Politics

Was Sheikh a collaborator or a Resister?

If Gurdaspur district had been awarded to Pakistan Sheikh Abdullah would not do all this.

Partition of British India had far reaching consequences for Princely States. They lost their identity as the political face of subcontinent changed. However, it affected Kashmir drastically due to the anomalous award of Muslim majority Gurdaspur district of British Punjab to India against the very principle of partition that British had prescribed. At the time of Partition in August 1947 the most popular leader of the strongest political party of Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, was in jail serving a sentence for challenging the Maharaja’s right to rule. Prompted by the award of Gurdaspur which furnished the only road link between Delhi and Kashmir, he decided to support India rather than Pakistan (p.376 Aatash-i-Chinar Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah/M.Y. Teng). He rejected, so to say, the Two Nations Theory of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. On the contrary, he embraced the Indian nationalism as was propounded by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.


And he went a step further. He apologized, not once but twice, to his ‘beloved” king, Maharja Hari Singh, for his “unruly behavior” of previous year. On September 13, 1947 he went to the palace, sought forgiveness and presented a gold coin to the Maharaja as a sign of loyalty (p.386 Aatash-i-Chinar ). On September 26, he sent a letter of apology to Hari Singh (p.130 Sardar Patel’s Correspondence Vol.I New Light on Kashmir).
If Gurdaspur district had been awarded to Pakistan Sheikh Abdullah would not do all this.


Apparently Sheikh Abdullah was opposed to Two Nations Theory. Yet he patronized Plebiscite Front Movement from 1955 to 1972. However, he desisted from becoming a member of the Front which his right-hand-man, Mirza Afzal Beg, set up in 1955. And when the latter dissolved Plebiscite Front in 1975 to revive National Conference in its place he (Sheikh) lost no time to take membership of the new organisation (pp.662 & 853-54 Aatash-i-Chinar ). For about one and a half decades he clamoured for plebiscite, in which he never believed. In 1972 he declared that he never differed with India on the question of fact of accession of Kashmir to India but only on the question of quantum of accession (p.835 Aatash-i-Chinar ).


In 1953 had Prime Minister Nehru assured him that no effort would be made to reduce his powers from Prime Ministership of Kashmir State to that of Chief Minister, he would not talk of plebiscite. During his Prime Ministership between November 1947 and August 1953, Sheikh put himself as a hurdle in the conduct of plebiscite. In January 1949 the UNCIP required him to resign to make way for the appointment of UN Plebiscite Administrator. He did not such thing. In 1950 when UN Mediator Sir Owen Dixon submitted his plan (p.486 Aatash-i-Chinar), he again turned it down. Sheikh refused to resign again in March 1953 to pave the way for appointment of PA when UN Mediator Frank Graham submitted his last report (pp.563-64 Aatash-i-Chinar). The moment he was out of power he started talking of plebiscite.


Sheikh would say one thing in open and something else when there was nobody to confront him. He launched Quit Kashmir Movement openly and apologized for it secretly. In 1932, when he had recently entered politics, he told Muslims that there was urgent need to set up a Muslim political organization (p.156 Aatash-i-Chinar ). But he secretly met Prem Nath Bazaz at Chashma Shahi and promised him to work for establishment of a joint Hindu-Muslim secular organization (p.212 Aatash-i-Chinar ). Post-1972 while he still paid lip service to plebiscite he secretly met P. N. Haksar and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and promised them his loyalty (p.836 Aatash-i-Chinar ).
Under his leadership Muslim Conference was set up in October 1932 to politically guide Muslims. But he was immediately influenced by Kashmiri Pandits. Under their influence, he collaborated in 1934 with Maharaja’s government by refusing to support boycott call of Muslim Conference (pp.190-91 Aatash-i-Chinar). After pro-boycott elements were jailed, he led the ragtag remnants of the party to take a vigorous part in the election to Praja Sabha, Maharaja’s Peoples Assembly. The Sabha was a sham and a device to hoodwink the world (p.208 Aatash-i-Chinar).


Under the influence of political adversaries of Muslims he disbanded Muslim Conference to set up National Conference (NC) in 1938-39. Now it was natural that he and his party should openly play second fiddle to Maharaja’s despotism. NC was, from its very inception, an affiliate of a larger organization called All-India States Peoples Conference (p.327 Aatash-i-Chinar). AISPC, set up by Pandit Nehru in 1927 for Princely States of India, was itself a subsidiary unit of Congress (p.227 Aatash-i-Chinar ). Therefore, NC and its leader were obligated not to resist Maharaja’s despotism. M.K. Gandhi used to say that people of native states should bow down before their Princes (p.239 Aatash-i-Chinar).


In this way he converted the political struggle in Kashmir from being anti-Dogra despotism in 1931 to that of a collaborator. The net result was that the Maharaja had his own way. He soon came up with anti-Muslim legislation. He promulgated, in spite of Praja Sabha, the Arms Act 1940 which prohibited Muslims from keeping firearms while as at the same time allowed Hindus to keep them. Sheikh Abdullah’s colleague, Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz, who had played a pivotal role in NC’s establishment, vigorously supported the passage of Arms Act.


