Sheikh Abdullah: A Political Sufferer-I

Today we are paying homage on 30th Death Anniversary to Sheri-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. After 31 years of his death, he continues to haunt the Kashmir politics and is in the news almost each day for one reason or the other. Recently a debate has been triggered by a statement of one of the Omar Abdullah’s Cabinet Colleague Mr. Ghulam Hassan Mir, who said “Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is responsible for the present mess, as he failed to change the mindset of the people of Jammu and Kashmir”. Omar Abdullah chose to remain silent as if he is in total agreement with Mir. As a civilized Society it is our duty to objectively analyse the sequence of events and all the vital political decisions taken by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah during his 52 years long political career which has shaped our present.
Having suffered the worst kind of long oppression for four centuries at the hands of Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and finally at the hands of Dogra Rulers, Kashmiri Muslims were used to forced labour known as “Begaar” and with worst kind of exploitation at the hands of Feudal Landlords, they had to even beg from them the permission to bury their dead bodies in their land. It was in this miserable socio economic conditions of Kashmiri Muslims, Sheikh Abdullah was born 15 days after the death of his father in a village of Soura presumably on 15th December, 1905. Sheikh first opened his eyes as an ill-fated and unhappy child, born to a women who was at the mercy of her eldest step son who did not treat them well. Khair-un-Nisa, mother of Sheikh was a progressive lady and even under the adverse conditions she managed to give him Quranic education in a nearby Maktab and also primary education from Islamia Middle School, Nowshehra. He did his matriculation from State High School, Fateh Kadal and F.Sc. in 1924 from S.P. College. He had his degree from Islamia College, Lahore where he was influenced by many intellectuals, prominent of them was Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal. In Lahore he was sad at treatment of the Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of Punjabis who would call them satirically as “Hathoo”. He was also shocked to see Feudal Landlord System prevalent among the Punjabi Muslims. In 1928, he had his post graduation in Chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University which broadened his vision and understanding. He returned to Kashmir in 1930. With unpleasant memories of his child hood, he found his own people in worst suppression and exploitation at the hands of Feudal Landlords and autocratic rule of Maharaja Hari Singh. The spirit of revolt took birth in his mind and he emerged as leader of down trodden. Sheikh Abdullah dominated the political scenario of Jammu and Kashmir for more than half a century and his political career can be distinctly classified in four phases: (i) 1930-1947, (ii) 1947-1953, (iii) 1953-1975, and (iv) 1975-1982.

Nehru & Sheikh: Friends or Foes?
Phase (I) (1930-47)
Reading Room Party :

On his return in 1930, there was already unrest in the homes of Kashmiri Muslims against the Dogra Rule. Educated Muslim Youth had started getting organized under the name of “Reading Room Party” in the house of of Mufti Zia-ul-Din at Fateh Kadal where they would exchange their views on discriminatory policies of Government and the plight of Kashmiri Muslims. Sheikh Abdullah was appointed as Science Teacher in the State High School. He joined his services but also took keen interest in the activities of Reading Room Party. He not only invited educated Muslims to join party but also invited illiterate youth to work with him. The Reading Room Party soon grew in size and became popular. In its first election Sheikh was elected as its Secretary. He decided to present a memorandum to Maharaja Hari Singh inviting his attention to the plight of Kashmiri Muslims. Sheikh as the Secretary of Reading Room Party was invited for a meeting with Council of Ministers. The meeting took place but there was no change in the mind set of Government but Sheikh emerged as prominent outstanding leader among the members of Reading Room Party. His appealing and melodic voice would attract large public gatherings.
Mir Waiz Mohammad Yousuf Shah too was influenced and he invited him to Jamia Masjid, where he was introduced as a leader of Kashmiri Muslims. With his fast growing popularity, the Government was uneasy and Sheikh was transferred to Muzaffarabad. Shiekh Abdullah reacted boldly, when he in an emotional speech in a public meeting held at Khankah-i-Moula, he resigned. Maulana Zaffar Ali Khan, Editor of Daily Newspaper, Zamindar and also a prominent leader of Pakistan Movement who was present on the platform, was highly impressed by fearlessness of Sheikh and after hearing him for few minutes he exclaimed in a great joy “Sheri-i-Kashmir”. Thus Sheikh Abdullah was reborn as a Lion of Kashmir. While these developments were taking place in the Kashmir, the Jammu Muslim Youth had also got organized as the Youngman’s Muslim Association who too had raised their voice against the injustice of Dogra Rule.

