In an article last week, I called for the withdrawal of the decision of the Punjab government to rename the Shadman Chowk in Lahore as Bhagat Singh Chowk. Separately, I had also written to the Chief Minister to review his decision.

In reply, I have received from the Chief Minister’s Secretariat the copy of a letter addressed by them to the DCO of Lahore requesting him to “consider the request of the applicant and take necessary action as deemed appropriate.” As anyone familiar with the way our bureaucracy functions would confirm, what this language means is that my letter did not receive the Chief Minister’s attention and the matter has effectively been consigned to the files of the DCO’s office to gather dust.

Unlike Pakistan, where the renaming of the chowk has gone largely unnoticed, it has been widely reported in India. Indian super-patriots have welcomed the step as the triumph of a decades-old campaign. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat and a leading politician of the Hindu nationalist BJP, whose name is inseparable from the carnage of Muslims in the state in 2002, has “congratulated” the Pakistan government on “this tribute to the martyr.” Modi also compared Bhagat Singh’s historical role with that of Vivekanada, a 19th century Hindu revivalist, who condemned Islam as a “barbaric” religion.

The little-known ‘Institute for Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS)’, which acts as the Pakistani arm of the movement to honour Bhagat Singh, is now pressing the Punjab government to place his statue at the chowk. They also want to rename Bradlaugh House, an old British-era building in Lahore that once housed the college where Bhagat Singh was a student, after him.

After ordering the renaming of Shadman Chowk, the Lahore DCO, reportedly, said that Bhagat Singh had been “martyred at this place after he fought the British Army by raising the slogan of revolution in the subcontinent.” The DCO also declared that all citizens, including Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians, had equal rights under the Constitution of Pakistan and ordered that no one should raise any objection to the decision. But evidently, sensing that his wisdom might still be questioned by some in defiance of these orders, the DCO sought to mollify them by announcing that he was renaming a nearby chowk after Chaudhry Rahmat Ali.

The DCO also suggested that anyone, who might venture to question the decision to rename the Shadman Chowk does not know “who Bhagat Singh was.”

For starters, Bhagat Singh was no crusader for the equality of rights for the minorities; and he never fought against the British Army. In fact, the minority of those days was the Muslim community of the subcontinent, not the Hindus and Sikhs; and the Muslim minority was seeking a constitution for the country that would guarantee to them a due share of political power and protect them from the tyranny of majority rule.

Neither Bhagat Singh’s methods nor his martyrdom were embraced by the Muslims. At its 22nd session in December 1931, the All-India Muslim League passed a resolution to express “its strong condemnation of the terrorist movement, culminating in dastardly and outrageous crimes” and appealed to the Muslims “to put forth their best efforts to combat such activities.”

In 1960, at India’s request, Pakistan agreed to an exchange of territory in which the border village on the Sutlej River where Bhagat had been cremated was transferred to India. The Indian authorities built a National Martyrs Memorial at the site - one mile from the border. India claims that the memorial was damaged by the Pakistani troops in 1972 and the statues placed there were removed. The memorial has since been rebuilt. In 2008, Bhagat’s statue was placed in the Indian Parliament and the Nawanshahr district in Indian Punjab, in which his ancestral village is located, was renamed as Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar. Last month, it was announced that India’s central bank would be issuing a coin to commemorate his birth centenary.

India, of course, has every right to honour the memory of a proud son, who gave up his life for the independence of his country, even though by India’s own current standards, he would be regarded as a terrorist. But there is an important lesson for Pakistan. We need to do more to honour the memory of the Kashmiri freedom fighters, who continue to lay down their lives to this day for azadi from Indian occupation.

If Shadman Chowk is to be renamed, we can choose from the more than 100,000 Kashmiris who have been martyred by the Indian occupiers. The name that immediately comes to mind is that of Maqbool Butt, who was hanged by India in 1984 allegedly for the murder of an Indian police officer. He was charged under India’s Enemy Agents Ordinance for rebellion against India. He never got a fair trial. His trial was held in camera and he was eventually hanged, after languishing in the death cell for several years, in retaliation for the murder of an official of the Indian consular office in Birmingham by a shadowy group of Kashmiri exiles with whom he had no links.

In 1981, when Maqbool Butt was shifted to the death cell, Yasser Arafat made an eloquent plea to the Indian President not to hang the Kashmiri freedom fighter. “I am not filing a mercy petition,” Arafat wrote, “but want to remind you that during the freedom struggle of India, no Indian such as Pandit Nehru, Gandhi, or Azad was hanged by the British, so it is not proper for the Indian government to hang a freedom fighter.”

The least that Pakistan can do to honour the memory of Maqbool Butt is to build a memorial for him, or rename an existing landmark such as the Shadman Chowk, after him.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.  Email: