Understanding Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah

Taking potshots at him won't do, we need to study him from a historical perspective



The annoying salvos and barbs hurled by the honchos of the PDP and the NC at one another don’t interest me, nor are they intellectually stimulating. What I do find particularly ridiculous and pathetic, to say the least, are the constant and untiring efforts of Mufti Saheb’s daughter and her coterie to deploy irrational belligerence to gain credibility. I would venture to say that some educated Kashmiris might appreciate a sparring match between the living honchos of the two regional organizations, which could even provide amusement. And perhaps, Geelani Saheb’s Hurriyat would enjoy taking pot shots as well! But for a seasoned politician like Mufti Saheb to acquiesce to the repeated and absurd diatribes unleashed against Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah by his delirious cohort is ridiculous. I’m sure he has a greater sense of history than the rest of the lot! Politics isn’t just about delivering harangues and giving vent to venomous rage! Politics shouldn’t be, in an ideal world, about befuddling the masses! It is so easy to make criticisms without careful thought and aim them at a handy target! Nothing easier than demonizing someone who died thirty years ago!
Over the years, especially the past two decades, the propagandist machines of various pressure groups, political organizations, and the well-funded machines of the Governments of Pakistan and India have been working overtime to discredit and vilify Sheikh Abdullah. It is unfortunate that after his untimely death even the NC could not preserve his real ideology and willingly allowed it to be ripped to pieces. I am also distressingly aware of the atrocities inevitably inflicted on such idealism as Sheikh Saheb’s, particularly by nation-states that, by their nature, do not brook opposition. Through his idealism, or because of it, Sheikh Saheb sought to “appeal to friends in India and Pakistan to understand our misery, to know our agony and not withhold from me and the people of the state [Jammu and Kashmir] the warmth of the human heart” (Abdullah 17).
Having been raised in a world polarized between India and Pakistan in which Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s espousal of the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir and his opposition to the two-nation theory had made him persona non grata in the two young nation-states, respectively, I was intrigued and taken aback to see a validation of his courage in the face of adversity from an unlikely source, Sardar Ibrahim Khan. Sardar Ibrahim Khan was President of Pakistan Administered “Azad” Kashmir from 1947 to 1950, 1957 to 1959, and 1975 to 1977. In his book published in 1965, Khan did not dither in eulogizing Abdullah,
“. . . Sheikh Abdullah suffered incarceration for more than ten years. In these sufferings he bore insult and humiliation with courage and steadfastness. He stood by his convictions. No temptation came in the way of Sheikh Abdullah in his stand on the question of the inalienable right of the people of Kashmir vis-à-vis the question of plebiscite. No sufferings or humiliation could make his mind change. He stood firm and faced the might of the Government of India for twelve years or so.” (Khan 34)
So is standing by one’s convictions and nurturing one’s ideology synonymous with wasting away from grief in wilderness? I don’t think so! The role that Sheikh Saheb and Begum Akbar Jehan played in creating a political consciousness among the people of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the Muslims of the state, can be critically analyzed but cannot be wished away nor can it be erased from the annals of history.
Whatever one’s political persuasion, it would be difficult to deny that in that day and age  Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah had the charisma and magnetism to sway public opinion in his favor, and he exercised an uncanny clout on the masses. Even his detractors acknowledge that he had a consummate ability to inspire and persuade the masses from the podium, and despite the feisty opposition to him from some quarters, could stimulate action. Here, I take a pause in my recollections, and quote illustrious revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s reminiscences of Kashmir in the 1940s. With his political acumen, depth of character, and inimitable clarity, he states, in retrospect, that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah
“created for the Kashmiri a sense of selfhood, as Allama Iqbal called it. He discovered for them their personality and he is one of the few people of this subcontinent who created a movement out of nothing. . . . That this contribution was the awakening and inspiration which electrified his people, nobody can deny. . . . whatever Kashmir has achieved or done, he was responsible for it and this was because of his total and complete identification with his people.” (Quoted in Taseer, 259)
When I try to recall the vicissitudes of the 1970s, as perceived by a child, I can hear the audible running to and fro of NC workers, some bleeding profusely after having been manhandled by members of the opposition at polling booths, standing ramrod straight to tell their leader that they would brook every harassment and ford every stream in their endeavor to carve a political space for Kashmiris, which had been denied them for more than two decades. Sheikh Abdullah, believed that,
“It is the sovereign Parliament of India which has recognized, a number of times, that the accession shall be determined by the free will of the people of Kashmir. . . .  Take away the bayonet and see what will happen. You will succeed if you can win the hearts of the people there. No power, no country can retain for all times to come, any other land by force of arms. India itself has shown this. It concerns the fundamental principle of its policy.” (Abdullah 7-8)
Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, despite the political compromises and expediencies required in the oscillating and vast spectrum of subcontinental politics, believed that the course of Kashmir’s political destiny would be charted by the people of Kashmir:
Yih mulk tumhara hai, yih mulk kisi aur ka nahin.  
Yih Roos, America, Pakistan ya Hindustan ka nahin hai.
Yih mulk yahin ke Hinduon, Musalmanon aur Sikhon ka hai. (Quoted in Beg, 47)
This land [Kashmir] belongs to you, not to anyone else.
It does not belong to either Russia, or America, or Pakistan, or India.
The land belongs to the Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs of Kashmir. (translation is mine)
Very few leaders have the political insight to comprehend that the changed nature of the struggle requires a new vision and pioneer spirit to endow Kashmir politics with an intellectual enlightenment. It is in light of the changed nature of the struggle and the new roles that political players in Kashmir need to assume that History will judge Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The tired rhetoric of those who haven’t been able to carve legitimate political spaces for themselves and seek to do so by stigmatizing Sheikh Saheb, and the tired rhetoric of the NC that hasn’t been able to revive the ideology of Sheikh Saheb on which his grass roots politics was built, must be assessed with clear eyes, particularly by the younger generation.

(Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is a Visiting Professor, Department of English University of Oklahoma)

Lastupdate on : Tue, 6 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 6 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 7 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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