Re-reading history

In response to the Sheikh Abdullah debate between Barinder R Singh and Ajaz-ul-Haque
Re-reading history
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Barindar Singh's 'In defence of Sheikh Abdullah-I and II'(May 13, 14 GK) had been responded eloquently and articulately by one ofKashmir's reputed writers and GK's well-known columnist, Ajaz-ul-Haque (Indefence of a legend, May 19 GK). We have few more points to add to clear theconfusion created by Barinder Singh's false narrative and distortion of facts.

His outlandish claim that Sheikh was undoubtedly the leaderof Muslims looks implausible given the fact that a considerable section ofMuslims were against Sheikh and ardently followed the programs and policies ofMuslim Conference led by Chaudary Ghulam Abbas.

The author in his next argument narrows the essence offreedom struggle by calling that it didn't start in 1931 but in 1989. Hisassumption that the struggle started in 1931 was not for independence but forthe economic or educational privileges from the Dogras is wrought with seriouslacunae. Firstly, he ignores the fact that even Indian National Congressfounded 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 toconfront British economic exploitation of Indians and seek social privilegesand educational empowerment for Indians. However, in due course of time, INCgot culminated into a national movement and became successful in seekingindependence from British Raj. Similarly, Muslim Conference's earlier manifestowas deeply rooted against the Dogra policies, its politico-economicexploitation and policy of marginalizing Muslims. However, it in later yearsevolved into a mass political movement which launched a strong campaign in 1946demanding the complete end of autocratic rule of Dogras.

The following argument by the author that Kashmir lost itsindependence with Akbar's rule in Kashmir is a hotly debatable contention amongthe historians and academicians. For that matter, if Akbar was non-native toKashmir, so was Ashoka (of Bihar), Rinchana (of Ladakh) Sultan ShamsuddinShahmir (of Swat) to name a few. Others, including the Dogras (of Jammu) andChaks (of Dardistan) were no natives of Kashmir either. Since all these rulershad ruled Kashmir from ancient to modern times, the author seems to haveresorted to an academic dishonesty by arbitrarily cherry-picking historicalfacts for making a case that suits his own convenience.

His subsequent assertion that whatever good Sheikh did gotburied and whatever evil he did continues haunting him is equally grounded inthe historical narrative. In other words, it could be said that the popularnarrative among academicians and people altogether is that Sheikh's evil doingto Kashmiris is far heavier, heftier and haunting than his good doing (if everhe did anything substantial). Ajaz ul Haque vindicates it by pointing out that,'academics of Kashmir history apart, he (Sheikh) is the sole soul responsiblefor the hell we are in.'

Calling Sheikh an authentic and original Kashmiri hero ismore an emotional than an objective judgment by the author. He takes the luxuryof imagining a legend out of a leader whose legacy and leadership is generallyconstrued to be disastrous for the people. His vacillating positions from 1947to 1975 itself are testimony to the fact that he was not happy with theconsequences of his decisions. He wanted to rectify his lack of sound judgmentin 1953 when he was incarcerated and then the 'legendary' leader pleaded forplebiscite – an ideal for which the Kashmir's Prime minister to goal and laterbartered it for chief ministerial position. An opportunist of sorts who fought for Kashmiris against Dogras hardlybothered to respect or listen to the popular sentiments when people had thedemocratic choice to make. When the subcontinent was witnessing the dawn offreedom, Sheikh was busy looking out for a new master for his people.  The heightened levels of present day violencein the state are largely the outcome of postponing peoples' aspirations bySheikh when he was in charge of their destiny. Authentic leaders are born outof praxis. Sheikh began his political career as a leader who identified himselfwith oppressed people. People honored him with unprecedented levels ofaffective loyalty and trust. When it was the time to allow people to decidetheir fate, Sheikh made peoples aspirations subservient to his personal likingsfor 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 mishandledKashmir and played with the sentiments of people which landed them from fryingpan to fire. Barinder Singh needs to re-read Sheikh Abdullah in an objectiveand impartial way so that readers are not misled by manufacturing ahagiographic narrative of Sheikh.

Mohammad Ashraf Khwaja and Javid Ahmad Ahanger had theirdoctorates from Aligarh Muslim University

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