Advised by his aides, Maharaja Hari Singh made an attempt to silence uprising youth by inviting them for a dialogue. Sheikh Abdullah used this opportunity to mobilize the masses and arranged a public meeting at K.K.Moulla on 25th June, 1931 so as to elect the representatives for the dialogue with the consent of the people. It is in this meeting, as according to Justice Saraf ”Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah took a public oath with Holy Quran in his hand and pledged never to betray the cause of Kashmiri Muslims”. Seven members were elected which included Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Mir Waiz Mohammad Yousuf Shah. The public meeting was adjourned. When people began to disperse, one aggressive robust person Abdul Qadeer Khan appeared on the scene and started addressing the dispersing crowd and said, “Muslim Brethren, time has now come when we should meet a force by a greater force and wage a relentless war against oppression”. On the grounds of subversive speech Qadeer Khan was arrested on 25th June at Naseem Bagh and was tried in Session Court. His arrest generated a strong protest in Kashmir and even people demonstrated during course of his trial on 6, 7, 8 and 9th July. On the name of law an d order, the venue of the trial was shifted to the Central Jail and was also kept as guarded secret. On 12th July, Sheikh Abdullah at Gow Kadal condemned the shifting of venue and doubted the fairness of the trial.

Tragedy of 13th July:
On the day of trial, thousands of people gathered outside the jail and asked for the permission to attend the trial process. At the behest of the Governor, Trilok Chand, police charged the crowd by opening fire. 21 were killed and hundreds were injured. None had tried to run away but all the injured had received bullets on their chests indicating their determination to sacrifice their lives to change their destiny. The dead bodies were taken in procession to Jamia Masjid. The upsurge was not well taken by Kashmiri Pandits, about whom Prem Nath Bazaz writes “The Hindus became definitely hostile to the movement and openly and solidly joined Government forces to get it suppressed”. Sheikh Abdullah rushed to Jamia Masjid to attend to the injured. One of the injured while succumbing to his injuries held Sheikh Abdullah’s hand and said, “Abdullah I have done my duty and now you proceed ahead”. Government imposed marshal law and issued arrest warrants against Sheikh Abdullah and many others. Sheikh Abdullah did not hide but next morning heroically came out in Jamia Masjid and offered his arrest. On his arrest, according to Justice Saraf, Allama Iqbal is stated to have said “one thing which clearly stands out about Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is that he has completely removed from the Muslims of Kashmir the fear of going to jails or of facing the Dogra army”. Sheikh emerged as a bold, courageous and fearless leader of Kashmiris. The imprisonment of leaders sent shock waves across the State and there was complete shut down. The Government had to succumb to the public pressure and all the political prisoners including Sheikh Abdullah were released on 31st July, 1931. On 2nd August Sheikh Abdullah addressed a public meeting at Jamia Masjid and said “The bloodshed by martyrs on 13th July has cemented the foundation of our movement and now there is no doubt that we shall never be faltering in voicing our demands even if it leads us to the gallows.”
In response to the Massacre of the 13th July, in the neighbouring State, Punjabi Muslims offered support and constituted “Kashmir Committee” which was addressed by Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal who said, “the Mohammadans of India could no longer remain indifferent to these very just demands of their oppressed brethren in Kashmir and we shall continue to support the Kashmiri Mohammadans until their grievances are redressed.” The Kashmir Committee played a key role to mobilize public opinion outside the Kashmir against Maharaja. The happenings of 13th July made Sheikh Abdullah as an un-disputed leader of Kashmiri Muslims. His leadership was glorified by his colleague Kh. Saad-ud-Din Shawl, as he disseminated some fabricated stories about Sheikh Abdullah that he was flung into the boiling oil by Maharaja but he came out unhurt and also “Sheri-Kashmir” words were inscribed by acid on Chinar leaves in order to project him a leader approved by divine force.

