Kashmir – the Lion caged

With Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah behind the bars, the Constituent Assembly ratified the State’s accession to India in February 1954 with protests from Pakistan and other countries in United Nations. Pakistan started violating the cease fire and a number of clashes were reported in 1955. In the same year on 09 August, Mirza Afzal Beg, a close confidant of Sheikh Abdullah,  who  got estranged later when Sheikh came to power in 1975, established a new party called Plebiscite Front. Sheikh Abdullah was detained upto 8 January 1958 without trial. He was released and rearrested on 22 April 1958 along with Afzal Beg and other workers on account of ‘Kashmir Conspiracy Case’. The case was later withdrawn unilaterally and Abdullah released in 1964.

The continued detention of Sheikh Abdullah re-established him as ‘Lion of Kashmir’ and everytime he was released, men and women old and invalid lined up the streets of Srinagar past midnight singing welcome songs in Kashmiri and seeking a glimpse of their beloved leader. One could notice something magnetic in his personality that despite his deviation from the path that Kashmiri Muslims would have liked him to follow, people loved him and followed him passionately and blindly. Notwithstanding these demonstrative acts, one important character of Kashmiri Muslims has to be recognized viz. after the grand show of emotional frenzy on such occasions they would simply shut themselves up, fall into routine  and would not carry on a determined or sustained movement whatsoever in his absence to prove their determination and devotion to the cause held so dear by their leader. They would instead flock to the house of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, the then Prime Minister (as Chief Minister used to be called those days), seeking contracts, doles and other favours. In this connection Bakshi was once questioned as to who was the leader of Kashmiris  to which he replied, “In the morning till office starts Sadiq Saheb (Being fresh and  intellectually oriented), from 10 to 4 Bakshi Saheb (Being Government employees and others dependent on Government doles) and after 4 o’clock Sheikh Saheb (Being at leisure in coffee houses and other meeting places and politically oriented). The Central Government simply turned a deaf ear to the sighs of Kashmiris against the tyrannies perpetrated by the new regime and extended blind support to the excesses of local rulers which made the Kashmiris believe that it was in fact the Centre which was behind all this.

In 1955, Khrushchev and Bulganin from USSR visited India and were accorded a great welcome in Kashmir which in addition to impressing them laid the foundations of long Indo-Soviet friendship besides USSR declaring Kashmir as an integral part of India. As regards Bakshi, he was a past master in organising such events which portrayed ‘All is Well’ with J&K. I remember my history teacher used to say that there were in fact two parts of Kashmir, one from Airport to Nehru guest house called the Nehru’s Kashmir, rich and vibrant,  and the other being the poor man’s Kashmir devoid of all the basic necessities of life. Nevertheless, subsidies in respect of food items continued and money flowed from New Delhi which went mostly into non-productive channels and was mostly cornered by politicians and bureaucrats besides the contractors who were related to them.

By hindsight one doubts the rationality of judgement to arrest Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah in 1953 being the  maiden mistake on the part of the Central Government. Similar situations arose in non-Congress states later on like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra  and Kerala, but by the time Central Government had learnt its lessons how to deal with such situations though it faltered again in respect of Punjab in 1980’s. Perhaps a better understanding and more moderate action in Kashmir could have sufficed.

Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed brought stability to the Government at a time when it was most needed and despite leakage of finances on account of rampant corruption and nepotism, J&K State did witness a steady progress in regard to development of roads and tourism; implementation of agricultural reforms, spread of education, and development of handicrafts, art and culture. Yet he could not earn absolute loyalty and allegiance of Kashmiri people and faced their wrath during loss of Holy Relic at a time when his puppet Government was in place. Bakshi was removed under the Kamraj Plan on 4 October 1963 when Nehru was forced to replace many corrupt Chief Ministers in the country. Commenting on his rule, P N Bazaz says, “He was blown off with his own petrad. The house of Cards built by him with fabulous wealth of India and the blood and tears of the Kashmiris came down with one gust of public resentment.”

During the winter of 1963-4, the holy relic of Prophet Mohammed installed in Hazratbal Dargah was reported missing. Whole Kashmir was up in arms with a sense of deep resentment and anguish. Everyday processions used to be carried out all over the valley especially in Srinagar with people grieving, lamenting, crying, and beating their breasts. However, other communities also sympathised with their Muslim brethren and no communal tension whatsoever was noticed during the long agitation. The uprising took its toll in the shape of removal of  Shamusuddin, who had been placed by Bakshi as a puppet at the time of his  own exit in order to continue holding control over the state. Shamsuddin was immediately replaced by Khwaja Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq, one of the best administrator-politicians J&K state has ever seen. A socialist at heart, he proved to be a liberal democrat with a high degree of tolerance and patience and restored peace and tranquillity in the state  besides marginalising Sheikh’s influence by withdrawing Kashmir conspiracy Case against him  on 29 February 1964 and setting him free in April 1964.

In May 1964, Sheikh Abdullah went to Pakistan on behest of Nehru with a proposal for confederation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir but as ill luck would have it Nehru breathed his last before the proposal could come to the fruition stage. Field Marshall Ayub Khan claimed to have scoffed the idea of confederation in his autobiography which seems to be an afterthought. In February 1965 Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah alongwith his wife and Mirza Afzal Beg left for the holy pilgrimage of Mecca and used this opportunity to attend the Afro-Asian conference in Algiers besides meeting Chou en Lai , the chinese premier who is reported to have assured him his support. As a retalliatory measure,the Indian Government had to cancel his passport. However, Abdullah returned home instead of accepting Pakistani passport which was offered to him. He was arrested on 8 May at the Delhi Airport and lodged in Ootacamund. Subsequently, Sheikh in an interview to the ‘Foreign Affairs’ maintained that “in the power struggle between India and Pakistan it is the Kashmiris who have suffered the most.” Commenting on the period, Alistair Lamb writes in Crisis in Kashmir-1947-66 (P77), ” a survey of the internal political developments  of Indian Controlled Kashmir over the decade 1954-64 does not, as Indian apologists argue, show within the state an increasing enchantment with the prospect of  union with India.”

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