This Government has been quick to act on altering public perception about Sheikh Abdullah’s contribution to the union of Jammu and Kashmir with India.
Accordingly, the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir vide Govt. order No. 251-JK(GAD) of 27.12.2019 excluded Sheikh Abdullah’s birthday (5th December) from the list of Public Holidays in the UT for the calendar year 2020. In a complete Orwellian nightmare, The Lion of Kashmir who was in the forefront of efforts to ensure that Kashmir went with India instead of with Pakistan in those fateful days in October 1947 is now a traitor in the eyes of the present dispensation.
Andrew Whitehead, noted journalist, former BBC correspondent in Delhi and an authority on Kashmir’s contemporary history mentions in the first paragraph of his essay The Rise and Fall of New Kashmir, how the Sheikh helped the Indian forces repulse the attack of the Northern tribesmen on Srinagar:
On 27 October 1947, when the first Indian troops landed at the very basic airfield on the outskirts of Srinagar, they came to the Kashmir Valley with the keen support of the leading Kashmiri political figure of that era. Sheikh Abdullah, a Kashmiri nationalist, was also at this time an Indian nationalist. He endorsed the state’s hurried accession to India. His supporters organized a volunteer militia to help Indian troops in repulsing an invading force of Pakistani tribesmen.
Sheikh Abdullah was a mass leader when he met Nehru for the first time in 1937. A bond of friendship which soon developed between the two and ideological commonality in their thinking drew the Sheikh close to the Congress.
He declared: The position of the Congress was in favour of the people of the (princely) states, whereas the Muslim League leaned to the rulers of the states. This had an impact on us too, so we were spontaneously drawn to the Congress. (Abdullah Sheikh, The Blazing Chinar: An Autobiography, Translated by Mohammad Amin, page160)
A year later, in 1938, Sheikh Abdullah, under Nehru’s influence changed the name of his Muslim Conference to National Conference giving it a secular identity. It was an emphatic assertion that the National Conference now represented all Kashmiris irrespective of their religion or region.
Thenceforth, Sheikh Abdullah started attending Annual sessions of the Congress. He was also given a senior position in the All India States People’s Conference, a body allied with the Congress, thus extending the reach of the Congress to Jammu and Kashmir and of the National Conference beyond the state. The groundwork for Jammu and Kashmir’s eventual Union with India when it became independent had been laid.
By the mid-forties when Sheikh Abdullah launched the New Kashmir and the Quit Kashmir movements, his position as the most popular mass leader in Kashmir had become unassailable. ‘As the architect of the Kashmir freedom struggle, his sacrifices in that cause had become legendary’ asserts, the historian Ian Copland. ‘Of course, like every leader, the Lion of Kashmir had his flaws and limitations…. But in early 1940s he dominated his party and region to an extent probably unmatched by any other contemporary politician’.
(Ian Copland, The Abdullah Factor: Kashmiri Muslims and the Crisis of 1947, page 230)
If there was one leader who could be said to have played the most important part in the union of Jammu and Kashmir with India, it was Sheikh Abdullah. ‘Abdullah’s own position as the most dominant of the Muslim leaders in the valley, as well as the strength of his friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru’, records Victoria Schofield, ‘who he recorded as having first met in in 1937, was a key factor in determining the future course of events. Had Abdullah ever developed any understanding with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, or had, for example, Ghulam Abbas or another political figure taken Abdullah’s place as a popular leader, the future of Kashmir could have been very different’. (Victoria Schofield, Kashmir in Conflict, page 22-23)
Sheikh Abdullah, however, developed misgivings about the future of his state soon after it had acceded to India. The communal riots that erupted immediately after independence in Delhi and elsewhere, that saw cruelty perpetrated against Muslims, could not have left him unaffected.
‘Parts of the former princely state (Jammu and Kashmir), says Andrew Whitehead, ‘were also caught up in the communal violence, which disfigured the end of the British Raj, with substantial population movements in the Jammu region in particular and the grievous massacres of Jammu Muslims’. (Andrew Whitehead, The Rise and Fall of New Kashmir). His disillusionment can be said have taken root.
Sheikh Abdullah, who had whole-heartedly thrown his lot with India was now seriously worried about India’s secular credentials. His doubts were confirmed when the Praja Parishad, set up by the RSS leader Balraj Madhok launched an agitation against the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Constitution, calling for ‘full integration of the state with the rest of India’ .
The Praja Parishad’s rallying cry of ‘Ek Vidhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Pradhan’ (one constitution, one flag and one premier) went against the terms of accession and those the Constitution of India had set out. The Praja Parishad, now had the full support of the Jan Sangh, which was launched in October 1951 under the leadership of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and aimed at abrogating Article 370.
When Abdullah had first addressed the Hindus of Jammu in November 1947, he surprised them by his tolerance, writes Victoria Schofield. ‘A man so far regarded as an enemy of Hindus’, writes Balraj Puri, almost hypnotised every soul in his audience, by calling for communal peace in the name of Hindu Dharma, Lord Krishna and Gandhi’. However, in a speech at R.S.Pura, Jammu, on 10 April 1952, the Sheikh criticised India’s communalism.
‘No one can deny that the communal spirit still exists in India…if there is a resurgence of communalism in India, how are we to convince the Muslims of Kashmir that India does not intend to swallow up Kashmir?’ (As quoted by Victoria Schofield, Kashmir in Conflict, page 80) So much had Sheikh Abdullah changed!
Still having abiding faith in Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah reached a consensus with the Government and signed the Delhi Agreement in July 1952. It was a sensible step taken by the Centre to allay the fears of the people of Jammu and Kashmir that their special status would remain. At the same time, it brought the state closer to the Indian Union than it had been.
The Praja Parishad and the Jan Sangh were however not satisfied. They wanted nothing short of abrogation of Article 370. There had been violence in Jammu in February 1952 and curfew had to be imposed for seventy-two hours. In November 1952, the Praja Parishad leader Prem Nath Dogra and one of his associates were arrested by Abdullah. In February 1953 Shyama Prasad Mookerjee attempted to go to Jammu and was arrested at the border.
The events had embittered Sheikh Abdullah to the point of no return. India was a democracy and the possibility of the Praja Parishad and the Jan Sangh coming to power, though remote, could not be ruled out. Who could then guarantee, Sheikh reasoned, that the special status of the state enshrined in Article 370 of the Constitution would not be done away with if that happened?
Sheikh Abdullah’s fears came true on 5th August 2019, when sixty-seven years after the Delhi Agreement, the BJP government abrogated Article 370 and abolished the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.