HistoryPolitics

How to carve a Sheikhdom in style?

Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah enjoyed a comfortable friendship with the first Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru. He was Charismatic, National Conference was his legacy, and people swore by his name. He along with Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas founded Muslim Conference in 1932 to spearhead the resistance against the Dogra autocrat Hari Singh. An Alumni at Aligarh Muslim University, he would later disband Muslim Conference and found All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference on the directions of Jawahar Lal Nehru.

It was the time when the liberation struggle in India was gaining momentum under the leadership of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League.  Sheikh saw an advantage in gaining the support of the Indian National Congress.  Many attempts have been made to portray S.M Abdullah as the “Lion of Kashmir” or a scapegoat made by Jawahar Lal Nehru to annex the territory of Kashmir. Both of these narratives bite the dust when confronted with historical facts. Hari Singh and his predecessors ruled the vale of Cashmere with an iron fist, they pounced on every rupee they could extract from the poverty-stricken Kashmiri’s. The uprising of 1931 shifted the politics in Kashmir and Sheikh saw this as his golden opportunity to advance his fiefdom. Recently returned from Aligarh, he didn’t even hesitate to manipulate the anti-imperialistic struggle of Kashmiris and turn it into his quest for power. After the massacre of 1931,  a grievance committee under the supervision of B.J Glancy was appointed by the Hari Singh regime to report on the affairs. The committee recommended the setting up of an elected assembly with separate electorates for Hindus as well as Muslims. The mock Sabha was called Prajha Sabha. The ultimate powers still laid with Hari Singh.  The sabha didn’t give everybody equal rights and this was known to Sheikh.

The Sabha excluded most of the residents of the state ( women and people without the annual income of 400 hundred rupees were not eligible to vote). 90% of the population could not vote. Sheikh gave concurrence to this, despite knowing it did not give Kashmiri’s right in the electorate. He could’ve chosen to step away or to refuse. He did not. Even after the formation of Prajha Sabha, the foremost and supreme authority was the Dogra king. 

Popularly held belief is that Sheikh Abdullah changed the name of the Muslim Conference to the National Conference to represent all the classes of the society. Prem Nath Bazaz met S.M Abdullah in Chashma Shahi in July 1932, to sell his idea of the National Conference. The idea was quickly bought by Sheikh for various reasons. Muslim conference was poor and of no use to Sheikh. By obliging to the diktat of Prem Nath Bazaz, he could gain alienable power and support of Indian national congress. In August 1935, S.M Abdullah along with his colleagues started a daily named “Hamdard’. The newspaper promoted a new term; Kashmiriyat. Before 1932, it was an alien term. Now, this new term became a political tool to propagate Sheikhs’ interests. In 1939, he dissolved the Muslim conference and the National Conference came into existence. 

Post-1939, Kashmir was divided into two parts; Sher and the Bakra. Sher being those who follow S.M Abdullah and Bakra, overzealous of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah. After the creation of the National conference, hostilities between Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah and Sheikh Abdullah increased. Once part of the Muslim Conference, Sheikh had parted ways and Mirwaiz had sensed foul play.  In 1946, Sheikh Abdullah headed the National conference launched Quit Kashmir agitation and Mirwaiz Yousuf led a direct action campaign against the Dogra Autocrat. Most of the leaders of the National Conference were thrown into jails. Sheikh was sentenced for 3 years in prison for Quit Kashmir. He, however, was released after serving 1 year only.  Sheikh was the blue-eyed boy of Indian national congress. Without him, the annexation of the vale would’ve remained a pipe dream for Nehru.

Nehru tried to enter Kashmir without permission from the Kashmir government and was arrested on 22 June 1946 and kept at dak bungalow in Domel, Muzaffarabad. Indian leadership insisted on Sheikh’s release and Maharaja being adamant did not do as pleased. This revealed how far Hari Singh was willing to go to protect his colonial authority on Kashmir. Sheikh was finally released on 29, Sept 1947 but not before Maharaja secured an apology letter from him, on 26 Sept 1947.

