Wednesday, July 12, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Vajpayee invites CM for talks
Farooq’s mother laid to rest

Tribune News Service

SRINAGAR, July 11 — The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, today formally invited the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, for talks in New Delhi.

This was disclosed by the Prime Minister in reply to questions at the Hazratbal shrine here this evening. The Prime Minister had gone there after paying floral tributes to Madr-e-Meharban who was laid to rest by the side of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on the banks of the Dal Lake near Hazratbal here this evening. The Prime Minister was accompanied by the Union Home Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, and the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, on his visit here to condole the Chief Minister and his family members on the death of his mother, Begum Akbar Jehan, who passed away here this morning.

“There are many things to talk”, Mr Vajpayee told the mediapersons in reply to a question about what would be discussed as the Cabinet had rejected the resolution on autonomy. He said the dialogue would continue. When asked why the resolution was rejected outrightly, Mr Vajpayee said there was nothing like outrightly rejecting it. However, there were a variety of reasons for not accepting it.

When the reporters sought the reaction of the Chief Minister, who was present, about the invitation, he said, “Yes, I have been formally invited to New Delhi for talks” and added that he would be going to the Capital on July 15 to discuss autonomy. Before proceeding to Delhi for talks, he said, the National Conference working committee would meet in Srinagar in the morning.

The meeting of the working committee that remained inconclusive today could not be held today due to the death of Madr-e-Meharban.

On being asked about the significance of the Prime Minister being taken to the Hazratbal shrine, the Chief Minister said, “You must know, Hazratbal is a religious and political centre. Therefore, his visit has political and religious significance”.

Earlier, the Prime Minister, Mr Advani, Mr Fernandes, the Governor, Mr Girish Chander Saxena, and other senior officers of the civil and police administration were present at the burial function held at Naseem Bagh.

Begum Akbar Jehan passed away here this morning, 18 years after the death of her husband, Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. She was 84.

The end came at her Gupkar residence at 10 a.m. today. She died of cardiac arrest.

At the time of her death her eldest son, Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, was away in Reasi to attend a passing out parade. Other family members, including two sons, Dr Mustafa Kamal, Minister for Industries and Commerce, and Mr Tariq Abdullah, daughters Khalida Shah and Surayya Mattoo and sons-in-law, former Chief Minister Ghulam Mohammad Shah and Mr A.M. Mattoo were by her side.

The Chief Minister rushed back cancelling all engagements. The state government declared a one-day state mourning and ordered the closure of all government offices today.

As the news of Begum Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s demise spread, ministers, legislators, leaders of various political parties and social organisations and a stream of people started pouring at her Gupkar Road residence.

Born in 1916, Begum Sahiba was a freedom fighter, social reformer and parliamentarian who carved out a place for herself in the socio-political life of Jammu and Kashmir. Her ability to mobilise people came to the fore during the Quit Kashmir Movement and subsequently when her husband was in prison.

In 1946-47 she came out of the confines of her home and visited villages to light the lamp of hope in the hearts of the oppressed people and remained by the side of bereaved families of martyrs.

Coming from a Gujjar family, she married Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1933. She became a household name when people under the leadership of Sher-e-Kashmir launched a struggle against the autocratic rule then. When the Sheikh was behind the bars during the Maharaja’s rule, it was she who received Mahatama Gandhi at Soura, Srinagar, when the latter visited Kashmir in 1947.

Mahatma Gandhi’s prayer meeting in Srinagar would begin only with the recitation of the Quran by Madr-e-Meharban.

Her role in providing the healing touch to the victims during the traumatic 1947-48 period was commendable. She organised the Red Cross and provided the much-needed help to the victims besides playing a significant role in rescuing and rehabilitating abducted women.

Her efforts were appreciated by one and all. Lady Edwina Mountbatten had a special word of appreciation for her. Her role in the uplift of Gujjar and Bakerwal communities will be always remembered.

Her political acumen came to the fore in 1971 when she canvassed for an Independent candidate, Shamim Ahmad Shamim, against former Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad in the prestigious Srinagar parliamentary constituency.

After the Indira-Sheikh accord in 1975, she was elected to the Lok Sabha from south Kashmir.

She dominated the social life in Kashmir for over half a century. She remained closely associated with Markazve-Behbood-e-Khawateen (Women’s Welfare Centre), Miskeen Bagh.

Born in the family of Michael Harry Nedu, a European settler, who converted to Islam. She passed Senior Cambridge in 1933. Brought up in a religious atmosphere under the influence of her mother, she evinced interest in religious teachings even while in Missionary Convent College, Murree (now in Pakistan). She took lessons in the Quran and Hadeeth at home.


Demise mellows moods in NC
From M.L. Kak
Tribune News Service

JAMMU, July 11 — In her death, Begum Akbar Jahan, popularly called Madre Mehrbaan (kind mother), wife of Sheikh Abdullah, who ruled the hearts of people for over 50 years, warded off dark clouds hovering over the 62-year-old National Conference which was to decide whether to pull out of the NDA or not today.

The executive committee of the National Conference was scheduled to meet at 4 pm today to resume discussions on its future stand on the Union Cabinet’s rejection of the resolution on greater autonomy adopted by the state legislature.

The issue was discussed yesterday but the party President, Dr Farooq Abdullah, wanted all 31 members to voice their opinion on the matter.

Reports emanating from the National Conference quarters had indicated that a majority of the executive committee members were in favour of snapping alliance with the NDA and this controversial issue would have been finalised this evening. But the death of Begum Abdullah has, for the time-being, delayed the decision. Her death has seemingly mellowed tempers of senior NC leaders. This may have a significant bearing on the discussion next week.

Reports from party quarters indicate that several senior NC leaders have started rethinking on their plan to pull out of the NDA in protest against the Union Cabinet’s rejection of the autonomy resolution.

Begum Abdullah was opposed to snapping ties with the NDA. The NC leaders want to respect the wishes of the party’s patron.

Another factor which has diluted the frayed tampers is the signal from Delhi that the autonomy issue can be discussed and instead of a total reversal to the pre-1953 constitutional status, a via media could be found to resolve the conflict between Srinagar and Delhi.

Several NC leaders are touched with the Prime Minister’s condolence message to Dr Abdullah expressing grief and sorrow over the death of his mother. He also visited Srinagar to convey his sorrow.

The demise of Begum Abdullah has changed the minds of several senior NC leaders, including the PWD Minister, Mr Ali Mohhamad Sagar Speaker of the State Assembly, Mr Abdul Ahad Vakil, Law Minister, P.L. Handoo and above all Union Minister of State for Industries and Commerce Omar Abdullah.

At one stage Mr Sagar and Mr Handoo were in favour of snapping ties with the NDA. These leaders are now in a more mellow mood.

Begum Abdullah’s demise has confirmed that the 11-year-long militancy has caused a major change in the political scenario of Kashmir. When Sheikh Abdullah died on September 8, 1982, at least a million Kashmiris bid a tearful farewell to the departed leader. There was no need for elaborate security measures when the Sheikh’s coffin was carried to Hazratbal for a burial. Men, women and children could be seen along the 10-km-long route from Polo Grounds, where the body was kept for the night, to Hazratbal.

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