Sheikh Abdullah: A victim of betrayal

Mohammad Muzaffar Thakur

Sheikh Abdullah - A victim of betrayalSheikh Mohammad Abdullah opened his eyes in a middle class family at Soura on December 5, 1905. He went to Lahore and then to Aligarh Muslim University for higher education, where he met some intellectuals, prominent among them was Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal which broaden his vision and understanding. Sheikh Sahib dominated the political horizon of Jammu Kashmir for more than half- century and his political career can be classified in four phases that is from 1930-1947, 1947-1953, 1953-1975, and 1975-1982.

Due to continued deprivation, poverty, slavery, beggar, (forced labour without wages) political and economic subjugation for over 50 years of Sikh brutalities and 100 years of Dogra tyrannical policies, simmering discontent was brewing up in the public but nobody had courage to open his mouth. Sheikh Sahib in his first public speech at Khankah Moula, burst like a tornado against Maharaja and founded first political party – Muslim Conference. Sheikh Sahib was convinced that the root cause of miseries was feudal landlordism and autocratic rule of Maharaja which could be uprooted only through political struggle and restoration of democracy.  Muslim Conference was then converted into National Conference on the advice of Prem Nath Bazaz. He was already in touch with Congress leaders and lost no time to introduce Sheikh Sahib to Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi in 1937. Later on Prem Nath Bazaz formally joined National Conference. Sheikh Sahib was known as Sheri-i-Kashmir for his fearlessness and pro-people policies.

In September 1944, a brain storming session of National Conference (NC) was held at Mujahid Manzil in which an elaborate socialistic-politico-economic document known as ‘Naya Kashmir’ was approved. This document was divided in two parts. First: Constitutional structure which laid down details of fundamental rights of citizens, freedom of speech, press, freedom of worship and equality of rights, irrespective of religion, color, caste or sex in all spheres of life. It also proposed a democratic government with an independent judicial system. Second: National Economic Plan which proposed abolition of landlordism, assignment of land to tillers, right to work with wages and freedom from debt.

Sir Cyrill Radcliffe, a British Law Professor at Oxford University and Chairman of Boundary Commission was assigned the task of drawing a boundary demarcation line between dividing India. Nehru after exercising influence of Lady Lord Mountbatten on Sir Cyrill Radcliff got allotted three-fourth of Muslim majority district of Gurdaspur to India, giving India corridor and access to Kashmir. Otherwise India could have no claim whatsoever on Kashmir. This gave Nehru a hope to chase Kashmir through all means. He had already won the mind and heart of Sheikh Abdullah whom he had supported all along during Quit Kashmir movement. Nehru was arrested on June 16, 1946 when he entered Kashmir without permit to show his solidarity with Sheikh Abdullah who was arrested and kept in Badami Bagh cantonment on the charge of treason and sedition. Sheikh Sahib was touched by the goodwill gesture of Nehru.

With partition of India, Quit Kashmir gained momentum. Maharaja was in dilemma as to what to do in the given situation. However, Maharaja was in favour of Independent Kashmir but Nehru desperately wanted Kashmir to be part of India. He sent a number of delegations including Lord Mountbatten who returned disappointed. He sent Mahatma Gandhi, the last trump card, for setting a deal with Maharaja. But Maharaja announced Standstill Agreement on August 12, 1947 with both India and Pakistan. Pakistan accepted but India refused to accept. On September 29, 1947 Sheikh Abdullah was released. Nehru created stress circumstances for Maharaja by engineering a tribal raid.

Interestingly, Army Chiefs of both the countries of Pakistan and India were British officers. There seem to have some understanding between the two Chiefs. As mentioned by Devi Dass in his book “Kashmir in Search of Future” the Indian Army Chief knew three days in advance about the tribal raid. A clandestine plot was hatched in the Frontier Province of Pakistan by Khursheed Anwar, a retired major of Indian Army with the consent of Chief Minister of NWFP Khan Abdul Quyum Khan on October 20, 1947 that the tribal war lords of Frontier Province began to march towards Kashmir. The Governor of NWFP was ignorant and on receiving the information he immediately informed Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, who was taken by surprise and has reportedly said that, “Pakistan had no intention to indulge into such an adventure.”

On October 22, 1947 tribesmen entered Kashmir.

Maharaja sent his Prime Minister Mehar Chand to Delhi with a letter for military help. The Defence Committee held the view that sending of troops on neutral state would be a folly in the eyes of international community. On this Mehar Chand told Nehru that, “he had orders to go to Pakistan in case the immediate military help was not given.” On this Nehru lost his temper and shouted at him. According to author Tarif Naaz, “Sheikh was present in the adjacent room listening to all the debates. He reportedly sent a note to Nehru and requested him to agree to the request of Maharaja. Nehru cooled down and sent VP Menon to Kashmir for getting signed the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja.”