Glancy Commission:
To defuse the turmoil caused by tragedy of 13th July, Maharaja Hari Singh on 12th Nov. 1931 issued a promulgation to set up a commission known as “Glancy Commission” to make necessary recommendations to address the grievances of Muslims through constitutional means. The Glancy Commission was headed by Sir B.J.Glancy, a European Officer of Foreign Affairs Ministry, Government of India. The Commission had also four non official members, two each from Kashmir and Jammu, representing the respective communities. Kh. Ghulam Ahmed Ashai, represented Kashmiri Muslims, Prem Nath Bazaz of Kashmiri Pandits, Lok Nath Sharma of Jammu Hindus and Ch. Ghulam Abbass of Jammu Muslims. Lok Nath Sharma disassociated himself from the Commission. The Commission was unanimous in making pro-Muslim recommendations which included ownership rights of land to all, to return all Muslim religious shrines to the community, abandoning the forced labour system, suspension of grazing tax and above all the most important, to do away with the higher minimum qualification for recruitment in government services. The Commission put forth genuine grievance of oppressed Muslims and recommended immediate redressal. Prem Nath Bazaz played a key role in making the recommendations in favour of Muslims. This earned him a respectable place in Muslim community and also developed a close relationship with Muslim leaders particularly Sheikh Abdullah. But he was disowned by the Pandit community as they felt un-nerved over the Glancy Commission recommendation, particularly on doing away with the higher minimum qualification. They were reluctant to share education and jobs with Muslims on equal terms . Anti Muslims sentiments went deep in Pandit Community and they launched “Roti Agitation” against the Glancy Commission recommendations.

Muslim Conference:
In the backdrop of the division on the recommendations of the Glancy Commission and agitation launched by Kashmiri Pandits, Muslim leaders were compelled to get united in order to serve political, economic and socio interests of the Muslims. Soon after the release of political leaders in June, 1932, Sheikh Abdullah took initiative to set up an organized political party. He took Youngman’s Association of Jammu in confidence and invited them to take part in formation of a party. A committee was formed to frame its constitution, it decided to name it as “All Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference”. In its first inaugural session at Pather Masjid, Shiekh was elected as it President and Ch. Ghulam Abass as its Secretary. A green flag with crescent and a star on its was adopted as its flag. Prem Nath Bazaz objected to formation of the political party on religious lines. The liberal stance of Bazaz in the Glancy Commission had won mind and heart of Shiekh Abdullah and he had become his close confident. Soon after the formation of Muslim Conference, Bazaz requested for a meeting with Sheikh at Chesmashahi garden in 1932. Bazaz was able to convince Sheikh that his dream of empowerment of Kashmiri Muslims cannot be realized unless the Dogra’s autocratic rule is replaced by a responsible secular government. This is not possible without support of the non-Muslims of the State most of whom are living in Jammu province. Sheikh got convinced but was apprehensive as there were strong religious forces in Kashmir Valley who would oppose to run the political movement on secular basis. Bazaz proposed then need for public awareness campaign so as to apprise the people about blessings of non communal politics and achievements of the goal of responsible government in the State through it. To mould the public opinion, it was decided to launch a news paper namely “Hamdard”. It was started in 1935 with its inauguration in a large public gathering at Hazuri Bagh. The meeting of Bazaz with Shiekh Abdullah at Chesmashahi garden is of great importance in the history of Kashmir and the foundation of secular politics in Kashmir was laid. Bazaz was already in touch with Congress leaders and he lost no time in introducing Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to Pandit Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. As Justice Saraf narrates about Bazaz, “a very shrewd Brahmin, he was able to think much ahead of his generation when he identified himself into a position of confidence with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah……. Sheikh Abdullah having achieved infinite heights of popularity in Kashmir, might have also been tempted by wide field of activity and influence that association with Jawahar Lal Nehru could offer in the sub-continent. All this was unfortunate but it seems this is how it happened.”

Conversion of Muslim Conference into National Conference:
Shiekh Abdullah under the influence of Bazaz gradually started canvassing for secular politics which was opposed tooth and nail by Mir Waiz Mohammad Yousuf Shah. Mir Waiz was also envious of the popularity of Sheikh. He parted ways with him and launched a separate political party under the name of Azad Muslim Conference. Muslim Conference and Azad Muslim Conference contested the Legislative Assembly Elections where Muslim Conference under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah won 19 seats and Azad Muslim Conference could bag only single seat. This encouraged Sheikh to go ahead for secularization. On 26th March, 1938, Sheikh Abdullah as the President of Muslim Conference, while addressing the 6th Annual Session at Jammu categorically said that to achieve our goal there is a need to reorganize our political party as non-communal and hence certain amendments are required to be made in its constitution and rules. In this connection a Working Committee was convened on 28th June at Srinagar and a resolution was passed recommending reconsidering the name and constitution of party so as to widen its circle. The resolution was strongly opposed by Jammu leaders particularly Ch. Ghulam Abbass, as they were not ready to share the political platform with the non-Muslims. August, 5th was observed as a “National Demand Day” all over the State so as to demonstrate a joint demand of Hindu & Muslims for responsible government which would guarantee political and economic rights of all. A manifesto to this effect was issued on 29th August which was signed by both Muslim and Hindu leaders. Sheikh Abdullah took a lead role in “National Demand Day Struggle”. He was arrested and there was a civil disobedience movement which was joined by Lawyers, Journalists, Doctors, Businessmen and college students.

