Milad Processions in Kashmir

The Milad processions have played a significant role in Kashmir politics since Sher-e-Kashmir’s times.
Milad Processions in Kashmir
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The Milad processions have played a significant role in Kashmir politics since Sher-e-Kashmir's times. The processions helped him mobalise people.  He would lead the procession every year and recite naa'ts in his melodious voice. His naa'ts evoked massive response from the people and added to his popularity.

He continued to take out processions for some years after converting Muslim Conference into National Conference. However, he had to abandon the practice following severe criticism from the Pandits who joined him.  In 1943, his close associate, Kashap Bandu who edited the Martand wrote an editorial severely criticisng Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah for indulging in religious activities from the platform of a `secular' organisation.

Sher-e-Kashmir took several decades to understand that the non-Muslims who joined his organization were not sincere.  His best friend turned worst enemy, Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz  wrote an editorial in Hamdard on June 10, 1947. It read: "The Hindus do not like NC. However, some Hindus have joined it not because they love it but for the hatred it has exhibited against Muslims of India. The inclusion of a handful of Hindus in NC does not make it a representative of the minorities. The Hindus and Sikhs praise NC in public because they believe that it is working against the interests of Muslims…"

Kashap Bandu's editorial scared Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah so much that he abandoned the practice, and this opportunity was availed by the `oppressed' Muslim Conference members.  The Muslim Conference was revived following Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah's failure to follow the terms and conditions of the agreement that finally led to birth of National Conference.  Almost all the Muslim Conference leaders including Chowdhury Abbas and Allah Rakha Sagar agreed to the conversion. However, they put forth some conditions which Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah readily agreed to. The agreement urged him to stay away from the Congress.  The conditions were thrown to winds after a few weeks of the historic development. Immediately,  people sought revival of the parent organization.

High level meetings were held at Lahore and elsewhere, but in Srinagar Qureshi Muhammad Yusuf worked very hard to muster support for the revival of the Muslim Conference. He approached the college going students and succeeded in forming a strong group. Muhammad Yusuf Khan of KaniKadal was his favourite.

Yusuf Khan talked to Greater Kashmir at length in 2007.  According to him, "Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah would take a Milad procession every year. In 1943, the Martand edited by Pandit Kashap Bandhu wrote an editorial criticizing Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah for his involvement in the Milad processions. Sheikh Abdullah did not take out a procession that year. We decided to avail the opportunity. Qureshi Muhammad Yusuf did not encourage us saying Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah had been opposing the processions till 1942. We requested him to take up the matter with Mirwaiz. The permission was finally granted and we took out a historic procession. This procession scared the National Conference and Muslim Conference became a reality." Yusuf said, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah watched the procession from a hotel in Lal Chowk. "Without informing Qureshi Muhammad Yusuf and Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah, we arranged a band which attracted a number of people," he said.   

The Muslim Conference was crushed after the 1947 arrangement. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah took over the reins of the state. The Milad processions were forgotten. Sheikh Abdullah was arrested and imprisoned. His deputy, Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg founded the Plebiscite Front. A senior Plebiscite Front worker said the authorities did not allow the processions. According to him, the Front workers would hold camps around Hazratbal shrine during the first twelve days of Rabiaul Awal to mobilize people. The Awami Action Committee (AAC), however, continued with the practice.

After the Front leaders ended their 22-year wandering into political wilderness, the dissidents felt strangulated.  The People's League did a lot of work but was crushed.  The political `stalemate' came to an end in 1986 when the newly launched Islamic Students league (ISL) took out a massive Milad procession. The leaders of the ISL especially Muhammad Yasin Malik and others rode horses and chanted religious slogans. The procession passed through old city and ended at martyrs' graveyard, Naqashband Sahib Shrine. The leaders addressed a mammoth gathering. A new and energetic political force came into being. A new era commenced and the ISL cadres rewrote the history through the barrels of sophisticated weapons.  

The movement had taken a new turn but people were confused. Even senior lawyers believed that it was the handiwork of Mufti Muhammad Sayed who wanted to topple Dr Farooq Abdullah. Meanwhile, Shakeel Ahmad Bakshi who headed the ISL in 1989 took out a historic Milad procession through the traditional route – Gaw Kadal, Habba Kadal, Khankah-e-Moula. Bakshi addressed the gathering  at martyrs' graveyard and conveyed the much needed message. Political experts perceive it as a significant development in the on-going movement.

The author is Sr Editor,  Greater Kashmir.
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