As a stalwart of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Sethi had witnessed many important political events of J&K, be it communal riots during 1947 Indo-Pak partition, Quit Kashmir movement and his trysts with powers of the day. His death was condoled widely and across the borders.
When partition was bleeding subcontinent in 1947, many Samaritans were going out of their ways to save people from the mad-frenzy of violence. Among them was a young man from Jammu.
“As a right-minded person, Krishen Dev Sethi saved lives of many Muslims and non-Muslims in Mirpur and Jammu during the 1947 bloodcurdling fall,” says Mohammad Sayeed Malik, a veteran journalist.
“Sethi sahib saw the entire madness unfolding in front of his eyes and tried his best to play a fireman among arsonists.”
Sethi breathed his last after prolonged illness on January 28, at his home in Jammu’s Mohalla Dulpatian at the ripe age of 93.
Born in 1927, at Mirpur, now part of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Sethi started his political career before 1947. As a 15-year-old political activist, he fought feudalism, landlordism, moneylenders and repression by both British and autocratic rulers of Kashmir.
He eventually became a member of the first constituent assembly in 1951 and a member of the first legislative assembly in 1957. Sethi represented Nowshera assembly constituency twice as MLA.
“Despite our ideological differences we shared a very close bond as friends. He was the man who had deep respect for any human irrespective of caste, religion, race and creed,” Malik told Kashmir Observer.
As an active participant in the “Quit Kashmir Movement”, Sethi faced two-year imprisonment during Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad’s regime. He remained underground for eight years during the 1960s for propagating peace with China.
“Sethi was a politician of higher stature and played a key role in formation of J&K’s own constitution,” Malik said. “He was the face of the National Conference in Mirpur and Jammu.”
Despite Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah appointing him provincial general secretary of his party, Sethi openly criticised the populist leader’s policies.
In 1953—the year Abdullah was arrested in “Kashmir Conspiracy Case”—Sethi joined ultra-left politics and formed Democratic National Conference. His outfit was joined by NC deserters like Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq, Mir Qasim, and DP Dhar.
“He had a very strong and committed cadre not only in Jammu but in Mirpur, Punjab, Haryana and other states,” Malik said. “But he lived a simple man’s life.”
Sethi was against any kind of violence and atrocity on people, Malik added.
“He did stick his neck out for the rights of people all the time. He was in favour of the rights of people of Kashmir at the time when everyone was trying to please their masters.”
At the same time, Sethi ran his own Urdu weekly namely Jidd-o-jehad (The Struggle). He would regularly write about his mission in its editorials.
Calling the late politician as a “walking encyclopaedia” on J&K’s political history, historian Khalid Bashir Ahmad said that among Sethi’s great qualities was the distance he always maintained from power corridors despite serving at important political positions once.
“For his impeccable integrity and political views,” the author of the celebrated book, “Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative”, said, “Sethi Sahib was admired by a large section of the people on both sides of the LoC.”
Sethi favoured an independent Jammu & Kashmir as a geographical unit as it existed before 1947 “even as he believed that people of all the regions of the erstwhile princely state will have to arrive at a consensus on the future of Jammu & Kashmir,” Bashir said.
Back in 2004, when Kashmir’s celebrated journalist Yusuf Jameel visited Press Club of Mirpur, he was surprised to see Sethi’s sway on scribes.
“Everyone was asking about Sethi Sb, such was the popularity,” recalled Jameel.
“Although he was a proud Mirpuri,” Jameel told Kashmir Observer, “Sethi was the real epitome of brotherhood, who never differentiated any person based on religion, caste and colour. Besides, he never accepted the government narrative on J&K. He was a people’s politician.”
Sethi was fond of Urdu poetry and would recite poetry quite often, recalled Anuradha Bhasin editor of the daily Kashmir Times. Her late father Ved Bhasin was Sethi’s long time comrade.
“Sethi used to visit the Kashmir Times office regularly where he would have discussions and debates with his friend [Ved Bhasin] on different political issues,” Bhasin told Kashmir Observer.
The fascinating thing about Sethi sahib was his humility and his easy-going personality, she said.
“My father, late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed sb, Mohammad Sayeed Malik and Sethi sb were very close. Despite the different ideologies and raging arguments, there was a sense of respect and mutual understanding among them. His demise is a personal loss for me,” said Bhasin.
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