State flag removed from all J&K offices

The Asian Age.  | Yusuf Jameel

India, All India

The state flag consisted of a deep red field, representing labour, charged with a plough to represent agriculture.

The Indian flag flies at the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar on Sunday. The Jammu & Kashmir flag has been removed after the abrogation of Article 370. (Photo: AP)

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir’s state flag was on Sunday removed from Srinagar’s civil secretariat and all other government buildings. This comes three weeks after Parliament approved a resolution abrogating J&K’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and passed a bill for splitting the state into two Union territories.

Residents of neighbourhood Suthrashahi said they saw the state flag that stood on high along with the national flag atop the multi-storey civil secretariat building “missing” when they woke up on Sunday morning. “It is another sad day for the people of Kashmir. This flag was one of the symbols of our distinctive identity. It too has been snatched from us,” said Shamusuddin, a local resident.

The state flag consisted of a deep red field, representing labour, charged with a plough to represent agriculture. It also had three white stripes on the hoist side representing the three geographic regions of the state — Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh.

The flag was adopted by J&K National Conference, the state’s oldest political party, on July 11, 1939. It was made the state’s official flag on June 7, 1952 through a resolution passed by the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.

Under the 1952 Delhi Agreement between then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and J&K “prime minister” Sheikh Abdullah, the tricolour had the same status in Jammu and Kashmir as in the rest of India.

Article 144 of the J&K constitution made it mandatory to hoist the state flag alongside the national flag. However, in March 2015, the newly-appointed ministers from the BJP in the PDP-led coalition government refused to hoist the state flag on their official cars, saying they cannot have any other flag on their vehicles besides the tricolour.

The state government led by PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed then issued a circular making it compulsory to hoist the state flag along with the national flag, stating: “The state flag has the same sanctity and position as the Union flag has under the Indian Constitution and other statutory provisions.”

The state’s general administration department (GAD), however, withdrew the March 12, 2015 circular within 20 hours.

On December 26 that year, the J&K high court directed the state government to hoist the state flag along with the national flag on official buildings and vehicles of constitutional authorities. However, this decision was contested by the BJP and on January 1, 2016, a larger bench of the high court, comprising Justices Bansi Lal Bhat and Tashi Rabstan, stayed the order of the single judge, Justice Hasnain Masoodi.  Mr Masoodi is now a NC MP, representing Anantnag constituency in the Lok Sabha. Justice Masoodi’s order was challenged by a former IGP and BJP leader Farooq Khan through a “letter patents appeal”. Mr Khan is an adviser to state governor Satya Pal Malik.

Justice Masoodi’s ruling, while restoring the state government’s circular issued in March 2015, said: “It connects past with present and future. The flag, while reminding us of the struggle made by the people and their sacrifices, makes us aware of our aspirations.”

Justice Masoodi had directed the respondents and all constitutional authorities to adhere to and abide by the mandate and spirit of Section 144 of the J&K constitutionJ&K Prevention of Insult to State Honour Act 1979 and Circular No.13 issued by the state’s GAD on March 12, 2015.  “Such adherence obviously is to include hoisting of state flag on buildings housing offices of constitutional authorities and on vehicles used by such authorities,” the court had said.

The court had also said: “It is pertinent to point out that while the Constitution of India does not have any specific provision, providing for the national flag, except Article 51A(a) of the Constitution that includes the duty to respect the national flag among the fundamental duties of every citizen of India, the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir has a specific provision, Section 144, that provides for the state flag.”

However, then J&K deputy chief minister and BJP leader Nirmal Singh had publicly questioned the use of the state flag. He had said no flag could be hoisted at a level equal to that of the national flag.