In defence of a legend'

Birindar R Singh’s article on Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was a nice read (GK May 13, 14). I liked his coherence of detail, the clarity of language and the seriousness of message. To his two-part long article, my one-part short response is not enough. I too don’t prefer `dead heroes’ to `living legends’, but I ask. Is Sheikh really a legend’?

If changing the matrix of your movement (from Muslim to National) to deceive your companions and please your masters, if displaying faith on pulpit to stoke a religious emotion and keeping secularism as a side-pocket political belief, if watching the massacre of Muslims in Jammu with a cold criminal silence, if tailoring your slogans to suit Delhi in Delhi Kashmir in Kashmir, if first opting for India as conviction, then igniting plebiscite as passion, if dismissing the whole drama of resistance as `waywardness’ to ensure a berth first for yourself and then for your progeny, and finally if accepting a chief minister’s chair after being deposed and disrobed as a prime minister signifies legendry, I join B R Singh and call Sheikh a legend. But if integrity, courage, sacrifice, truthfulness and trust have some value, then the story is disgracefully different. Choice of a leader defines the choice of people. (And for a well-meaning intellectual like Singh, leadership has to have a much superior stuff than SMA)

Popularity alone doesn’t make the mettle called leadership. Demagoguery can win you a mass appeal, but demagogues are not legends. I don’t mean legends are saints, they are humans, fallible, error-prone humans with all weaknesses and compulsions, but there is a measure you weigh leadership with. No long lectures, leaders are defined in a line. Rather in a word. Character. Academic references are too weak a wall to defend his case. What-happened-when-and-how theory can’t change the basic truth about him. Leaders stand, Sheikh fell.

The author says that Sheikh used Plebiscite Front after Beg set it up, `but he never joined the organization’. Well that makes him even more duplicitous. That means he flirted with the idea of plebiscite to create an impression only, without actually committing himself to it. That’s where he had two cards, one to hide, one to show.

I agree with the author that we can’t hold Sheikh responsible for what others have done, but I add a line. We can’t absolve him too of what he has. Blaming Sheikh – I believe – doesn’t mean justifying the political opportunism of other players – including Jamaát-e-Islami. The author is right that Sheikh didn’t choose violence as his policy, but misses the point that the seed he sowed had violence as the only inevitable and long-term harvest. What men of vision then had predicted will happen, did happen decades after. No doubt Kashmir is a tragedy with many actors, but the story flows from Sheikh Abdullah and no student of history can bail him out of the fraud he committed on his nation. I suggest the author to read (and if he has read, then re-read) Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. How secession makes sense when a nation is denied a natural right? How a small cut on a young oak turns a large wound as the tree grows. Related Paine to Kashmir and see how a cut in ‘47 made a wound in ‘90. Leaders foresee what others can’t, Sheikh couldn’t even see what everyone could. Give him the place he deserves, not the one you thrust on him.

Academics of Kashmir history apart, he is the sole soul responsible for the hell we are in.