Maharaja also ordered that Urdu, the State language, should now be written not in Persian script but in Devanagari script. This was a device to banish Urdu and replace it with Sanskritized Hindi. NC did not oppose these measures sufficiently because it was under firm control of non-Muslims, prominent among them being Sardar Budh Singh, Prem Nath Bazaz, Kashyap Bando and others. Consequently, Sheikh Abdullah’s popularity graph took a hit.
In 1944 M.A. Jinnah declared that Sheikh was unsuitable to lead the people, Muslims and Hindus alike, because of being a double dealer (p.315 Aatash-i-Chinar). He had invited the League leader himself to Srinagar. When M.A. Jinnah gave his verdict, he disgraced his guest in the vilest manner (p.11 Democracy Through Intimidation and Terror P.N. Bazaz). For speaking against M.A. Jinnah and the idea of Pakistan, Maharaja rewarded him by facilitating his Party’s entry into the Government. Consequently Afzal Beg came to be appointed Public Works Minister at a huge monthly salary of 1600 rupees (p.329 Aatashi-Chinar). 


Sheikh propagated, at the behest of Pandits, a local variant of ethno-nationalism called Kashmiriyat.

Dodh chhu Muslim, Hyond chhu shakar saaf saaf
Dodh the baiyeh shakar ralavieu panehwayn
Hyend rattan nam khoor wayan ahli-deen
Nav yemeh mulketch chalavieu pahehwayn

Muslim is milk, Hindu is sugar clean and pure
Mix together the milk with the sugar
Hindus will keep the helm, Muslims will toil at the oar
Together ply the boat of this country safely ashore
(Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad Shah Mehjoor)

The relationship thus envisaged was/is one of domination for Hindus and perpetual subordination of Muslims. So, with Pandits at the helm and Muslims at the oar, the boat of the country called Kashmir sailed straight into Congress Party waters. But, when in 1945 the Maharaja appointed a Kashmiri, Ram Chandra Kak, as Dewan (Prime Minister), Sheikh so resented it that he ordered Afzal Beg to resign forthwith from Works Ministry (p.329 Aatash-i-Chinar ). Kak’s induction as Dewan became one of the two reasons why Sheikh launched Quit Kashmir Movement next year. The other reason was the issue on 12 May 1946 of Cabinet Mission Memorandum on States Treaties and Lapse of Paramountcy which declared that Princely States would be free on British withdrawal from India.

Kashmiri Muslims were ignorant about the issue and contents of States Memorandum. On May 12, he came rushing from Lahore to Srinagar and launched on May 15, the Quit Kashmir Movement against the Maharaja (p.359 Aatash-i-Chinar). Quit Kashmir sky-rocketed his popularity. If the Maharaja had allowed R. C. Kak to continue as Prime Minister – (he was dismissed and arrested on August 11, 1947 by the Maharaja to please M.K. Gandhi and Pandit Nehru) – Sheikh would not declare support to post-Partition India in spite of award of Gurdaspur. A no-nonsense man, Kak was a votary of Kashmir’s independence.

Subsequent to Kak’s dismissal, successful accomplishment of Gurdaspur Conspiracy, Sheikh’s changing sides, and Tribal Invasion of Kashmir (of which Pandit Nehru knew one month in advance that it would happen, p.49 Sardar Patel’s Correspondence Vol. I), Indian Army captured Kashmir in the name of saving it from tribesmen; and the Maharaja installed Sheikh as Emergency Administrator and later as Prime Minister. Sheikh was never an elected representative of Kashmiris. Prime Minister Nehru foisted him upon Maharaja Hari Singh in November 1947 and Indira Gandhi imposed him on Kashmir in 1975. Although two provincial elections took place in Kashmir during his two tenures, it is doubtful that Kashmiris voted for him.

During 1951 Constituent Assembly elections, he did not allow anyone to contest against NC. During 1977 elections he was bedridden. Afzal Beg was his chief campaigner. During election rallies he pointed his finger towards Pakistan and said they meant to open Rawalpindi Road. Also he exhibited rock salt and green handkerchief. So it was Pakistani sarak, Pakistani noon, and Pakistani jhanda that Kashmiri Muslims saw and voted for. Within a week after Indian Army’s arrival in Kashmir in 1947 India’s Home Minister Sardar Patel, Defence Minister Baldev Singh, and Maharja Patiala Yadavindra Singh flew to Jammu on November 4 and met Maharaja Hari Singh. Next day Muslims of Jammu city were herded into 40 trucks and machine gunned at Samba. Sheikh was the Emergency Administrator. Yet the Muslims of Jammu were butchered (p.438 Aatash-i-Chinar). He even took in his cabinet a serial abductor of Muslim women called Baldev Singh Pathania (p.464 Aatash-i-Chinar).

Sheikh was a resistor at times and collaborator at times, depending upon which way he beheld his self-interest. As a resistor he suffered long periods of incarceration. As a collaborator he promulgated Public Safety Act 1978-79 to muzzle the voice of his opponents. He even played a double game with NC manifesto of 1944. Naya Kashmir of September 1944 was not what he published under that title in 1976.

Ashiq Hussain

Ashiq Hussain is an author based in Indian Administered Kashmir and is the author of three books on the K-conflict.
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