Sheikh Abdullah was not a democrat: A counter-narrative based on facts

The National Conference (NC) leadership is making a fuss over dropping the Sher-e-Kashmir prefix from the name of the Convention Centre, despite knowing that the administration is meeting its constitutional obligation, mandated by Article 18 of the Indian Constitution

Brig Anil Gupta (retd) Mar 18, 2020

The National Conference (NC) leadership is making a fuss over dropping the Sher-e-Kashmir prefix from the name of the Convention Centre, despite knowing that the administration is meeting its constitutional obligation, mandated by Article 18 of the Indian Constitution. There is no denying the fact that renaming institutions won’t change history, but history cannot be allowed to be distorted to sell a one-sided narrative.

No political personality can escape public scrutiny, irrespective of his/her stature. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah has played a definite role and has a prominent place in the history of Jammu & Kashmir, but all his actions are not above scrutiny. The NC is using the “victim” card to woo the youth by portraying him as a popular, secular and democratic, undisputed leader of the state. 

To claim Sheikh Abdullah to be the epitome of secularism because he rejected Pakistan founder Mohamed Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory is partly true. He did reject Jinnah’s offer,  not because of the two-nation theory, but because he feared he would be overshadowed by political personalities like Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas, whose Muslim Conference (MC) had already joined hands with Jinnah’s Muslim League. He was afraid that he wouldn’t get the prominence as undisputed leader of J&K. The split of the MC and NC virtually divided the state’s Muslims into Kashmiri Muslims led by the Sheikh and the Jammu Muslims led by Abbas.

Abbas, in his autobiography ‘Kashmakash,’ has written about an agreement between him and Abdullah on changing the name and character of the Muslim Conference, which the latter never denied. He wrote, “The ideology of the Indian National Congress would not be taken forward in Jammu and Kashmir by the National Conference. The Muslim League, being the single representative organisation of the Indian Muslims, won’t be opposed at any cost in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Abdullah and his loyalists had agreed to these terms, leaving his secular credentials and those of his NC party questionable. Abdullah’s decision to not allow non-Muslim refugees from POJK, Muzaffarabad in particular, to settle anywhere in Kashmir followed by his insistence on inclusion of Article 370 to safeguard the interests of Kashmiri Muslims, ignoring the sentiments of the Jammu & Ladakh region, whose population and area was much larger than Kashmir, also betray the assertion of him being secular. 

Abdullah rejected the two-nation theory, but, in reality, he wanted a Muslim majority state ruled by him within India. All his subsequent actions till his arrest in1952 point towards that and are well documented and recorded.

If his soul was with India and was not overridden by personal ambitions, then what justifies his continued dialogue with Pakistan? After Abdullah’s release from jail and he sought a royal pardon, a deputation of the Muslim League arrived in Kashmir to hold talks with Abdullah and other Kashmiri leaders. A deputation was sent by the Pakistan government to persuade Sheikh to change his mind and accede to Pakistan, despite knowing that only the Maharaja was legally competent to take such decision.

Abdullah insisted that any discussion on accession could be held only after Kashmir was completely free from Dogra rule. He talked only of Kashmir and not all of J&K. The ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement was not for restoration of democracy but an effort to get rid of a Hindu Dogra ruler by Kashmiri Muslims. Abdullah harboured the idea of becoming a Prime Minister in the Maharaja’s government so that he could take over the reins of the State and make it his ‘Sultanat’ (fiefdom) subsequently. He promised to send Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq for further talks with the Pakistani government. Who authorised him to do that?

Sadiq duly went to Pakistan and met Liaqat Ali Khan and Raja Gazanfar Ali Khan, trusted lieutenants of Jinnah. He was assured that Kashmir would have full internal autonomy if it acceded to Pakistan. Liaqat Ali Khan also sent a letter to Abdullah assuring that Kashmir’s “interests” would get “supreme attention” when the country’s foreign policy is formulated. Abdullah spurned the offer because Liaqat promised to look after Kashmir’s interests and not his  interest, which by now had become his overbearing ambition. He realised that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru will be in a better position to make him realise his ambition than Liaqat Ali or Jinnah.

Even when Maharaja Hari Singh decided to accede to India, Nehru was adamant that issues surrounding Abdullah’s empowerment be settled before dealing with the issue of accession. But for Sardar Vallabbhai Patel’s firmness and Abdullah’s note to Nehru, history may have been different. Subsequent events, Hari Singh’s forced abdication and subsequent exile from J&K in June 1949, speak volumes about Abdullah’s ambition and treachery.

Unfortunately, his enmity and hatred for the Maharaja turned into a hatred for Jammu Dogras, leading to the rise of the Praja Parishad which demanded equality for all three regions and total integration of the State with India.

Abdullah was manipulative and sought autonomy. The Delhi Agreement he signed with Nehru in 1952 ratified Kashmir’s autonomy, restricting its total integration with India, which the other two regions wanted.

The decisions to carve out the Muslim majority districts of Doda and Kargil cannot be termed secular, but contributed to his idea of a greater Muslim Kashmir.

Abdullah can also not be described as a democrat because he rarely believed in democracy. He abhorred opposition and wanted the state to become a single-party state. He crushed his opposition, including the Karra Group in Kashmir or members of Jammu’s Praja Parishad.

NC workers chanted, “One Leader, One Party, One Programme", and put the slogan of “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Itihaad” on the backburner forever. 

The 1951 elections to the Constituent Assembly and the way the elections were conducted to totally annihilate the opposition, mainly the Praja Parishad, by winning 75 out of 75 seats can never be termed as democratic. Once Abdullah began to show his true colours, Nehru, his closest ally, ordered his arrest.

After returning to power in 1975, Abdullah authored the Public Safety Act (PSA) against opposition and resistance. Abdullah the autocrat again prevailed over the democrat. Dynastic succession is not part of democracy. But Abdullah didn’t hesitate to hand over the reins of power to his son Farooq Abdullah, throwing out the claims of other deserving leaders in the NC who had helped him nurture the party.

I have attempted to present facts that may not be known to the state’s youth, lest they get carried away by the one-sided narrative being sold by the NC leadership. Sheikh Abdullah can best be described as a tall Kashmiri leader but certainly not the undisputed leader of all J&K.

(The author is a Jammu based veteran, political and strategic analyst)