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Sheikh Abdullah still relevant in Kashmir's political discourse

Sunday December 05, 2010 05:22:45 PM, F. Ahmed, IANS

Srinagar: Twenty-eight years after his death, National Conference founder and legendary Kashmiri leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah remains relevant to both the mainstream and separatist discourse in Jammu and Kashmir as the state paid tribute to the leader on his 105th birth anniversary Sunday.

As the state government and the ruling National Conference start an ambitious, high profile tribute itinerary, political rivals might lambast him, but nobody can wish him away.

His charisma, which galvanized millions of Kashmiris towards independence from the yoke of an autocratic subjugation, has definitely been relegated to the pages of history and yet, whether you talk of strengthening the state's accession with India or its secession from the rest of the country, Abdullah remains the referral point in history.

Over a million mourners, including the president and then prime minister Indira Gandhi, were part of the funeral procession in 1982 when a pall of gloom descended on the Valley because its beloved leader was no more.

Ironically, the same mausoleum where Kashmiris wailed and wept while filling their leader's grave with earth, has been entrusted to the custody of armed guards to protect it from the intentions of those who might try to harm it.

Abdullah had fallen apart from the then prime minister and his best friend, Jawaharlal Nehru, immediately after the state's accession to India in 1947.

He was incarcerated for his controversial "seditious" speeches and kept in prison for more than a decade. He was arrested in 1953, briefly released in 1958 for his daughter's marriage and then released in 1964.

Despite the mistrust between Nehru and Abdullah, the latter's political rivals continue to blame him for throwing the lot of the Muslim majority in Kashmir with India instead of yielding to the two nation theory of Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Pakistani leader always voiced his misgivings against the proximity of Abdullah with Nehru.

In 1964, Nehru decided to release Abdullah and bring him back into the political mainstream of the country.

Nehru even sent him to discuss the South Asian confederation between India and Pakistan with General Ayub Khan, then Pakistan president, but he had to cut short his visit and return to New Delhi to mourn the death of Nehru in 1964.

Indira Gandhi fulfilled her father's wish and supervised an accord between the centre and Abdullah known as the Beg-Parthasarthy accord in 1975.

The Congress extended unconditional support to Abdullah and he was sworn in as the state's chief minister in 1975, ending the long history of acrimony and mistrust between the National Conference and the centre.

When the present armed violence started here in early 1990s, the National Conference and its ground level cadre remained the target of militants.

Abdullah and his family were seen as the icons of Kashmir's accession with India.

Hundreds of National Conference partymen were gunned down and Adbullah's dream of a secular, prosperous, self-reliant Kashmir within the constitutional frame of India became a forbidden political discourse in the valley.

Anyone who spoke against Adbullah was naturally seen as the sheet anchor of Kashmir's secession from India.

While his rivals in the mainstream political parties continued to admonish Andullah for "sowing the seeds of an independent Kashmir by harping on the state's special status in the union", his rivals in the separatist camp cursed him for "handing over Kashmir to India on a platter".

Never before in the history of the state has any political leader been so misunderstood and confused as Adbullah, perhaps also, no political leader has ever been loved so much and cursed at the same time.

As his grandson and chief minister, Omar Abdullah, offered prayers and floral tributes at the mausoleum on the banks of the Dal Lake in Naseem Bagh area of Srinagar, the debate about whether the senior Abdullah wanted an honorable space under the Indian sun or strove to carve out an independent state aloof from both India and Pakistan would continue for generations.

After all, we might castigate or love the late Abdullah, but nobody can ignore him or his relevance.





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