By Prof. G.M.Athar
The political history of Kashmir has been very significantly in-fluenced by the vision and mission of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah as a great Kashmiri nationalist popularly called as Sher-e-Kashmir who dominated the politi-cal scene of Kashmir for more than half a century from the time he resigned from government job to join politics in April1931 to his death on 8th September 1982. Not only the common Kashmiries but even the qualified Kashmiri Muslims influ-enced by the anti-Abdullah propaganda of Pakistan and Pro-Pakistan politicians in Kashmir, hold Sher-e-Kashmir responsible for the decades old politiical instability in Kashmir. The critics of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah blame him for taking four ma-jor anti-Kashmir decisions, which include the conversion of All Jammu and Kash-mir Muslim Conference into All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference on June 11, 1939; supporting the deployment of Indian troops in Kashmir on October 26, 1947 following the Pakistani tribal raid in Kashmir on October 22,1947; abandon-ing the political struggle for people’s right of self-determination to demand pre-1953 position of Centre-State relationship in 1972 and taking the oath as Chief Min-ister of Jammu and Kashmir State on 25th February 1975. The detractors of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah call him a traitor, an enemy of the Muslim cause, a power hungry politician, an authoritarian administrator and a double-faced politi-cian.Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was unpopular not amongst the Pro-Pakistan Kashmiri Muslims only but even Hindu nationalists of Jammu and rest of the coun-try called him a communal Kashmiri Muslim, an advocate of independent country and labelled his political organisation as a barrier between India and Kashmir.The Pakistani establishment called Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah an Indian stooge in1947 and blamed him for sell out in 1975. So it is very important to discuss these allega-tions against Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah in some detail before understanding the logic behind those political decisions which determined the course of politics in Jammu and Kashmir State.
THE APPARENT NON-SENSE POLITIICAL DECISIONS OF SHEIKH MOHAMAD ABDULLAH:-The Kashmiri Muslims who have a superficial understanding of the political history of Kashmir blame Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah for having converted All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference into All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference on the direction of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who wanted to sebatog the Kashmiri Muslim cause through the Kashmiri Pandits by gearing the direction of Kashmiri politiical struggle towards India. Keeping in view the fact that 77% population of Jammu and Kashmir State was Muslim as per the Census of 1941, there was no need to abandon the Muslim character of Kashmiri politiical struggle in June1939.
The Pakistan supporters of Kashmir blame Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah to have launched his ‘Quit Kashmir’ campaign in May1947 because his National Confer-ence following the visit of Mohamad Ali Jinnah to Kashmir in 1945 had lost the support of the majority of Kashmiri Muslims as the Indian Muslim League leader had asked them to support Muslim Conference led by Choudhary Ghulam Abbas.
Some Kashmiri Muslims go to the extent of saying that the Pakistani tribal raid was mastermind jointly by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah to provide an excuse to Government of India to deploy its troops in Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947 to force Maharaja Hari Singh to accede to India.According to these people the purpose of tribal raid was to over-throw Maharaja Hari Singh to install Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah as a puppet of New Delhi in Jammu and Kashmir to secure the accession of the state with Indian Union.
The detractors of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah also blame him for being a selfish and power hungry person resorting to repression of his political opponents dur-ing his tenure as the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir State from March 1948 to August 1953.The elections to form the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir in September and October 1951 are considered as a fraud in the name of democracy with the help of New Delhi to discourage and suppress anti-India voice in Kashmir.
The main criticism against Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah from 1975 onwards during his lifetime as well as after his death has been that after spending eleven years in jail for demanding the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir from India, Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah detracted from his goal and began to demand autonomy for the state within the framework of Indian Constitution, thus compromised with the politiical aspirations of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir State just to assume political power. Additionally, the the critics of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah blame him for stepping so low to accept the post of just a Chief Minister after having served as the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir State for more than five years from March 1948 to August 1953.
So the above mentioned allegations against Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah are an enough material for Pro-Pakistan Kashmiri Muslims to label him as a traitor and power hungry person, resorting to any and every method of dodging the people to win their loyalty to assume political power in the state both as the Prime Minister before his dismissal and arrest in August 1953 as well as after the Beigh-Parthasarthy Accord in November1974 wrongly named as Indira-Abdullah Accord of 1975.
