Sheikh Abdullah vs Aga Syed Yosuf

Although this move resulted in inviting Sheikh’s wrath, Aga Yosuf successfully sabotaged Sheikh Abdullah’s attempt to win over the Shia populace of Kashmir.

It is a norm in Kashmir among Shia’s to visit their religious head known as Agas for legal disputes and other matters relating to Fiqh etc. The word Aga is a Turkish word meaning master or Lord, an honorary title used for a Civil or military officer. Aga Syed Yosuf of Budgam was the religious head of Shias in Kashmir popularly known as Aga Saib. Born in 1904, Aga Syed Yosuf became a household name in Kashmir when he established Sharai Adalat (Religious Court). Due to the righteous Character of Aga Yosuf, Sharai Adalat became very popular. On a number of occasions during Dogra rule, the district court sent cases to Yosuf’s court.

Aga Syed Yosuf had already established himself as an icon during the height of Sheikh Abdullah’s political career particularly post 1947. With Sheikh’s popularity reaching the length and breadth of Kashmir, he started making political inroads into Shia dominated Budgam district. A clash between the two was soon to happen.

It is important to mention here the brief intro of Shia Political activism in Kashmir. Ever Since 1931, Shia’s like other Muslims in Kashmir started organising themselves. Kashmiri Shia’s were very strong supporters of Kashmir’s accession with Pakistan. Zulfikar a weekly newspaper of the Shia Community published by M M Ishaq in 1935 also advocated Policies of Muslim Conference against Sheikh Abdullah due to which Zulfikar’s Editor Hakim Ghulam Hassan was prosecuted. Under the Patronage of Aga Yosuf, a historic session of the Muslim Conference was held at Ali Park Zadibal in July 1947 in which a resolution for Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan was passed. This was followed by a jubilant Pakistan day celebration on 14 August 1947.

As a consequence, the Shia community was victimized after Kashmir’s accession to India with Sheikh Abdullah taking command as administrator of Kashmir. Zadibal was placed under indefinite curfew. Budgam was brutally targeted because tribals who had infiltrated to assist freedom fighters were sheltered there. Consequent to the terror let loose by the Sheikh’s government, residents of Budgam villages hid elsewhere. Aga family was compelled to migrate to Mirgund village.

Pashtun tribals held Aga Yosuf in high respect owing to his status while he hosted dinner for tribal fighters. Sheikh Abdullah came to know Aga Yosuf had led Nimaz e Jamaat of tribals after which he ordered the arrest of Aga Yosuf for interrogation. With M.M Ishaq’s intervention, Sheikh dropped the idea.

On the advice of his communist friends like Palme Dutt & Mridula Sarabhai, Sheikh Abdullah went with the radical idea of the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act 1950. It placed a ceiling on land ownership at 186 Kanals. The rest of the land owned by a landlord was to be distributed among landless labours. Although this Act sounded pro-Poor, this manoeuvre was used by Sheikh Abdullah to boost his image as a supreme leader and to win over public support most of whom were peasants. This tactic boosted Sheikh’s political power to the rooftop. Many areas where Sheikh wasn’t quite famous became NC’s strong bastions. It was obvious during this time that Budgam will also fell into Sheikh’s hands, but Aga Yosuf unhinged it. Aga Syed Yosuf proclaimed that “this bill is unfair and was against the doctrine of Shiaism”.  Although this move resulted in inviting Sheikh’s wrath, Aga Yosuf successfully sabotaged Sheikh Abdullah’s attempt to win over the Shia populace of Kashmir.

Written by Zahid Bhat


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