One of the self-proclaimed leaders was the founder of National Conference Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who enjoyed a comfortable friendship with the first Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru. Sheikh was a charismatic leader who enjoyed fanatic faith in the Vale of Kashmir. However, it was not started as National Conference. S.M. Abdullah along with Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas founded Muslim Conference in 1932 to spearhead the resistance against the Dogra autocrat Hari Singh. Sheikh Abdullah an Alumni in Aligarh Muslim University would later disband Muslim Conference and found All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference on the directions of Jawahar Lal Nehru.
The events that unfolded on 13 July, 1931 would set in motion a chain of events that would see a rise of an unending resistance that Kashmiris had ever put. It was the time when the Indian sub-continent was fighting against British imperialism under the leadership of the Indian National Congress and Muslim League. Sheikh saw an advantage in gaining the support of the Indian National Congress. Many attempts have been made to portray S.M. Abdullah as the “Lion of Kashmir” or a scapegoat made by Jawahar Lal Nehru to annex the territory of Kashmir. Both of these narratives bite the dust when confronted with historical facts and the actions of Sheikh Abdullah. Hari Singh and his predecessors ruled the Vale of Cashmere with an iron fist, they pounced on every rupee they could extract from the poverty-stricken Kashmiris. Ever since the treaty of Amritsar, Dogra autocrats’ heavy taxation was in force. Weary from the oppressive regime’s tactics, Kashmiris revolted in 1931, the regime responded by killing 21 Kashmiris on 13 July, 1931.
After the 1931 agitation, a grievance committee under the supervision of B.J. Glancy was appointed to report on the events that took place in 1931. B.J. Glancy recommended the setting up of an elected assembly with separate electorates for Hindus as well as Muslims. This came to be known as Prajha Sabha. However, this assembly was more of a political stunt to calm the voices rather than provide a fair electoral and democratic system. Hari Singh still had the authority to dismiss the suggestions put forward by the assembly.
The Sabha excluded most of the residents of the state (women and people without the annual income of 400 hundred rupees were not eligible to vote). 90% of the population could not vote. Sheikh gave concurrence to this, despite knowing it did not give Kashmiri’s right to vote.
He could’ve chosen to step away or to refuse. He did not. Even after the formation of Prajha Sabha, the foremost and supreme authority was the Dogra king.
Popularly held belief is that Sheikh Abdullah changed the name of Muslim Conference to the National Conference to represent all the classes of the society. Though it seems believable, its a blatant lie. Prem Nath Bazaz met S.M. Abdullah in Chashma Shahi in July 1932, to sell his idea of the National Conference. The idea was quickly bought by Sheikh for various reasons. Muslim Conference was poor and of no use to Sheikh. By obliging to the diktat of Prem Nath Bazaz, he could gain alienable power and support of Indian National Congress. In August 1935, S.M. Abdullah along with his colleagues started a daily named “Hamdard”. The newspaper promoted a new term; Kashmiriyat. Before 1932, it was an alien term. Now, this new term became a political tool to propagate Sheikhs’ interests. In 1939, he dissolved the Muslim Conference and the National Conference came into existence. And thus the story of betrayal started till now.
Post-1939, Kashmir was divided into two parts; Sher and the Bakra. Sher being those who follow S.M Abdullah and Bakra, overzealous of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah. After the creation of the National Conference, hostilities between Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah and Sheikh Abdullah increased. Once part of the Muslim Conference, Sheikh had parted ways and Mirwaiz had sensed foul play. In 1946, Sheikh Abdullah headed the National Conference launched Quit Kashmir agitation and Mirwaiz Yousuf led a direct action campaign against the Dogra Autocrat. Most of the leaders of the National Conference were thrown into jails. Sheikh was sentenced for 3 years in prison for Quit Kashmir. He, however, was released after serving 1 year only. Sheikh was the blue-eyed boy of Indian National Congress. Without him, the annexation of the Vale would’ve remained a pipe dream for Nehru. He insisted on his release and Maharaja being adamant did not do as pleased. However, he was released on 29, Sept 1947 but not before Maharaja secured an apology letter from Sheikh Abdullah, on 26 Sept 1947.
