Freedom Files: Curious case of Sheikh Abdullah

The dawn that many have been looking for under the brown fog in winter has escaped us in Kashmir. Like plankton which keeps to itself, for fear of being gobbled up, Kashmiris in the early years stayed aloof. Among the many attempts at peace and tranquility, a hitherto never revealed secret note that Pakistan sent via Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed to Sheikh Abdullah presents startling contours on what was planned behind India's back. Back channel conduits were being used for an elusive settlement in the first flush of J&K, India’s largest Princely state by size and third richest by revenues, acceding to India. The vexatious issue of Kashmir (Kashmir Valley) has been viewed as the unfinished business of Partition by Pakistan for 70 years. While many attempts have been made to win it militarily and through a sustained proxy-waged ‘death by a thousand cuts’ doctrine, Kashmir remains an integral part of India. Equally, back channels have tried to find solutions; some came close, others failed with their formulas. India continues to hold moral, constitutional and territorial rights over the state, now materially truncated from its original October 26, 1947 form and shape.  

Original given to Ghulam Mohammed for his approval today at 2 P.M. with “Formula for Minority Charter.” One copy for Jamshed Mehta (also called the Father of KarachI).

 

Sd/-.

Bristol Hotel

Room 21, Karachi

20.2.48 (5 P.M.)

 

The main point of contact between the two Dominions is that both agree to let the plebiscite decide the ultimate issue in Kashmere. It appears however that the main difference between the two Dominions is how to carry out the said plebiscite.

The following method is suggested for the purpose:-

(i) To allow the Maharaja to remain strictly as a Constitutional Monarch.

(ii) To allow Sheikh Abdullah to be Premier with restrictions under certain important issues involved.

(iii) A Deputy Premier be appointed by the Pakistan Government from the other native leaders in Kashmere.

(iv) To create an interim Cabinet. The Cabinet will consist in addition to the Premier and Deputy Premier, other Ministers, equal number to be elected by each Dominion. The Cabinet will function temporarily for ordinary day to day routine administration only, allowing the unsettled population to return to their respective places in Kashmere, giving them reasonable time.

(v) The moot difference of the withdrawal of troops may be adjusted by allowing the troops of either side viz., of the Indian Government and that of the “raiders”, to withdraw up to a particular limit, which may be fixed by common consent, and thus not allow the absolute and entire withdrawal which seems to be the chief point of contention. No Indian troops in Poonch.

(vi) U.N.O. observer and final authority to be U.N.O. Council.

After this plebiscite may be taken up by the Cabinet, making proper arrangements under the supervision of both.

Signed, 

Nawab of Mamdot, CM of West Punjab

As the turmoil continued in Kashmir with India repulsing the raiders and saving large swathes of the state overrun by Jinnah’s marauders, the state of play on the political front was equally fluid. The principal players remained Sheikh Abdullah, the nationalist leader who had chosen India over Jinnah’s theological state of Pakistan. Abdullah himself was unsure of the way forward. As the top secret missive given afore reveals, a dialogue continued with Pakistan surreptitiously as his chief emissary Ghulam Mohammed travelled back and forth. The inability of wrapping his head around the complexities arising out of the growing Hindu-Muslim divide between the Jammu and Kashmir divisions were also adding to his administrative misery. Plus, he had a bee in his bonnet about Maharaja Hari Singh who he believed was backing the Hindu movement ensconced in Jammu. Sidetracked by these issues, he appeared under stress. By May 17, 1949 with the war and its skirmishes dominant despite the UN cease fire declaration on January 1, 1949, Abdullah decided to address crucial issues. 

In a famous rebuttal to all the conspiracy theories doing the round in that climate, he opened up on a whole host of problems that beset him and Kashmir.

SHEIKH'S REBUTTAL

“Unfortunately,  there are elements in India, which still doubt the bona fides of the people of Kashmir. This may be done consciously or otherwise, but the fact remains that it damages our cause. We have to fight not only Muslim communalism but Hindu communalism, too, not only in Pakistan but in India as well. We have learnt at a very heavy cost what dangers and destruction to society this communalism means, and, if we remain blind to its consequences again, we are betraying the great ideal, betraying the people and the cause we represent, and this will again lead to disastrous consequences. We must, therefore, with determination, fight all such elements wherever they are. It is they who create difficulties in the way of the people of Kashmir. Though I am sure that they will not succeed, but discretion is always better.”

 “In view of what I have said above, it is absurd to say that Kashmir still thinks of any other alternative, so far as the question of accession is concerned. What we want is peace and prosperity for our people. Independence may be and is a charming idea. But, as I have said before, is it practical too? Has it got necessary sanctions and guarantees, and can a small country like Kashmir, with its limited resources, maintain it? Or, are all the countries concerned in a proper political temper, at the present moment, to give their willing and sincere assent to it or, by only after a formal declaration of independence, shall we not be making Kashmir a victim of some unscrupulous and powerful country? That will be a gruesome betrayal of the cause we have stood for, for all these years, and, therefore, these and similar other considerations make the alternative of independence, not only theoretical and academic but also meaningless. In that sense and spirit, I have a number of times before discussed this question with several journalists. It is in this context that those views should be read and understood. 

