Lal Chowk again in limelight



Srinagar: The clock tower at Lal Chowk has been witness to many rumblings over the past three years -- and it is in the limelight again, as BJP remains adamant about its plan to unfurl the national flag here on Republic Day.

Lal Chowk, commercial hub of Srinagar city, has seen many historic developments including speeches by first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and then Premier of Jammu and Kashmir Shiekh Muhammad Abdullah.

The clock tower is currently undergoing another round of renovation after it was severely damaged during a separatist rally on Eidul Fitr on September 11 last year.

Authorities may have to seal off the area to prevent further damage to it if the BJP or the JKLF succeed in reaching the spot as part of their challenges to hoist flags.

For more than a month now, labourers have been working on the renovation of the tower, which assumed political significance following hoisting of Pakistani flags there in the early days of militancy in the Valley.

"It is being renovated as part of the Lal Chowk's beautification plan," Director JK Tourism Farooq Shah said.

A group of BJP leaders led by Murli Manohar Joshi, on Republic Day in 1992, decided to break the separatist writ and hoisted the national flag amidst tight security. Thereafter, security forces took over the tower and constructed a security picket around it, which was removed only in 2007.

The state government in March last year initiated a project to give face lift to the Lal Chowk area, where most of the tourists land upon their arrival by road, and the clock tower also got a new look.

But the new look clock tower was short-lived as it again became centre of protests during the five-month agitation.

The tower attracted the flag-hoisting separatist activists in 2008 during the Amarnath Land row agitation when scores of Islamic flags made way atop it.

Noor Mohammad Baba, a professor of political science at the University of Kashmir, said the only importance of clock tower is that it is situated in Lal Chowk.

"Lal Chowk has been historically important because Jawaharlal Nehru came here in 1947 and subsequently several important meeting were held here," Baba said.

The proposed flag-hoisting which can lead to a showdown between the BJP and separatists has left the state government worried as Kashmir was slowly returning to normalcy after last year's agitation, which had left more than 100 civilians dead.

PTI