Lal Chowk A witness to Kashmir history

A panoramic view of Lal Chowk Srinagar. Excelsior/Shakeel

Suhail Bhat
A palpable sense of excitement swept through the crowd gathered around the enormous screen at 6 o’clock when the bells of the famous Ghanta Ghar in Lalchowk sounded. They were anxiously awaiting Chandrayaan 3’s historic landing on the moon since it would mark a significant point in human history. Both locals and visitors were present in the audience, which had gathered to witness the August 23 triumphal entry of India’s ambitious lunar expedition.
Chandrayaan-3 made a historic landing on the lunar south pole at exactly 6:04 PM, marking a momentous milestone for India’s space programme and elevating the country to an elite group of lunar explorers. India was the first nation to successfully land on this largely uncharted lunar surface.
The renowned clock tower of Srinagar, Ghanta Ghar, has gained newfound popularity since its transformation under the Smart City project by the Jammu and Kashmir administration. Tourists, in particular, now deem it a must-visit landmark. Ghanta Ghar, situated at Lal Chowk, has held a special place in the hearts of generations, its nomenclature drawing inspiration from Moscow’s Red Square.
Since its makeover as part of the Smart City project by the Jammu and Kashmir Government, the famed clock tower of Srinagar, Ghanta Ghar, has garnered renewed prominence. It is currently considered a must-see sight, especially among tourists. Generations have maintained a special place in their hearts for Ghanta Ghar, which is located in Lal Chowk and has a name inspired by Moscow’s Red Square.
This clock tower has undergone an amazing renovation that skilfully combines contemporary design with classic architectural features. It has become a busy gathering place for people thanks to amenities including fountains, a big screen, and swings.
On August 14, when the tower was officially opened, LG Manoj Sinha reaffirmed his commitment to the development of Srinagar and the youth in Jammu and Kashmir. He praised the area’s security forces and its hardworking people, pointing out that even major cities like Mumbai and Delhi look to Srinagar for ideas on urban design and quality of life.
Sharing an aerial video of the renovated building, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that the “redeveloped sentinel now reflects the brightness of peace, progress, and prosperity sweeping across the region under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi.”
Since 1947, the clock tower in Srinagar’s iconic Lal Chowk has seen the ups and downs of the turbulent political history of Jammu and Kashmir. Its most recent modification is a reflection of the larger sociopolitical change the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government has brought about.
There, a number of leaders have made fervent speeches, made promises, and hoisted flags-whether Indian or Pakistani-for rhetorical and symbolic effect. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, raised the national flag of India in this location in 1948 and promised the people a chance to vote in a referendum whereby they would be able to choose their political future.
It was the place where Sheikh Abdullah as the elected Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, expressed his allegiance to Nehru and India in a Persian couplet, saying “Man Tu Shudam, Tu Man Shudi, Taqas Na Goyed, Man Degram Tu Degri (I became you and you became I; so none can say we are separate)”.
The clock tower was initially built in 1979 by Bajaj Electricals at the request of Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to create a factory in the area. However, after the government gained possession of the tower, Bajaj’s emblem was removed. Even the Border Security Force (BSF) used the clock tower as a bunker during the stormy 1990s. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) then took over, carrying on the custom of raising the flag on India’s Independence Day until 2009.
Murli Manohar Joshi, the BJP’s president at the time, organised an Ekta Yatra in 1992 to raise the Tricolour at Ghanta Ghar. The then-unknown politician, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took part in this historic occasion.
Since 1989, raising flags atop Ghanta Ghar has been of great political significance, especially in the years following Murli Joshi’s venture in 1992. Depending on their political connections, politicians and activists from various backgrounds have come to Lal Chowk with the goal of raising either the tricolour or the green flag atop the clock tower.
Some Kashmiri youth flew the Pakistani flag atop Ghanta Ghar amid the waves of anti-India protests in 2008, 2009, and 2010, adding yet another chapter to the tower’s complicated and illustrious past.
The Congress leader Rahul Gandhi unfurled national tricolour in Lal Chowk as the party’s mass outreach program “Bharat Jodo Yatra” ended in Srinagar early this year.