On 28th February, 1939, Sheikh Abdullah was released. He made country-wide touring so as to prepare the ground to finally change the Muslim Conference into National Conference. Under the president ship of G.M.Sadiq, a Special Session of Muslim Conference was convened at Pather Masjid on 29th June, 1939 to consider the decision on the resolution of the Working Committee, passed on 28th June, 1938 regarding change of name and constitution of the party. 176 delegates and hundreds of workers participated in the session. There was a brain storm session and discussions among the members continued throughout the night and early in the morning of 11th June at a historic movement in the history of Kashmir, Resolution was passed to convert Muslim Conference into National Conference by an overwhelming majority of 172 to 4 votes. Those who went against were Maulvi Mohammad Abdullah Vakil, Ghulam Ahmed Ganai of Baderwah, Shiekh Ahmed Din Banhali and Ch.Hamidullah who walked out in protest. On spot some non-Muslims were included in the working committee, the prominent among them was Prem Nath Bazaz. The party adopted a flag having white plough on red background and it was designed by Pandit Prem Nath Dhar who was a Socialist, deeply influenced by Progressive Movement of Russia. At the occasion P.N.Bazaz said “I have never been so happy as I am today”. He was able to change the course of political movement of Kashmiri Muslims. The news of the amendment in the name and the constitution of Muslim Conference made Jinah sad, who in an address at Aligarh said “I can say with certainty that Abdullah is in wrong hands having got himself ensnared by the Congress which is thoroughly a Hindu Organization, he has put ship of his community in the whirlpool, I understand he is doing this out of ignorance…….” . On the other hand Jawarhar Lal Nehru was overjoyed as he felt that he has succeeded in secularizing the Kashmir politics through Prem Nath Bazaz. He thought not only he can use this weapon against concept of two-nation theory of Jinah but it will also pave way for the Kashmir to be the part of India. Kashmir was Nehru’s obsession. He never wanted to part with it at any cost.

Nehru’s and Jinnah’s visit to Kashmir:

To strengthen and personalize the relations with the National Conference and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Nehru showed his willingness to visit Kashmir. National Conference organized a grand reception for him and reception committee was headed by G.M.Sadiq and Bazaz. Pt.Nehru and Abdul Gaffar Khan reached Srinagar on 30th May, 1940. Nehru stayed in Kashmir for 10 days and advised non-Muslims of State to strengthen the hands of Sheikh Abdullah. Nehru’s visit annoyed the Muslim leaders of Jammu who were under the influence of 2-nation theory of Jinah. They with the support of Mir Waiz Mohammad Yousuf Shah in a meeting on 10th Oct. 1943 in Srinagar revived Muslim Conference under the leadership of Ch. Hamidullah Khan and it was later joined by Ch. Ghulam Abbass. Sheikh was worried about the confrontation of the Muslim leaders of the newly floated Muslim Conference. He was seeking to settle the dispute with these leaders. In this connection he met Jinah in Delhi and invited him to come to Kashmir for a help to resolve differences between him and the leaders of Muslim Conference. In the month of June, 1944 Jinah and his sister Fatima Jinah came to Kashmir via Qazi Gund where they were received by Mirza Afzal Baig and Mir Waiz Mohammad Yousuf. A grand reception was organized in their favour. Jinah gave patient hearing to both Sheikh Abdullah as well as Ch.Ghulam Abbass. Jinah suggested for winding up of National Conference and asked all the Muslims to get organized under one banner and one platform. Jinah’s advice irritated Sheikh and reportedly Sheikh Abdullah indulged in the most offensive language against Jinah. The unpleasant meeting further distanced Sheikh from Jinah and his 2 Nation theory. It was here Kashmir began to slip out of the Jinah’s hands. To be continued

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