Understanding Kashmir’s tragic’ hero

Some hold the `tragic hero’ in high esteem and some accuse the `saviour’ of betrayal.
Understanding Kashmir’s tragic’ hero
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Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah passed away on September  8, 1982. A million people attended his funeral. Around ten people died in stampedes en route his eternal abode at Hazratbal.  Eight years later, scores of armed police men arrived at his grave. They had not come to pay their obeisance. They were there to guard the grave from the same people who loved him, respected him and followed him blindly during his lifetime. This is how history punishes those who dare to take people for a ride.

Thirty-five years after his death, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah continues to dominate the political discourse in Jammu Kashmir. He is widely discussed and ridiculed.  Some hold the `tragic hero' in high esteem and some accuse the `saviour' of betrayal. For some he continues to be an inspiration but for some he was a `chicken hearted' and `myopic' leader who `brought misfortune to the people who loved him. As they say history does not forgive  anybody; today we find the `tallest leader' of Kashmir in the witness box. Shall Kashmiris punish him for going against the tide in 1947 and 1975? Or, shall they hail him for showing exemplary courage at times?

It becomes necessary to study; nay rediscover Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah with an open mind to have a better understanding of Kashmir history.

It is widely believed that Sher-e-Kashmir was ditched by government of India in 1953. This chapter of his life has been widely discussed by people across the globe. However it still remains grossly misunderstood.  He is accused of having a truck with government of Pakistan. Some believe that Sheikh resisted New Delhi's onslaught aimed at diluting the special status of Jammu Kashmir. The exact reasons for the August 9 episode were divulged by former member of constituent assembly, Abdul Gani Goni. Gani was a staunch supporter of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. In his address to the constituent assembly he not only opposed the move for ratification of accession but also sought right to secession.  He vehemently sought Sheikh Abdullah's release. However, he later joined Bakshi's bandwagon and became a minister. In an exclusive interview with the author during Amarnath Land Row, he gave the inside story of the August 9 episode. During those days, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was at his best despite facing opposition from his colleagues including Bakshi. Sheikh Abdullah roared and behaved like a lion for the first and last time in his political career.     

Goni 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. During those fateful days, Moulana Azad visited Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah delivered a fiery speech at Hazratbal. Azad also wanted to address the people but Sheikh Abdullah sabotaged the move. A humiliated and angry Azad immediately left for New Delhi. Soon after, Nehru came to tame his friend (Sheikh Abdullah). He was accompanied by his sister and Home Minister Dr Katju. They stayed in the Nehru Guest house. In their presence a meeting of the National Conference working committee was held. The working committee session continued for four days. The meeting discussed  some vital issues pertaining to Kashmir.  A defiant Sheikh told Nehru in clear terms that he and Kashmiris were not happy with state's accession to India. He sought an independent state much to Nehru's annoyance. However, Nehru being a matured politician controlled his anger and urged Sheikh Abdullah to stay patient for some time.    He told Nehru: `I and people of Kashmir are not happy with India. Please leave us alone. We want to remain independent.'

Nehru  reacted politely.  `A park has been named after me in Srinagar. I was under the impression that people from India would come here to enjoy themselves. Any way, if you want to remain independent, I have no objection. I am going to London for a conference. After I return I will talk to you.' Nehru did return from London but not to give independence to Kashmir. He had planned to cage the roaring lion of Kashmir." This incident has been narrated by Goni in his autobiography  Sada-e-Bazgusht on page 54. 

The roar that created a stir in the entire sub-continent did no good to Sheikh Abdullah  and Kashmir. The caged lion fell from grace slowly but surely. Goni unveiled another side of  Sheikh's personality. Goni was the speaker of legislative assembly in 1975. One day he was informed about Sheikh Sahib's arrival in the assembly complex.  Goni narrated the incident. "I greeted Sheikh Sahib. He was dejected. He said, `Show me my room.'  I informed him no room in the complex was meant for him. I further informed him that only Chief Minister can have a room in the assembly complex. I was surprised by his answer. `I want to see that very room.' I was pained to see the lion of Kashmir in such a state of mind. "

Goni paused for a moment. He was going to share a secret. "Before leaving the assembly complex, Sheikh Sahib said, `I have offered enough sacrifices. I cannot offer more.' I shook hands with him and watched him leave the complex amid shock and utter disbelief."     

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