There are some elements, who are subtly disseminating the idea of division of Kashmir. Again, they think on the lines of Hindu and Muslim majority areas. This is equally mischievous and dangerous, and those who advocate it are not only playing in the hands of our enemies, but …………..

For some time past I have noticed some controversy going on in the press about Kashmir’s reported desire to remain independent. Who does not know that Kashmir is passing through a very critical stage and any mis-handling of grave issues might cause her irreparable damage?

The National Conference has always, and during the past decade particularly, given positive proof of its alliances outside Kashmir and has not only vociferously expressed her choice between the two Dominions but has, while expressing the will of the people, sacrificed and struggled against heavy odds for linking up the 4 million people of Kashmir with their 300 million brethren in India. This alliance and link-up is not artificial, nor based on any arbitrary consideration, or sentimental factors. It is the community of the ideologies and the goal of having secular democracy, established in our country, fighting with grim resolve exploitation of man by man, that constitutes the corner-stone of our friendship and alliance with the people of India. We have fought times out of number the pernicious two-nation theory, which sets man against brother-man, divides people into hostile camps and warring elements, and, thereby, weakens then and perpetuates exploitation. This consciousness of the danger and steadfast adherence to our ideal always urged us to fight the Muslim League ideology, and to stand against Pakistan, which represents theocratic state. Even when India and Pakistan agreed to divide the country on the basis of Hindu and Muslim majority areas, Kashmir stood fast by the ideal of secular democracy, and, notwithstanding the fact that it is a Muslim majority area, it made her choice for India. Again, at the time of Pakistan-engineered attack on Kashmir, when the Administration there had completely collapsed and when no power on earth could have stopped Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, if she so desired, the National Conference with all her organizational might rose to a man, resisted attack, refused to go to Pakistan, and not only saved Kashmir from physical extermination and ideological suicide, but also vindicated the great ideal for which Mahatma Gandhi stood. Need the National Conference and the people of Kashmir give any further proof of their firmness for the ideal they have chosen for themselves? Recently, during its Srinagar convention, she reiterated her faith in accession to India.

 ………..are stabbing Kashmir behind the back. We shall have to fight such elements, too, and I am sure that Kashmir does not lack mass sympathy in India ready to fight all her enemies, whatever shape or form these enemies may assume for the moment.

 

Sd/-

Sheikh Abdullah

New Delhi

May 17, 1949

 

TOP SECRET

d.o.NO : PM/1/49 Jammu, the 3rd January, 1949

Now that the ceasefire agreement has been concluded, we must think of the next big step, namely, the plebiscite and the platform on which it will have to be fought. One of the main planks of the so-called Azad Kashmir leaders will be the liquidation of the Maharaja’s rule in Kashmir. There is already propaganda on foot in this direction. The slogan, ‘+Down with Dogra rule’ will immediately catch the public imagination as the ruling dynasty has made itself thoroughly disliked by the people at large. To at least a great majority of them, the Maharaja is the symbol of their slavery. No amount of arguments on the part of the National Conference people that he is now only the Constitutional Head of the State will appeal. Indeed, in campaigns of this type, it is not logic that counts but slogans, and there is no answer to a telling slogan. The National Conference Party has itself advocated the elimination of the Maharaja’s autocratic authority. It cannot possibly appear before the public as an apologist of the Maharaja. Any attitude on the part of the National Conference in support of the Maharaja will place it in a completely false position. Moreover, I have no hopes of persuading either my colleagues in the Working Committee or the general rank and file of the party to take up an attitude friendly to the Maharaja.

2. In my letter to you in June, 1948, I had explained at some length the difficulties which I, my Government and the National Conference were facing in regard to the Maharaja. I pointed out that his departure from Srinagar in October 1947, whatever might have been the justification for it, had produced a most unfavourable impression upon the people. His arrival in Jammu synchronized with a mad orgy of killings. Rightly or wrongly people believed that these mass killings of Muslims were inspired by the Maharaja and those near him. You may remember that Gandhiji also spoke rather strongly on this point. I then urged that either an impartial enquiry should be held to locate responsibility or that he should go. I realize the difficulties in adopting the former course, but did not, and to this date do not, understand the hesitation of the Government in adopting the alternative. The plebiscite issue will bring up this question very forcibly before the people and, as I have already stated, I cannot carry the Party with me even if I were to attempt to persuade them to let bygones be bygones and allow the Maharaja to continue as a Constitutional Head. I myself feel, and feel strongly, that he should go. How can I then, lacking myself the conviction, try to persuade my colleagues in the Party or the people to accept the Maharaja?

