreach’ at Lal Chowk

ZAHOOR MALIK. Dated: 1/23/2020 11:56:02 PM

SRINAGAR, Jan 23: The Lal Chowk in Srinagar has not lost its historic importance. Witnesses to some of the significant historic events in past, it continues to be politically important, at least symbolically so.
BJP which is now in power at the Centre, first struck its political chord with Lal Chowk on Republic Day in 1992 with its “Ekta Yatra,” during which senior party leader Murli Manohar Joshi unfurled the national flag amid tight security cover when militancy was at its peak. Yesterday, BJP leader and union minister Mukhtar Abas Naqvi visited the Lal Chowk and talked to people there as part of central government’s public outreach program in Jammu and Kashmir.
Interestingly, the presence of now prime minister Narendra Modi, who was among a few leaders accompanying Joshi during “Ekta Yatra”, went almost unnoticed at Lal Chowk since his political graph was not that high. He was the in-charge of the yatra. Other top leaders including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani preferred to stay in Jammu to hold back a sea of BJP workers and supporters, who had reached Jammu as part of Yatra from different corners of the country and wanted to be present at Lal Chowk.
The Governor’s administration at that time had ruled out permission to thousands of BJP workers to Srinagar for security and law and order reasons. Finally the bad weather and unpredictable condition of Srinagar-Jammu highway helped. But BJP supporters were adamant to reach Lal Chowk and thought that the administration was deliberately stopping them in Jammu. It was finally left to Vajpayee to pacify the agitated party workers and he did it very effectively.
Addressing a rally in Jammu, Vajpayee had said, “Nobody in the administration wants to stop us. Even the governor sahib wants that we should reach Lal Chowk and hoist the national flag. But weather is not permitting us. It is not possible for all of us to go there in such bad weather conditions particularly when the condition of the road is unpredictable and not good. Now it has been decided that Joshi sahib and other leaders will go to Srinagar and will hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk.”
Subsequently, this happened and Joshi reached here along with few other leaders and hoisted the tri-colour in a ceremony that lasted a few minutes.
Yesterday, Naqvi also reached Lal Chowk and talked to people, among other things, about union government’s plan of starting a new era of development particularly for youth in J&K. Interestingly, his outreach to Lal Chowk coincided with the officials shutting down tuition and coaching centres for thousands of students here from yesterday to January 27 as a security measure for Republic Day.
This is not for the first time that officials did it. They have been doing so for the last several years ahead of Republic and Independence Days. This has also happened during Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah’s rule as chief ministers. However, this time the students have lost months of precious time since August 5 and now the closing of tuition and coaching centres can add to their woes particularly for those preparing for NEET and JEE.
Prior to 1947, during the freedom struggle days, Lal Chowk had witnessed extra-ordinary events. In the long political era of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Lal Chowk was very much active politically. Sheikh and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru took the centre-stage at a public meeting at Lal Chowk after the accession of J&K with union of India. At the public meeting, the Sheikh tried to explain the friendship between him and Nehru as also accession by reciting a Persian couplet, which means “I became you and you became I.”
Sheikh’s association with Lal Chowk continued even as he would use the Hazratbal shrine as well for addressing the people.
After the 1990, Lal Chowk witnessed a number of rallies. Later the authorities would foil the calls of separatists for a march to Lal Chowk by sealing the historic Chowk and imposing restrictions. The projection of Lal Chowk, mostly negative, by some TV news channels which have labelled it as a troubled place has also created an impact. In recent years, visitors from different states make it a point to visit Lal Chowk and take pictures to show their other family members, relatives and friends back home that they also visited the place.

 

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