A discussion about the persons who got killed in the aftermath of on August 9, 1953 episode evoked an interesting discussion the other day. Are they martyrs? The question from one of the participants stunned all. After, some time a feeble voice vouched for the sincerity, dedication and commitment of the deceased. According to him, all of them are martyrs. But there were other opinions as well. Most of the persons believed the killings happened at a time when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah had deviated from the cause and was pursuing Indian agenda. This made them reject their martyrdom.
The episode needs to be understood in its right perspectives. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah's July 13, 1953 speech is very significant. He said, "These martyrs have prepared us for bigger sacrifices to achieve our freedom and our right of self-determination. If required, our youth would not desist from fighting a liberation war on the lines of Algerian people. I regret my mistake of coming in the way of merger with Pakistan. I had fears that they won't treat me well, but I was wrong. Now I feel backstabbed, I no longer trust Indian rulers, we have different ways now."
Abdul Gani Goni, a member of the constituent assembly was a close associate of Sher-e-Kashmir. He strongly resented Sheikh's arrest in the assembly, sought right to secession while opposing ratification of accession. Goni, however, joined Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad and became a minister. In an exclusive interview with the author he gave reasons for 1953 episode.
Goni said: "During those days, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was at his best despite facing severe opposition from his colleagues including Bakshi. It was during these days that Sheikh Sahib roared and behaved like a lion for the first and last time in his political career."
Giving details, he said: "By 1948 Sheikh Sahib had realized his mistake of supporting state's accession with India. He had started dreaming of an independent state and expressed it without any reservations. Jawahar Lal Nehru visited Kashmir immediately after Moulana Azad got humiliated at Hazratbal shrine. Sheikh delivered a fiery speech against India. Azad also wanted to address the people but Sheikh did not allow him. Nehru's sister and the then Home Minister, Dr Katju accompanied him. Sheikh told Nehru that he wanted to end his relationship with India. He forcefully put forth his views during a meeting of the National Conference working committee which lasted four days. He also made a mention of independent Kashmir. Nehru, his sister and Katju watched the proceedings with keen interest."
So, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah had tendered a public apology for the 1947 mistake. He was flirting with the idea of an independent Kashmir before getting dethroned and arrested. The arrest caused a stir across Kashmir. Thousands of persons got killed. For what? People have to accept a harsh reality. Despite 1947 mistake, people loved Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. And, it was their love for him that brought them out on the streets on the `black day'. If he (Sheikh) had a plan for freedom, it was not shared with the cadres, at least not till August 8. They were totally unaware of what was cooking inside his mind. Therefore, they laid down their lives for a person!
The story of Sheikh's incarceration, release and assuming power in 1975 is a sordid tale of Kashmir history. He observed August 9 as a black day till he lived. He accused the government of India of stabbing him in his back. As a matter of principle, he should not have projected himself as a victim when he had apologised for his mistake and publicly talked of an Algerian type struggle to liberate Kashmir.
The incarceration lasted long and the Sheikh showed signs of breaking down. However, the changing India did not give much importance to him. He was sent to Pakistan but after Nehru's death, the mission was abandoned. India had other `medicines' to digest the Kashmir meal.
According to Goni, Sher-e-Kashmir tried his best to project himself as the victim although this was the only time when he actually behaved and roared like a lion. Coming back to the above discussion, the participants fortunately maintained decency and discipline. Arguments and counter-arguments were put forth but in the end nobody was ready to pass judgement on the hapless souls who got killed protesting Sheikh's dethronement. They unanimously concluded that Allah alone knows whether they are martyrs or not.
The participants, however, noted that they died unsung. The National Conference observed black day ever year but did not ever make a mention of them. Nobody knows exactly how many people got killed on that day and who they were. The National Conference must take up the tedious job of finding out who reddened Kashmir yet again on August 9, 1953.