Next day army was airlifted to Srinagar. Since Maharaja was nervous he left for Jammu on October 26, 1947. When Maharaja reached Udhampur, Maharani Tara Devi disheveled her hair and instigated Hindus which resulted in worst kind of communal riots in which 20,000 Muslims were killed. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad recovered a number of Muslim girls from Dogra houses including the daughter of Choudary Ghulam Abass who was later dispatched to Pakistan. When Sheikh reached Jammu he wept bitterly.

On intervention of Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah took over as Prime Minister of Kashmir on March 5, 1948. He was eager to implement ‘Naya Kashmir’ in letter and spirit but after finding resistance from Maharaja he wrote a letter to Nehru that Maharaja should step down and transfer power to him. Maharaja and Maharani were called to Delhi by Nehru and persuaded them to leave Kashmir temporarily and appoint Karan Singh as Regent of the State. On June 20, 1949 Maharaja Hari Singh and Tara Devi left for Bombay which boosted the morale of Sheikh Abdullah. After getting empowered as Prime Minister, Sheikh Sahib enacted ‘Big Landed Abolition Act in 1950’ which did not allow landlords to keep more than 20 acres of agriculture land and one acre of residential land. Hence tillers became owners of the land without any compensation. It was a revolutionary step in history of subcontinent and a visionary step towards uprooting the feudal landlordism and autocratic rule of Maharaja. Thus landlordism was abolished. Hindu landlords who got affected by the reform got annoyed as the beneficiaries were Muslims. They influenced Nehru and also Tara Devi who poisoned Sardar Patel against Sheikh Abdullah. Thus land reforms became the root cause of mistrust between Sheikh Abdullah and Nehru.

Karan Singh issued proclamation on April 30, 1951 for constitution of Constituent Assembly. Elections were held, the constituent Assembly drafted Constitution. The Constituent Assembly was given mandate to decide the future of the royal dynasty. The Constituent Assembly was still engaged in drafting Constitution, there was stiff resistance between various political leaders of Congress who objected the autonomous structure of the State. Praja Parishad launched agitation in Jammu. D P Dhar and Karan Singh poisoned Nehru against Sheikh Abdullah with concocted story that Sheikh had nexus with United States and planning to get independence. He had met US Envoy Adali Stevenson in Srinagar. Nehru was convinced that time has come to replace Sheikh Abdullah. Nehru told Karan Singh to dismiss Sheikh Abdullah. Accordingly Karan Singh issued an arrest warrant against Sheikh Abdullah who was in Gulmarg at that time. Thus Sheikh Sahib was unconstitutionally dismissed as PM of Kashmir for alleged conspiracy against India. In this way Karan Singh settled score with Sheikh Sahib for the dismissal of his father Maharaja Hari Singh.

When Sheikh was caged, there were widespread demonstrations in entire Kashmir. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was appointed as Prime Minster of Kashmir. He promised economic concessions to the people and undertook huge developmental projects. Bakshi abolished the permit system required for Indian citizens to enter Kashmir in 1959. During mid 1960s Sheikh established SKIMS and renovated Dargah Hazratbal which earned him name and fame. Sensing the popularity of Sheikh Sahib, Nehru invited him again and sought his views on Kashmir. Sheikh Sahib proposed confederation which probably could be acceptable to all the three parties, India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Nehru wanted Sheikh to seek approval of his proposal from Pakistan. Sheikh Sahib left for Pakistan on May 24, 1964 with Mirza Afzal Beig and met President Ayub Khan. He out rightly rejected the proposal. He was still in Pakistan when he heard the news of death of Nehru. Thus the doors of reconciliation closed forever. After that he left for Haj pilgrimage and also visited Egypt, England and Algeria. Pakistan arranged his meeting with Chu-zu-lai, who invited Sheikh Sahib to China. On these developments his passport was cancelled by Indian government May 8, 1965 and was arrested at Delhi Airport and sent to Ootacamund Jail. He spent 22 years in jail.

Sheikh Sahib had a charismatic personality. He was an orthodox Muslim but a symbol of secularism. He would invariably start his speech with recitation of Holy Quran and verses of Allama Iqbal from pulpit of Dargah Hazratbal which had a magical effect on people. Although, he was a victim of betrayal but his indomitable will, fearlessness and unflinching faith in people were virtues that kept him alive. Sheikh Sahib was the tallest political leader of Kashmir. He breathed his last on September 8, 1982. About 10 lakh people paid tearful homage to him marching from Polo Ground to Hazratbal, where he was buried.

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