THE EVOLUTION OF POLITICAL VISION AND MISSION OF SHEIKH MOHAMAD ABDULLAH:- The politiical vision and mission of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was influenced by his practical life experience. Some of the events in his life proved turning points to shape his political career.
It is therefore very essential to discuss very systematically some important events that have shaped the politiical vision and mission of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah. A brief account of those events in a proper context is given as under;
(1). DEVELOPMENT OF KASHMIRI NATIONALIST PERSPECTIVE:- It is an accept-ed fact that those people who live outside their homeland for longer time develop strong patriotic feelings. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was born on December 5, 1905 at Soura, Srinagar Kashmir. After getting his school education at the Sri Pratap School, Srinagar he went to the Prince of Wales College Jammu, for further studies. He joined the Islamia College Lahore to complete his B.Sc.in1928. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was highly pained to experience the exploitation and inhuman treatment of Kashmiri migrant labourers by the Punjabi Muslims at Lahore and elsewhere in Punjab.These poor Kashmiri Muslims worked as domestic servants, agricultural labourers and factory workers etc. who had to do hard manual work for very meagre amount of money as daily, weekly or monthly wages. The Punjabi people used very derogatory language against the poor Kashmiries. Sheikh Mo-hamad Abdullah as a college student was himself addressed by the derogatory language ‘Hattu’ by the Punjabi speaking people. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah got the impression that the Kashmiri Muslims being poor, illiterate and unskilled are disrespected by the Punjabi Muslims. So Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah left Lahore to seek further education at Aligarh Muslim University viewed then as the cradle of Muslim intellectuals of North India. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah completed his M.Sc.Physics at Aligarh Muslim University in 1930. He was disappointed to find out that the Kashmiries were looked down upon by the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh as well.These bitter experiences and his stay outside Kashmir deepened his Kash-miri consciousness and love the for his native land. Since in1919 the ‘Khilafat Movement’ was launched by some prominent Indian Muslim leaders to pressurise the British Crown to maintain Ottoman Sultan’s authority as Caliph of Islam, Gan-dhi Ji under the banner of Indian National Congress had started ‘Non-, Coopera-tion Movement’ against the British Government, and All India Muslim League at that point of time was advancing the Muslim cause with an emphasis on Hindu-Muslim unity. Both Lahore and Aligarh had turned into the nerve centres of Muslim politiical activism in1920s. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was therefore inspired by the Indian freedom struggle against the British Government. He wanted to do something similar for the people of Kashmir to liberate them from the Dogra autoc-racy but was still very young to prove effective in this regard.
(2). DEVELOPMENT OF EXCLUSIVE MUSLIM PERSPECTIVE:- Like many qualified youth Sheikh Mohama Abdullah wanted to become an Indian Civil Service (ICS) Officer but because of the discriminatory age bar for the Muslims in the Dogra kingdom his application for the administrative job was rejected. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah in association with some other qualified Muslim youth who were also the members of Reading Room Party submitted a memorandum to the concerned au-thorities to change the recruitment rules to provide the qualified Muslims the ap-propriate government jobs, but the state government did not pay any attention to their demand.The less qualified Hindus were offered superior government jobs but Sheikh Mohamed Abdullah even after having a post-graduate degree in Phys-ics subject from Aligarh Muslim University was appointed a high school teacher at Srinagar. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah used to participate in the meetings of Read-ing Room Party at downtown, Srinagar, so he was served a show cause notice and as a punishment was transferred to a far away school in Muzaffarabad. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was not prepared to yield to the pressure of the higher author-ities in Education Department of Jammu and Kashmir Government, so he resigned from the government job in protest in April 1931.
