Understanding Sheikh Muhammed Abdullah, the most popular personality of Kashmir's modern political history, without eulogizing or denigrating him
Sheikh. M. Abdullah dominates Kashmir’s 20th century history, hence historians can ill-afford to misinterpret him. There is a general view that he fought India for Kashmiri independence and that only in 1975 did he make a ‘mistake’. However, I have a radically different view on him which is based, purely on my academic research and is not any biased view aimed at eulogizing, or denigrating him.
Albeit, Mr. Abdullah did fight Dogra rule, achieved much through Glancy Commission and ‘Land to Tiller Act’, but as far as his role in Kashmiri struggle of self-determination is concerned, he neither wanted it nor fought for it, ever. I say so with conviction. He, unlike his people, was always for India, not for Independence or Pakistan, because of his personal proclivity for Nehru and personal dislike for Jinnah & his Pakistan. I am aware people are misled by misinformation because of his incarcerations and ‘Plebiscite Front’. Let me defend my case and to make sure people don’t question the veracity of my references, I shall not refer to any source other than his own autobiography, ‘’The Blazing Chinar’’.
If we read Page 366 of chapter 47, it says that in October 1951, in the first session of Constituent Assembly, he said, ‘’Regarding the question of accession, I mentioned three possible alternatives, namely accession to India, accession to Pakistan and Independence. I briefly reviewed the good & bad points in each alternative and concluded that it was the best option for us to accede to India on the basis of the Instrument of accession”. He further adds ”It is nearly thirty years since this speech was made. Since then we have suffered superlatively facing death and violence. But even today my stand is the same as it was then. And I hold that the best solution to our problem is the same as I suggested then’’.
Thirty years, which he refers to, covers the whole period of ‘Plebiscite Front’ as well, in which he held ‘Accession to India’ as a better option, than Independence. A year later, in R.S Pora, he says that ‘’We would completely merge in India after we were convinced that the communalist forces in the country had been got rid of’’( Pg:390. Ch:49). Much before, in 1948, Sheikh M Abdullah represented Indian stand on Kashmir at the UN in New York so fiercely that Pakistan’s foreign minister Sir Zafarullah Khan interrupted his speech accusing him of being ‘Nehru’s puppet’’ (Ch 42: Pg 329). He mentions in Chapter 43, on page 333 that he complained to a Russian member Yaqub Malik that why the Soviet Union withheld its support to India on the Kashmir issue. This signifies how desperate he was to galvanize more support for India’s Kashmir claim. He mentions on the same page that while flying back from New york, G. Aiyangar,the leader of Indian delegation to the UN, handed him a paper which had Aiyangar’s views on Kashmir’s future, saying “The best solution lay in its independence’’, but Alas! Mr. Abdullah’s love for Nehru’s country & his ideology, would keep people of Kashmir hostage to Indian excesses in future.
Coming to his incarceration, he himself calls it ‘a brazen lie’ that he was mulling over independence of Kashmir by any means, when he was arrested in 1953 from Gulmarg. His jail term was the result of India’s mistrust upon his loyalty, coupled with the perfidy of his own associates, Bakshi & co, and not any struggle for the people of Kashmir or any cause, as is generally perceived. Nehru, being the PM & his close friend, got him arrested along with his loyalists. Even this did not hurt his conscience. Let me substantiate. He admits in Chapter 60 on Pg 479 that his friends began to question him in the jail as to why should they hold on to a nation whose leaders treat them so abominably. He tells them, “our accession was based on commonality of ideals, and that so long as India professed those ideals, there was nowhere for us to go, no matter how wide the disparity between their profession and practice’’, and that they had to reinforce their own ideals within the Indian framework . To me his reply makes no sense.
Interestingly, when he comes out from the jail in 1964, ignoring his self-respect, he directly flies to Nehru who had stabbed him in the back. It flummoxes me even more when he says that the manner in which Nehru expressed his regret moved him to tears. And Mr. Abdullah tells him that he regards him as his elder brother, and says, “If I can convince you that I have not been disloyal to you or to your country, then my long penance was not a wasteful experience’’. (Ch: 64.page: 499). This, to me, seems like a one sided love of Sheikh for Nehru, where Nehru didn’t cry to seek apology for chastising him, but in turn he shed his tears merely on seeing the way Nehru expressed his regret. My contention is that this unequal personal relationship was carried out at the cost of the innocent and gullible masses of Kashmir.
About the Plebiscite Front, which is not even a chapter in his book of 74 chapters like ‘Price of Loyalty’, ‘Prisoner of no fault’ emphasizing his faith in India, there is only one mention about it, in Ch 55, pg 438 that since Bakshi had taken absolute command of the NC, his loyalists wanted to set up a parallel party. He says that he was against the idea and tried his best to convince his friends not go for it, but he had to capitulate, with the result ‘Mahaz e Raishumari’ came into being on 9th Aug, 1955. Mr. Abdullah did not join it, although he says it had his informal support. I claim that since he was an Indian at heart, he didn’t believe in PF. To prove my claim, I would want to draw my reader’s attention to a decade before the partition, in his Ch 30, pg 255 to understand Sheikh’s nature, in such matters. When Jinnah asked him why wouldn’t he lead MC if more members side with it, he replied “Leadership should come from the one who believes in the principles on which a party is run. So I could be a follower, but not the leader’’. This is why he, not only didn’t lead but didn’t even join the PF and it was always ‘political waywardness’ for him, not just in 1975. In this way, a personal like, or dislike, of one man, not only threw Kashmir into an unending bloody conflict but also resulted in two and half wars between Pakistan and India, destabilizing entire South Asia. And this is my complaint against Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.
(Mehboob Makhdoomi is an MBA from Pennsylvania University (IUP) United States with a research degree from Cardiff University, United Kingdom.)