Though, on 13 September Sheikh Abdullah, a prisoner met Maharaja Hari Singh and presented him with a gold coin wrapped in silk cloth. He mentions in his biography that this was as a mark of goodwill. The custom signified more than goodwill, it signified slavery and submission to the Dogra regime. Once a resister had now placed his head in the silk cloth.
Maharaja insisted on a written apology from Abdullah. On Sept 26, 1947, Sheikh wrote the apology to Hari Singh and ridiculed the Kashmir struggle;
In spite of what has happened in the past, I assure your highness that myself and my party have never harbored any sentiment of disloyalty towards your highness person, throne or dynasty. The development of this beautiful country and the betterment of its people is our common aim and interest and I assure your Highness the fullest and loyal support of myself and my organization. Not only this, but I assure your Highness that any party, within and without the state, which may attempt to create nay impediments in our efforts to gain our goals, will be treated as our enemy and will be treated as such.To achieve the common aim set forth above, mutual trust and confidence must be the mainstay. Without this, it would not be possible to face successfully the great difficulties that beset our state on all sides at present. Before I close this letter I beg to assure your Highness once again of my steadfast loyalty and pray that God under your Highness’ ages brings such an era of peace, prosperity, and good government that it may be second to none and be an ideal for others to copy.
The paper lion who had fooled Kashmiris in the name of freedom became the strongest opponent of Kashmir. Indian National Congress in the background worked on the measures to annex the Valley. Popularly held belief is that, under the weight of tribal invasion, Dogra autocrat sought help and the Indian military was sent. If that was the case, that India had no intentions to annex Kashmir, why wasn’t Hari Singh informed about the tribal raid? Nehru knew that Maharaja will turn to India for military assistance, so he waited and did not inform Hari Singh. He was anxious and this anxiety did not let him sleep. Hari Singh did not like Congress and according to INC, it was Raj Chandra Kak, who had planted this idea in his brain. On 30, July 1947, M.K. Gandhi visited Kashmir and met the Maharaja. Nothing is known of the meeting except that he refused to drink milk and advised Hari Singh not to remain at war with Kashmiris. The events unfolded after that.
On 12 August, PM of Kashmir sent two identical standstill agreements to India as well as Pakistan. Pakistan signed and India refused. Author of Frozen Turbulence says that India sought time. The explanation itself is absurd. By his logic, does he mean to say, India was thinking; Whether I should annex Kashmir by force or just wait. Further Had India signed the standstill agreement, It would mean that India could not enter its forces.
The following days pro-Kashmir Kak was replaced by Janak Singh and then by pro-India Mehr Chand Mahajan. A telephone line was set up from Jammu to Srinagar, the road from Amritsar to Kashmir was strengthened and Gurdaspur was given to India. (The reason being as it was the only roadway to Kashmir). These things happened, soon after Sheikh Abdullah was released. By these events, one can understand that India would’ve annexed Kashmir anyway. Tribal raid just became the reason. However, the tribal raid was not what it seemed to be. It was engineered. Question is who gave Maharaja Hari Singh, who had occupied Kashmir by deceit, the right to decide the future of 4 million Kashmiris (6.9 million now)? Was it democratic to accept that accession and is it democratic to not let people of Kashmir exercise their choice of self-determination?
Leave whether Instrument of Accession was signed and whether it was signed on the exact date, that is debatable, question is that how come an invader who had skinned Kashmiris for a hundred years, became an authority to decide their political destiny? How come India accepted the Instrument of Accession, when the treaty of Amritsar (1846), which made the Dogra regime the illegal owners of Kashmir, had lapsed on the 14th of August, 1947. It is to mention that Mountbatten overlooked the fact that the Independence Act 1947 and the Government of India Act 1935 didn’t apply to Kashmir. Was it democratic and is it democratic to claim on Kashmir, when Kashmiris themselves do not accept this forceful nationalism? Is it democratic to base the claim on a document, which has no legal authority and a despot who had meted out unspeakable crimes on Kashmiris? These questions will dig deep the mandarins of Indian democracy, those who close their eyes at the times when Kashmiris kids are blinded and their properties burnt. The reality is, what Sheikh and his followers did sow, Kashmiris are harvesting now.
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Author is a data consultant and a writer based in Indian Occupied Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.