Apni Party’s fate in quicksand of J-K politics

The visionary Sardar saw a potential danger in Abdullah’s personal views of not favouring compensation to the landlords, especially from Jammu, whose lands were acquired in the course of his land reforms, which even Nehru had praised. Gundevia says the Sardar realised that the ‘Sheikh had gone miles outside the Indian Constitution in denying his people even the fundamental rights in regard to property’.

Apni Party’s fate in quicksand of J-K politics

No clarity: With Ghulam Mohammed Bakshi as his inspiration, Altaf Bukhari’s party comprises renegades of the existing political formations.

Vappala Balachandran

Ex-Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

Acommon feature since 1947 in the Kashmir Valley has been the Central interference to tweak its ground-level political management. Administrative manipulations and intelligence operations played key roles to enforce the Centre’s writ, which was justified on security grounds in a border state. This truth rises unceasingly like Banco’s ghost, although denied by every Central government.

The Centre had made such changes earlier by effecting leadership adjustments within the existing local parties by supporting certain groups. Now, for the first time, the BJP has succeeded in forming a new political party leaning towards them to get rid of the ‘dynastic’ politics. This is similar to the formation of the Republican Party in Pakistan in 1955 by their military to give a façade of democracy. Later, two more ‘King’s parties’ were formed for the military’s tactical advantage: Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) in 1985 and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996.

The Apni Party, led by former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari, comprising renegades of the existing ‘dynastic’ political formations, follows the same pattern. In New Delhi, Bukhari unveiled his future political alignment by quoting former Kashmir leader Ghulam Mohammed Bakshi as his inspiration. Considering Kashmir’s political ‘quicksand’, it is too early to say what trajectory this party will follow after the end of the crackdown or when other leaders are released, besides the Abdullahs.

Unlike previous occasions, the role of our intelligence in setting up new political dynamics in the Valley seems to be less clear now. That was not the case from the crucial period from 1948, when full details, no doubt with different interpretations, were available for public scrutiny.

Bhola Nath Mullik, who was our Intelligence Bureau chief (1950-1964), has given a full account of his work in Kashmir. He claims in the preface of his book, My Years with Nehru-Kashmir (1971) that whatever they did in Kashmir was done as ‘agents of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’ and every step they took ‘was done on his initiative and advice and with his full approval’.

Yezdezard Dinshaw Gundevia, Nehru’s Commonwealth and Foreign Secretary (1961-64), who worked closely with him on Kashmir, challenges this in his personal recollections in The Testament of Sheikh Abdullah (1974). His memoirs form part of the English translation of Abdullah’s long interview to the Shabistan Urdu Digest on January 28, 1968, after release from his third detention from May 1965 to January 1968.

Gundevia questions Mullik on the ‘Kashmir Conspiracy’ case which was registered in October 1957 but committed to the sessions court only in 1962. Among others, Sheikh Abdullah, Begum Abdullah and Mridula Sarabhai were mentioned as accused. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) could not find any material against Abdullah for four and half years. He alleges that the IB’s sole aim was to discredit Abdullah and to sow dissension among his followers through their reports. He ridicules Mullik’s argument that they released Abdullah ‘to gather more evidence’ and re-arrested him. He questions why Begum Abdullah, who was mentioned extensively in the case papers and in IB report, was ‘never charged or brought to book’.

Another point on which he challenges Mullik is his version on the loss of the holy relic at Hazratbal shrine. Mullik had written four chapters, monopolising all glory. It was mysteriously lost on December 17, 1963, but retrieved on January 4, 1964, through the IB’s efforts, the process of which ‘cannot be disclosed’. Mullik also describes how he could convince the public that it was the real relic, by carrying it on his head.

Unknown to Mullik, Nehru had made contingency plans to retrieve the situation if the public refused to accept the recovered relic at the ‘Special Deedar’ on February 6. He asked his special envoy Lal Bahadur Shastri to go to Srinagar. Separately, he asked Gundevia to be present to persuade Maulana Massoudi, Sheikh Abdullah's confidant, to ‘help Lal Bahadur in this damned confusion’. Gundevia says that ‘Maulana Massoudi handled the show, seemingly single-handed, superbly, with Shastri on the stage, a silent spectator’.

Mullik, for reasons known to him, has not recorded Gundevia’s discreet role. On their way back, Shastri asked Gundevia in the aircraft on what would have happened if ‘Massoudi had declared that the relic was not genuine’? After landing, they went straight to the Prime Minister, who was annoyed with Home Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda and others in the Home Ministry who had objected to the ‘Special Deedar’. He also made up his mind to drop the case against Sheikh Abdullah.

On April 5, 1964, Chief Minister GM Sadiq announced the withdrawal of all cases against Abdullah. Gundevia affirms Nehru was not party to the decision to arrest him: ‘Nehru was poisoned and successfully silenced into acquiescence’. At best, he would have agreed to his dismissal, but not his arrest.’

All we remember now about Kashmir is Article 370. However, Gundevia helps us to understand the developments why Sardar Patel decided to remove Sheikh Abdullah from power and persuade Nehru to agree with him. It was neither his religious prejudice nor his rivalry with Nehru as some misguided elements are now claiming.

On October 17, 1949, our Constituent Assembly adopted Article 370. Following this, Yuvraj Karan Singh constituted a Constituent Assembly for Kashmir on May 1, 1951. The Assembly appointed two committees to decide the principles of the State’s constitutional structure and to define what all fundamental rights should be applicable to the state. Both these committees were heavily influenced by Abdullah.

The visionary Sardar saw a potential danger in Abdullah’s personal views of not favouring any compensation to the landlords, especially from Jammu, whose lands were acquired in the course of his land reforms, which even Nehru had praised. Gundevia says that the Sardar realised that the ‘Sheikh had gone miles outside the Indian Constitution in denying his people even the fundamental rights in regard to property’.

That made him realise that the Kashmir Constitution, if passed under Abdullah, would strike at the very roots of the Indian constitutional structure and fundamental rights. Steps to remove him from power were then initiated by him.

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