Due to its strategic location, Jammu and Kashmir was viewed as a key region by the British Government during the classical Great Game between Czarist Russia and British India in the nineteenth century.The emergence of former Soviet Union in the neighbourhood of British India, the British Government was worried about the security of Indian subcontinent. Accordingly, the colonial powers are widely believed to have organised the revolt against Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir in July1931. As some political commentators have suspected signs of conspiracy against Mr George Edward Campbell Wakefield the Prime Minister and a British Resident who was more than a spectator in the conspiracy and was used as an instrument to promote the British geostrategic interests in Jammu and Kashmir. Actually, at the Round Table Conference in London in1930, Maharaja Hari Singh had demanded freedom from the British Crown.Since the 565 princely states were recognised as the sovereign British allies as per the Treaty of 1858, the demand of Maharaja Hari Singh disturbed the British Government. So in order to put a pres-sure on him a conspiracy was hatched to organise Muslim uprising against the Hindu ruler. The Quran and mosques were desicrated in Jammu and Srinagar to arouse anti-Hindu and anti-government sentiments among the Muslims of the Dogra kingdom.Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah’s resignation from the government job can have some links with the British conspiracy because the activities of Reading Room Party the Young Men’s Muslim Association in Jammu and Kashmir State had already got some publicity through the Lahore Press.The pertinent questions need to be answered that when Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah resigned from the job which alternative sources of income he had to bank upon and what was the source of funding for his organisation when he joined as the General Secretary of Reading Room Party in April 1931 and a month later became its President Similar-ly, it is important to know that who sponsored the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference during its infancy stage.
It is believed that Mr Qadeer Khan, who belonged to a Pashtun family of Rampur associated with the Pan-Islamic movement of Maulana Jamal-ud-Din Astaribadi, was brought to Kashmir as his cook by Major Bott, a British Army Officer and for-mer British Resident, to arouse Muslim national consciousness among the Kash-miri Muslims by his pro-Islam and anti-Hindu speech at Srinagar, Kashmir. On June 21,1931 at the close end of a meeting organised by the Muslim Young Men’s Association at Khanqah Muella, in downtown Srinagar Abdul Qadeer Khan pro-voked the Muslims to defend Islam, reply the brick by the stone and end the Dogra autocracy by the sticks if you have no guns. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah, Mirwaiz Mohamad Yousuf Shah and Chowdhury Ghulam Abbas were also present in the meeting.Theis is a clear indication that there was some preplanned agenda of the British Government to start Muslim revolt against the Dogra ruler in the Muslim dominated state. On 25th June 1931,Abdul Qadeer Khan was arrested and his trial began at Sessions Court, Srinagar but large number of people began to take inter-est in his trial with the result the hearing of the case was to be held within the premises of Central Jail Srinagar. On13th July1931 a large protest against the Dogra Government and in support of Abdul Qadeer Khan by the Kashmiri Muslims took place outside the Central Jail Srinagar which led to the killing of 22 persons in indiscriminate firing by the Royal Dogra Army.The dead bodies were taken to graveyard on cots in procession, which led to mass Muslim protests in the entire Jammu and Kashmir State. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah and his associates were arrested by the Dogra Government for their anti-establishment speeches, but were released as the storm of public protests calmed down.
The bloodshed of Kashmiri Muslims on July 13,1931 had far reaching politiical consequences for the Dogra princely state. Consequent to the July 13, 1931 de-velopment and its aftermath, Maharaja Hari Singh constituted a five member Committee under Chief Justice Borjor Dalal. As a follow up of Dalal Committee re-port, Mr George Edward Campbell Wakefield was asked to resign. Sheikh Moham-ad Abdullah and his colleagues continued to demand the redressal of genuine grievances of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir State.To further the imperial in-terests and win the good will of the Kashmiri Muslims, the British Government asked the Maharaja regime to constitute a Grievance Commission. Accordingly, Maharaja Hari Singh appointed the Grievance Commission headed by Mr Glancy, an officer of the Foreign and Politiical Department of Government of India on No-vember 12, 1931. The Glancy Commission submitted its report to the Maharaja on March 22, 1932. It advocated greater civil liberties for Muslims and non-Muslims, more Muslim appointments in the Government and the establishment of a legisla-tive assembly to become the Praja Sabha.The Praja Sabha was supposed to have 75 members out of which 33 were the elected members, 15 were the official repre-sentatives and the rest were the nominees of the Maharaja.
