THIS ABOVE ALL
Sheikh wanted a neutral Kashmir
If we have
to name a Muslim who was the touchstone to test the secular
pretensions of India, without doubt it would be Sheikh Abdullah.
Not Maulana Azad, Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi), Asaf Ali
or any other, but only Sheikh Sahib, popularly known as the Lion
of Kashmir. I had the privilege of meeting him many times, being
instrumental in publishing the English translation of his
autobiography, Aatish-i-Chinar (Viking). I also had the
privilege of meeting his gracious wife, Begum Akbar Jahan
(affectionately known as Madar-e-meherban, or kindly
mother, and Madar-e-millat, or mother of the community)
and his daughter Sourayya, and her daughter Nyla Ali Khan.
I also met his
eldest son, Farooq Abdullah, who later became Chief Minister of
Jammu and Kashmir. I assumed I knew all that was worth knowing
about Sheikh sahib. I was wrong. There were many gaps in my
information. They have been filled by reading the thoroughly
researched biography written by Ajit Bhattacharjea, Sheikh
Mohammed Abdullah: Tragic Hero of Kashmir, published
recently by Lotus (Roli).
Sheikh Abdullah was disillusioned with Nehru’s inability to crush Hindu fundamentalism.
data should be kept in mind when judging Sheikh sahib’s
career. He was born in 1904 in Sayra village, now a suburb of
Srinagar. His father was of Gujjar stock engaged in the weaving
and marketing of Pashmina shawls. They were well off and devout
Muslims following the Sufi tradition of looking upon people of
other faiths with respect and more inclined to worship at
shrines of Sufi saints than mosques.
started with a maktab (school), where he memorised suras
of the Koran. He was endowed with a rich melodious voice
and much sought after in religious gatherings to chant verses
from the holy book. This quality became a great asset when he
addressed mammoth gatherings of Muslims. From the maktab he went
to a school and then to college in Srinagar, Lahore and Aligarh,
and passed his M.Sc exam.
Back in Srinagar,
he could not get a job he deserved with his qualification. Good
jobs were monopolised by Pandits and Dogras. Muslims had to be
content with whatever remained. Abdullah took up teaching at a
measly salary. His fortunes turned when he married Akbar Jahan
in 1933. He was a strapping 6-feet-4-inch-tall, handsome young
man. She was the beautiful daughter of the owner of Nedous
Hotel, an Austrian, Harry Nadou, who had converted to Islam to
marry a Gujjar beauty.
information, which is of interest, is that Akbar Jahan had been
earlier married to TE Lawrence of the British Intelligence in
Lahore. He was the author of the classic Seven Pillars of
Wisdom. He had organised the Arab rebellion against
Ottomans, was captured by them and brutally sodomised. He was a
homosexual. After a few months he agreed to divorce Akbar Jahan.
Her marriage to
Abdullah was happy one. They had five children, of whom Farooq
was the eldest. Sheikh Abdullah was greatly impressed by the
writings of Allama Iqbal and views of Jinnah till they came out
in support of the two-nation theory. He was convinced that
religion should not divide people. In Kashmir he stood for
Kashmiriyat, comprising Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. He came to
admire Nehru and Gandhi.
His view on the
future of Kashmir was to make it a neutral state like
Switzerland with both India and Pakistan guaranteeing its
autonomy. An Urdu couplet sums up his ideals: Farishtey bhee
aiyein to ijaazat say aayeein; yeh meyra vaatan hai, koee jannat
nahin hai (Even if angels want to come, they get my
permission before they come. This is my homeland, not just a
kind of paradise).
convictions were put to test when the British agreed to leave
India. Jinnah and a majority of the Muslims wanted a country of
their own. Gandhi, Nehru and Azad and other Congress leaders
reluctantly agreed to a division, hoping it would be peaceful.
Maharaja Hari Singh hoped to retain his hold on his dominions as
a sovereign state without acceding either to India or Pakistan.
At this critical juncture Indian leaders were sharply divided
over the fate
On one side was
Sardar Patel, Home Minister. On his side were the maharaja, his
Home Minister, Ram Chand Kak, Mehr Chand Mahajan and B.N.
Mullick, head of the Intelligence Bureau. All of them distrusted
Abdullah. Matters came to a head when Pathan tribesmen aided by
Pakistan invaded Kashmir, plundering and ravaging towns through
which they passed. They were within a few miles of Srinagar.
troops put up no resistance. He made a last-minute decision to
accede to India and to step down and have Sheikh Abdullah sworn
in as Prime Minister. Indian troops were flown in the nick of
time. They, assisted by Abdullah’s supporters, drove back the
marauding tribesmen and saved a divided Kashmir for India.
However, Sheikh sahib’s problems were far from over.
revivalism, fuelled by massacres of Hindus and Sikhs during the
Partition, raised its ugly head. It was accentuated by the death
of Jan Sangh leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee in detention in
Srinagar. Abdullah was accused of anti-Indian activities.
Mullick, who had a serious ego problem and wanted to portray
himself as an astute politician and a hero, played a mischievous
role and persuaded Sardar Patel to arrest and charge Abdullah
and his wife with treason.
They were arrested
and put on trial. The trial fizzled out. Nehru stood by
Abdullah. Sardar Patel invited Maharaja Hari Singh, Maharani
Tara Devi and Karan Singh to dinner. Nehru invited Abdullah to
stay with him, sent him with the Indian delegation to the United
Nations and allowed him to visit Pakistan. Nothing helped.
Abdullah was so
disillusioned with Nehru’s inability to crush Hindu
fundamentalism that he openly came out for Azad Kashmir. Nehru
had him arrested. He was in detention for 11 long years. He did
not bear any grudge against Nehru. When he heard of Nehru’s
death, he flew back from Rawalpindi, where he was on an official
visit and bade his friend a tearful farewell.
When released, he
accepted a reduced chief ministership from Indira Gandhi. He
died a broken man. This is a very rough summary of Sheikh
Abdullah’s life. For a complete, unbiased account you can do
no better than read Bhattacharjea’s detailed account of his
achievements. He was not only the ‘tragic hero of Kashmir’
but also the paradigm of a patriotic Indian.