3. If we are to face the Azad Kashmir campaign against the Maharaja and the dynasty, we must also be prepared to urge its liquidation. Indeed, we should not even give the enemy an opportunity to raise the slogan. The liquidation of the dynasty and all that it stands for appears, therefore, an indispensible preliminary to our campaign in favour of Accession to India.

4. At the same time, my colleagues and I appreciate the arguments that may be urged in support of a different point of view. It may be stated that the elimination of the dynasty cannot be done at the behest of Party, however, popular. It should be the act of the people as a whole through a duly elected Constituent Assembly. It may be said that the monarchical sentiments of a considerable section of the Hindu population in the State would be gravely offended and that the Hindus as a whole would oppose any suggestion that the dynasty should quit. My own assessment is that Hindu sentiment in the State is not pro-Maharaja, as the present Maharaja has made himself uniformly disliked by all classes of people in the State. Even so, I appreciate that unless the duly elected representatives of the Hindus have had an opportunity of expressing themselves on this matter, one may not, without question, assume that the great majority of them would welcome this step. There is again the point of view likely to be urged in India that if the Nizam is to be maintained, the Maharaja of Kashmir should also be retained. I have made no secret of my view that both the Maharaja and the Nizam should go. The people of Kashmir would feel as happy as the people of Hyderabad at the elimination of the Nizam. In any case, the case of Kashmir is different. We have to win a plebiscite here. Then, again, it may be said one must take into account the possible reactions of the Princely class as a whole. This, I believe, will not, thanks to your achievement in the matter of consolidation of the States and their regrouping and the instruction of responsible government in the States, present any serious difficulty. The Princes, at least the wiser among them, see the writing on the wall and will not grumble too much. We are however prepared to recognize fully any possible difficulties which the Government of India may have in supporting our proposal for the abolition of the dynasty. At the same time the Government of India should also recognize that the present Maharaja is an utter liability; he must go and soon. A possible compromise, therefore, seems to be the abdication of the Maharaja in favour of his son and an announcement by the new Maharaja or the Government of India or both that the future of the Institution of the Maharaja-ship would be decided by the Constituent Assembly, which would be set up to frame the Constitution for the State. This solution, while preserving the dynasty for the time being and thus respecting any possible objections that might be raised either within the State or outside, would also meet our point of view in that the present Maharaja would go, and we would get a clear recognition of the principle that whether there should be a Maharaja or not would be a matter to be decided by the people through their duly elected Constituent Assembly. Further, the new Maharaja, will start with a clean slate. We can go to the people and tell them that the sins of the father should not be visited on the new Maharaja, and that in any case, should they so choose, they could abolish the institution. This seems to me to be the absolute minimum that should be done in the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. As part of this set-up, the present Maharaja, the Maharani, and his entourage must go out. I would say, out of India as well. Allowing him to stay anywhere in India would only be creating headaches for the Government of India, as he would start inevitably blackening us and promoting reactionary activity.

5. Along with this change, the other outward symbol of the Maharaja’s authority should also vanish. 

The most hated instrument of the Maharaja’s rule is the Army, composed as it is, almost exclusively of one particular section of the community in the State and even of outsiders belonging to that clan. I have repeatedly asked that the Army should be transferred to the administrative control of the Ministry. That request was not, unfortunately, agreed to. Instead a compromise solution, namely, transferring the Army to the control of the Government of India during the period of the emergency was adopted. Now that fighting has ceased the question would inevitably be asked as to what the future of the army is going to be. So long as the present composition of the Army is allowed to be retained and its control remains with an agency other than the Ministry, people would just shrug their shoulders and say that the essential elements of the Maharaja’s autocracy are still intact and that the responsible Government which we are enjoying is a moonshine which can be made to disappear at the sweet will of the Maharaja.” 

The apocalyptic messages actually undermined Sheikh Abdullah’s own authority for these were the fervent pleadings of a vanquished man. The adroit Sardar knew that and while he dealt with the issue subsequently by getting Hari Singh to abdicate and leave the state for good and retained Regent Karan Singh as Sardar -i-Riyasat, he knew that the slippery-as-an-eel Sheikh was going to remain a trouble maker. For Sheikh, Sardar knew that there was a fine line between calculation and deceit. Obsessed with the Maharaja and what he claimed was his dubious role in the Jammu rioting, he remained the tin can around his tail. A hobby horse which he couldn't quite shrug off. Even after Hari Singh’s departure, Sheikh Abdullah could never come to terms with the Praha Parishad started by RSS activist Balkan Madhok in Jammu and their activities. The widening chasm between Hindu Jammu and Muslim Kashmir finally became his bête noire and this idée fixe consumed him, leading to his arrest in 1953 as he began to flirt with the idea of an Eastern Switzerland.

@sandeep_bamzai