Also on 13 September Sheikh Abdullah, a prisoner met Maharaja Hari Singh and presented him with a gold coin wrapped in silk cloth. He mentions in his biography that this was as a mark of goodwill. The custom signified more than goodwill, it signified submission and unconditional allegiance to the Dogra regime; an ages-old custom. Once a resister had now placed his head in the silk cloth. Maharaja insisted on a written apology from Abdullah. On Sept 26, 1947, Sheikh wrote the apology to Hari Singh and ridiculed the Kashmir’s freedom struggle:

“In spite of what has happened in the past, I assure your highness that myself and my party have never harbored any sentiment of disloyalty towards your highness person, throne, or dynasty. The development of this beautiful country and the betterment of its people is our common aim and interest and I assure your Highness the fullest and loyal support of myself and my organization. Not only this, but I assure your Highness that any party, within and without the state, which may attempt to create nay impediments in our efforts to gain our goals, will be treated as our enemy and will be treated as such. To achieve the common aim set forth above, mutual trust and confidence must be the mainstay. Without this, it would not be possible to face successfully the great difficulties that beset our state on all sides at present. Before I close this letter I beg to assure your Highness once again of my steadfast loyalty and pray that God under your Highness’ ages brings such an era of peace, prosperity, and good Government that it may be second to none and be an ideal for others to copy.”

The paper lion who had fooled Kashmiri’s in the name of freedom became the strongest opponent of Kashmir. INC in the background worked on the measures to annex the valley. Popularly held belief is that, under the weight of tribal invasion, Dogra autocrat sought help and the Indian military was sent. If that was the case, that India had no intentions to annex Kashmir, why wasn’t Hari Singh informed about the tribal raid? Nehru knew that Maharaja will turn to India for military assistance, so he waited and did not inform Hari Singh. He was anxious and this anxiety did not let him sleep. Hari Singh did not like Congress and according to INC, it was Raj Chandra Kak, who had planted this idea in his brain. On 30, July 1947, M.K Gandhi visited Kashmir and met the Maharaja. Nothing is known of the meeting except that he refused to drink milk and advised Hari Singh not to remain at war with Kashmiri’s. The events unfolded after that. 

On 12 August, the PM of Kashmir sent two identical standstill agreements to India as well as Pakistan. Pakistan signed and India refused. The author of Frozen turbulence says that India sought time. The explanation itself is absurd. India was keeping the option of annexation open by not signing. Further Had India signed the standstill agreement, It would mean that it could not enter its forces.

The following days pro-Kashmir Kak was replaced by Mehr Chand Mahajan and then by pro-India Janak Singh. A telephone line was set up from Jammu to Srinagar, the road from Amritsar to Kashmir was strengthened and the Gurudaspur was given to India. (The reason being as it was the only roadway to Kashmir).  These things happened, soon after Sheikh Abdullah was released. By these events, one can understand that India would’ve annexed Kashmir anyway. Tribal raid just became the reason. However, the tribal raid was not what it seemed to be. It was engineered. The question is who gave  Maharaja Hari Singh, who had occupied Kashmir by deceit and with the help of the British colonial empire, the right to decide the future of 4 million Kashmirs(6.9 mils now)? Was it democratic to accept that accession and is it democratic to not let the people of Kashmir exercise their choice of self-determination? Furthermore, Sheikh Abdullah had more than three chances to remove himself from as the Prime Miniter of Kashmir, but he refused to do so. The first opportunity came in 1949 when UNCIP required him to resign so that a Plebiscite Administrator could be appointed, he didn’t do it. He also didn’t remove himself in 1950, when UN mediator Sir Owen Dixon submitted his plan. the last was when UN mediator Frank Graham submitted his last report. He refused to remove himself to pave for the appointment of the PA. The last British governor-general overlooked the cat that the Government of India act 1935 and Independence act of 1947 didn’t apply to Kashmir but despite that accession was ratified even though the treaty of Amritsar lapsed with the wind-up of the British empire in India.

Leave whether the Instrument of accession was signed and whether it was signed on the exact date, that is debatable, question is that how come an Invader who had skinned Kashmiris for a hundred years, became an authority to decide their political destiny? How come India accepted the IOA, when the treaty of Amritsar (1846), which made the Dogra regime the illegal owners of Kashmir, had lapsed on the 14th of August, 1947. Was it democratic and is it democratic to claim on Kashmir, when Kashmiri’s themselves do not accept this forceful nationalism. Is it democratic to base the claim on a document, which has no legal authority and a despot who had meted out unspeakable crimes on Kashmiri’s? These questions will dig deep the mandarins of Indian democracy, those who close their eyes at the times when Kashmiri’s kids are blinded and their properties burnt. The sad reality is, what Sheikh and his followers did sow, Kashmiri’s are harvesting now.

To be continued

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