Kashmir – Return of the Lion

After witnessing the might of India in the Bangladesh war, the Lion of Kashmir felt he was roaring in wilderness and nothing could stop the determination and fortitude of Indira Gandhi. He thought it prudent to explore a common meeting ground and responded favourably to the overtures of Indian government to settle the differences amicably. These efforts resulted into Beg-Parthasarthy talks which culminated into Sheikh Abdullah’s return to power as Chief Minister of J&K State (though not as Prime Minister of J&K State) after the Delhi Accord was signed on 24 February 1975.

The period from 9 August 1953 to 24 February 1975 is regarded ‘as the darkest patch of Kashmir History’ by Jagmohan (My Frozen Turbulence). In order to placate the people of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah claimed to have won back the pre-1953 position but the same remains a dream till date except for minor reversal in some policies of the Government. I remember a not-so-educated old man quipping in to seek answer to his question during a hot intellectual debate in the Coffee House at Regal Chowk immediately after the signing of the Agreement,” Even if we believe Sheikh to have made the Indian Government agree to the pre-1953 position, but having seen how Sikkim was annexed, what is the guarantee under international law that the same will not be reversed tomorrow when Sheikh will not be there?” Result was that all those on the table started groping for the answer. The grapevine has it that Sheikh Abdullah had become envious of Kashmiris especially his former colleagues after seeing the wealth accumulated by them  in the name of development while he and his family was left in lurch.

The National Conference was revived on 13 April 1975 and the Plebiscite Front was dissolved on 5 July 1975. Sheikh Abdullah was, however, batting on a wet wicket since he depended upon the Congress support in the legislature where they commanded a majority. He started with a big bang, cleaning up the corrupt administration, seeking accountability and demanding justice for poor but could neither find genuine honest Officers to replace the one’s who were removed by him nor find his own followers toe the line since they had been starved of power for 22 long years.  The consternation caused as a result and the difference in ways of working compelled the Congress to withdraw support on 16 March 1977 and impose governor’s rule on 17 March 1977 which made Sheikh Abdullah stand face to face with the electoral realities. A similar pattern was seen in the case of Laldenga who was made Chief Minister of Mizoram on his surrender after a long armed struggle to free Mizoram from Indian yoke. It may be believed that intentions to rope in vocal secessionists like  Abdullah , Laldenga or Longowal may have been sincere on the part of Congress rulers yet signing pacts with them and crowning them as Chief Ministers without due election process legitimized their past activities besides providing incentives to others to come to power through rants of sedition. Later on, removing them treacherously on flimsy grounds created a sense of disbelief and anarchy. Notwithstanding, Sheikh Abdullah backed by his personal grandeur and rapport with the masses, thumped back to the centre stage of power and politics in J&K State this time without any crutches winning 44 out of 76 seats with Janta having won 13 and congress only 11. Failure on the hustings would have eclipsed his political career for ever.It is in this context that Abdul Gani Lone, a leader from North Kashmir once said,”Even the Colonial powers do not ditch their people the way India does.”

The game of Congress boomeranged and it brought Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah back to power backed by his demagogic skills, old games and antics. During the elections a pre-1953 euphoria had again been created and accession to India questioned. Sheikh yet again called for the right to self-determination for Kashmiris and called upon the people to prove elections as ‘a test of the cause he stood for all his life’. Kashmiris meekly obliged. Fortune came to his help in the shape of Morarji Desai who ensured a free and fair elections for the first and the only time in J&K State. Mass participation was witnessed in the elections with old invalid men and women driven in hand carts to the election booths besides enthusiastic youth and old and young women in burqas lining up outside the election booths to cast their votes. Prior to this only once  had I witnessed a tough electoral battle between Shamim Ahmed Shamim, a candidate backed by Mrs Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, erstwhile Chief Minister for the Srinagar seat of Member of Parliament where the people participated  whole heartedly and felt emotionally connected and defeated the haughty Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed. Morarji, however, wisely did not align himself with National Conference and instead roped in the only dissident Pro-Pak leader Maulvi Farooq, heir of Maulvi Mohammed Yousuf Shah of Muslim Conference who had migrated to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and brought him into the mainstream of national politics by establishing Janata Party in the State under his leadership. Later on Congress reversed this policy and resorted to the same old ways of stifling the opposition in the valley.

On his return to power on 9 July 1977, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, took certain decisions which invited criticism at all levels. He withdrew cases against 30 hardcore militants of Al Fatah group involved in subversive activities during early 60’s, and introduced a controversial bill for resettlement of displaced Kashmiris who had settled in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or Pakistan and were keen on returning to Kashmir. The cumulative effect of the bill was comprehended to help increase the Kashmiri Muslim majority in the State to the disadvantage of other regions like Jammu and Ladakh populated by Dogra Hindus and Budhists. This opened the Pandora’s box again.

Earlier, G M Sadiq during his rule had released Sheikh Abdullah, withdrawn the case against him and left him to himself. Abdullah was allowed to move freely wherever he wanted and over a period of time his popularity had waned. Looking on hind sight it is noticed that Indira Gandhi, incensed with her success in Bangladesh war, resurrected a dead lion and brought him back to life only to prowl and roar again in the mazes of Kashmir valley winning back the gullible Kashmiris. But this time, it was a different Lion, a Lion with a hurt pride, nursing wounds inflicted upon him by the ringmasters in Delhi. His moves now were calculated and mature and in due course he ensured perpetuation of dynastic rule by gradually eliminating his old, trusted  and loyal companions.

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