In October 1932, Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah and Chowdhury Ghulam Abbas and other prominent Muslim leaders of the state established All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference.The main agenda of the party was to work for the unity and cooperation of the Muslim masses and to safeguard the rights of the Muslim community.Thus the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir State got motivated to launch an organised politiical struggle against the Dogra autocracy under the banner of All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference led by Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was now popularly known as the Sher-e-Kashmir. for his emotional speeches and great oratory skills. All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was no doubt the politiical organisation of just the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir State but Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah had right from the beginning made it clear that his party would highlight the social, econom-ic and political issues of the people of Jammu and Kashmir State irrespective of their region, language, caste and religion.In September1934 the elections for the first Praja Sabha were held in the state. Since the Government of India Act passed by the British Parliament in1935 was enforced in 1937 to bring administrative, judi-cial and electoral reforms in British India, Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah after being elected as the President of All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference in 1937, began to press for his demand to have a responsible government in Jammu and Kashmir State as envisaged in the Government of India Act 1935.
(3). DEVELOPMENT OF SECULAR PERSPECTIVE:- In 1935 Maharaja Hari Singh accepted demand of the British Government to handover the control of Gilgit Agency to his imperial overlords on lease for 60 years, so the politiical support of the British Government to Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah had begun to decline. So Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was in search of his allies to put pressure on Maharaja Hari Singh to establish the responsible government in Jammu and Kashmir State. During the same time Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the President of All India States People’s Conference in 1935 and 1936. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah joined his hands with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru because his All India States People’s Con-ference was demanding freedom from the autocratic rule in the 565 princely states of Indian subcontinent. Secondly, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was having his ances-tral homeland in Kashmir, so had love for Kashmir and a soft corner for the people of Kashmir. Thirdly, his Indian National Congress was a supporter of the freedom of 565 princely states of course within the framework of freedom of British India. Owing to these considerations Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah thought it proper to have politiical alliance with Indian National Congress to realise his political, eco-nomic and social goals within Jammu and Kashmir State.
Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah got a chance to visit Northwest Frontier Province along with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to meet Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan in 1937 and after some months the two great leaders visited Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah at Sri-nagar as well. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was leading exclusively a Muslim politiical party. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan leader of Khudai Khidmatgar (Server’s of God) represented the soul of Sufi Muslim philosophy. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi whereas Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was influenced by the modern politiical thought emphasising the principles of secular democracy, both strands of political thought leading to a pluralistic and an inclusive outlook.The suggestion which Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan gave to Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was that, it was not ethically right to discriminate against the non-Muslims and keep them excluded from the politiical struggle as they also suffered from poverty, exploitation and state re-pression under an autocratic regime, and their inclusion within the fold of your politiical party would enhance the representative character of your organisa-tion.These words of wisdom could have influenced any sane and sensitive human being. So in order to abandon the narrow minded outlook and to enhance the rep-resentative character of his political party Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah got fully convinced to change the name of his All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference to All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference to throw the membership of his organisation open to non-Muslims of the state who not only constituted 23% of the state population but formed almost a majority in erstwhile Ladak Province and Jammu Province in late 1930s. More importantly the Kashmiri nationalism of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah was incomplete without the representation of Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and other communities living in Kashmir. So after a long consulta-tion process and heatei debates and discussions in his party from January1938 onwards he finally converted All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference into All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference on 11th June,1939. After the secularisa-tion of his political party Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru managed Sheikh Mohamad Ab-dullah’s entry as the General Secretary of All India States People’s Conference and his upgradation as the President of the umbrella organisation following his own resignation as the President of All India States People’s Conference in 1946.
Five years after establishing All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, the par-ty released its ‘Naya Kashmir’ Manifesto in July1944. The 44-page ‘Naya Kashmir’ Manifesto set the goal of making Jammu and Kashmir State a Constitutional Mon-archy led by the Dogra Maharaja. Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah personally met Maha-raja Hari Singh to submit the ‘Naya Kashmir’ Manifesto to him in July 1944. In May1945 Mohamad Ali Jinnah was invited by All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Con-ference to visit Kashmir.The Indian Muslim League leader stayed in Kashmir dur-ing the summer season to mobilise public support for the Muslim Conference in the name of Islam.The workers of National Conference who were the staunch suppoters of an inclusive and secular democracy were not happy with the politici-sation of Islam by Jinnah and his stress on one Allah, one Muhammad one Quraan and one politiical agenda of the Muslims of British India to be thrusted upon the Muslims of the Dogra princely state. In order to counter the influence of Jinnah’s politiical strategy of invoking religion to promote Muslim nationalism in in Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah resorted to strengthen his inclusive and secular Kashmiri nationalism in 1946.
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