Barindar Singh’s ‘In defence of Sheikh Abdullah-I and II’ (May 13, 14 GK) had been responded eloquently and articulately by one of Kashmir’s reputed writers and GK’s well-known columnist, Ajaz-ul-Haque (In defence of a legend, May 19 GK). We have few more points to add to clear the confusion created by Barinder Singh’s false narrative and distortion of facts.
His outlandish claim that Sheikh was undoubtedly the leader of Muslims looks implausible given the fact that a considerable section of Muslims were against Sheikh and ardently followed the programs and policies of Muslim Conference led by Chaudary Ghulam Abbas.
The author in his next argument narrows the essence of freedom struggle by calling that it didn’t start in 1931 but in 1989. His assumption that the struggle started in 1931 was not for independence but for the economic or educational privileges from the Dogras is wrought with serious lacunae. Firstly, he ignores the fact that even Indian National Congress founded in 1885 was then not formed directly to get freedom from British rule. Rather it was initially an organization the primary aim of which was to confront British economic exploitation of Indians and seek social privileges and educational empowerment for Indians. However, in due course of time, INC got culminated into a national movement and became successful in seeking independence from British Raj. Similarly, Muslim Conference’s earlier manifesto was deeply rooted against the Dogra policies, its politico-economic exploitation and policy of marginalizing Muslims. However, it in later years evolved into a mass political movement which launched a strong campaign in 1946 demanding the complete end of autocratic rule of Dogras.
The following argument by the author that Kashmir lost its independence with Akbar’s rule in Kashmir is a hotly debatable contention among the historians and academicians. For that matter, if Akbar was non-native to Kashmir, so was Ashoka (of Bihar), Rinchana (of Ladakh) Sultan Shamsuddin Shahmir (of Swat) to name a few. Others, including the Dogras (of Jammu) and Chaks (of Dardistan) were no natives of Kashmir either. Since all these rulers had ruled Kashmir from ancient to modern times, the author seems to have resorted to an academic dishonesty by arbitrarily cherry-picking historical facts for making a case that suits his own convenience.
His subsequent assertion that whatever good Sheikh did got buried and whatever evil he did continues haunting him is equally grounded in the historical narrative. In other words, it could be said that the popular narrative among academicians and people altogether is that Sheikh’s evil doing to Kashmiris is far heavier, heftier and haunting than his good doing (if ever he did anything substantial). Ajaz ul Haque vindicates it by pointing out that, ‘academics of Kashmir history apart, he (Sheikh) is the sole soul responsible for the hell we are in.’
Calling Sheikh an authentic and original Kashmiri hero is more an emotional than an objective judgment by the author. He takes the luxury of imagining a legend out of a leader whose legacy and leadership is generally construed to be disastrous for the people. His vacillating positions from 1947 to 1975 itself are testimony to the fact that he was not happy with the consequences of his decisions. He wanted to rectify his lack of sound judgment in 1953 when he was incarcerated and then the ‘legendary’ leader pleaded for plebiscite – an ideal for which the Kashmir’s Prime minister to goal and later bartered it for chief ministerial position. An opportunist of sorts who fought for Kashmiris against Dogras hardly bothered to respect or listen to the popular sentiments when people had the democratic choice to make. When the subcontinent was witnessing the dawn of freedom, Sheikh was busy looking out for a new master for his people. The heightened levels of present day violence in the state are largely the outcome of postponing peoples’ aspirations by Sheikh when he was in charge of their destiny. Authentic leaders are born out of praxis. Sheikh began his political career as a leader who identified himself with oppressed people. People honored him with unprecedented levels of affective loyalty and trust. When it was the time to allow people to decide their fate, Sheikh made peoples aspirations subservient to his personal likings for Nehru and, thus, scripted a new chapter of human bondage.
Bottom-line: Yasir Bashir, a scholar who has worked on the ‘Contested Legacy of Sheikh Abdullah’ argues that Sheikh Abdullah mishandled Kashmir and played with the sentiments of people which landed them from frying pan to fire. Barinder Singh needs to re-read Sheikh Abdullah in an objective and impartial way so that readers are not misled by manufacturing a hagiographic narrative of Sheikh.
Mohammad Ashraf Khwaja and Javid Ahmad Ahanger had their doctorates from Aligarh Muslim University