Abdullah still relevant in Kashmir's political discourse
Sunday December 05, 2010 05:22:45 PM,
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
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
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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