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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2680

Sheikh Abdullah: Betrayed by Kashmiris

By J N Rania - Syndicate Features

Time has come to overwhelmingly venerate Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the architect of modern Kashmir, who played a pioneering role in emancipating his people from the shackles of age-old poverty. It is pitiful that a leader of his gargantuan stature, who was incarcerated for nearly 17 years from time to time; who was unbigoted, and who had become a synonym with the toiling masses, should be forgotten. Was he a man of no consequence?

Seeing is believing. I have seen the cell atop Hariparbat fort in Srinagar, where Sheikh Abdullah was imprisoned. One can imagine how difficult it would have been for him to remain erect or stretch his arms. During his boyhood, he was deeply touched by the abject poverty of the toiling Kashmiris, under the prevailing feudal system and autocratic regime of Maharaja Hari Singh.

Kashmiris had remained neglected for centuries during successive monarchial rule. Sir Albion Bannerji, who was on deputation as Maharaja’s adviser in 1929, depicted their condition thus: “Jammu and Kashmir State is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Mahommedan population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions, living in villages and practically governed like dumb-driven cattle.”

When the Sheikh took over as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, following the State’s accession with India, his first task was to ameliorate the lot of Kashmiris on war-footing. Jammu and Kashmir became the first state where land was redistributed among landless, without any compensation to the landholders, in the first major agrarian reforms. Series of reforms of epochal importance followed.

Kashmiris owe him a lot. They are indebted to him. He had undergone numerous sacrifices for the downtrodden. But he has been totally neglected. He was not remembered on September 7, his death anniversary. His 100th birth anniversary on December 5 last, went almost unnoticed.

When the erstwhile Muslim Conference was converted into the National Conference in 1939, and a new leadership emerged under the stewardship of Sheikh Abdullah, it (NC) framed a blueprint titled "aya Kashmir" reflecting the aspirations of 'am admi' It became the magna carta of the NC. The Sheikh made his people politically conscious. The Naya Kashmir movement envisaged a new social order, ensuring opportunities for a 'better and richer life'

These measures had a salutary effect on strengthening the economy of rural masses, constituting about 75 per cent of the state’s population. It was the enactment of these measures, first in Kashmir, that provided a base for the NC. The party is still mass-based, but its leadership is wavering, under the impact of fundamentalists. The hardcore Jamaat-e-Islami, other such splinter groups and its supporters in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have poisoned the mind of the youth force through hate campaign.

Jammu and Kashmir is the only state where per capita income continues to remain the highest, where expenditure on clothing is also the highest and where everybody has a shelter. Sheikh Abdullah once said : “ …After 20 years of freedom, when we see thousands of people hungry and miserable, tears flow down our cheeks…was it for this that we achieved freedom? When I was in detention, I used to weep for the masses of Bihar…” Bihar has remained poor for lack of proper land reforms.

Kashmiris are being led astray by the Hurriyat Conference and PDP of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayed, making them to believe that ‘azadi’ or merger with Pakistan is round-the-corner. But that is never going to happen, the Kashmiris need to understand. No government in New Delhi can approve or countenance it. Kashmiris are being beguiled that if they resort to mass agitations, face bullets, imprisonment, or indulge in day-long sloganeering, ‘azadi’ is in the offing.

Holding talks with separatists is a democratic process. It cannot be taken as weakness or meekness of the Centre. Kashmir can never secede. Sheikh Abdullah knew it very well. Those misleading people are non-entities, in comparison to Sheikh Abdullah. The Hurriyat and those who support it want to bring back slavery in the subcontinent. If Kashmir falls, imperialists are bound to take control of the entire subcontinent. They should see what is happening in Pakistan.

The Kashmir leader had dominated half a century of Indian politics. He confronted fundamentalists and kept them at bay till his last breath. In his death on September 7, 1982, Kashmiris had lost ‘their father’. That was the refrain of over a million of mourners, who thronged his funeral procession from dawn to dusk. But intriguingly enough, his death anniversary was greeted with black flags and burning of his effigies, during the early years of militancy. Or even now, the response of the ungrateful people remains the same.

The youth has been brainwashed by the fundamentalists. The NC lacks interest to eulogize the Sheikh’s ideology of socialism and secularism. The Sher-i-Kashmir - lion of Kashmir- as he was popularly called, was numero uno to the millions of Kashmiris. He never betrayed them, but the present generation has.

The Sheikh had rendered a yeoman service for the cause of secularism. He had projected a secular alternative to the two-nation theory, on the basis of which Pakistan was created. He saw social change and secularism as Kashmir’s bridge with India. His NC played a crucial role, along with the India Army, in pushing back the tribal raiders, aided by Pakistan, when they were about to grab Srinagar.

The Sheikh saved Kashmir from the jaws of death and destruction in the face of Pakistan’s aggression in 1947. He had advocated that ‘progress and affluence of Kashmiris is linked with India…’.

The Sheikh had said: "arguments which justify Kashmir's accession to India are overwhelming. … India is a secular State; so has the NC decided to make Kashmir. India is rich and can buy Kashmiri goods. Even from the religious point of view, the best that is in Islam, in this subcontinent, is in India and not in Pakistan…."

According to former Foreign Minister V K Krishna Menon, "the reality is that the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the entire territory over which the former Maharaja ruled, is a Constituent State of the Union of India, …. It will continue to remain despite invaders, subversions, saboteurs, do-gooders, honest brokers, interventionists, imperialists and others, knaves or fools".

After remaining in "political wilderness" for 22 years, Sheikh Abdullah had accepted the realities of the situation, renounced the slogan of self-determination, plebiscite and the demand for restoration of the 1953 status of the state. And declared the "future of Jammu and Kashmir lies with India."

- Asian Tribune -

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