Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah

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A.G. Noorani*

*The author is an eminent Indian scholar and expert on constitutional issues.


(Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s record  symbolizes, in its tragic rise and fall, the tragedy that befell the State of Jammu & Kashmir to which he was devoted. The people’s awakening and self-assertion are due to his brave leadership in revolt just as their bitter resentment is due to his abject surrender in the accord he concluded with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in February 1975. It is, of course, utterly unfair and unhistorical to view the past through the prism of today ignoring the changing contexts and compulsions he faced, particularly the roles of the leaders of the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League and their policies after the partition in India. – Author)

 “Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah is the symbol of our aspirations”, his right hand man Mirza Afzal Beg exclaimed in 1968 on their release from interment since 1965. Sheikh Saheb’s record also symbolizes, in its tragic rise and fall, the tragedy that befell the State of Jammu & Kashmir to which he was devoted. The people’s awakening and self-assertion are due to his brave leadership in revolt just as their bitter resentment is due to his abject surrender in the accord he concluded with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in February 1975. It is, of course, utterly unfair and unhistorical to view the past through the prism of today ignoring the changing contexts and compulsions he faced, particularly the roles of the leaders of the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League and their policies after the partition in India.

The rival protagonists entered his life roughly around the same time, in the late 1930s, only to be disenchanted with him. Jawaharlal Nehru imagined that the Sheikh would emerge as an Indian Nationalist. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah wrote him off for the same reason. For all the twists and turns in his leading role in Kashmir’s politics, the Sheikh remained from the beginning to the end a staunch Kashmiri nationalist. Unlike some upstarts of today, he did not ride on a wave generated by others. He himself created a wave which exists to this day, despite subsiding momentarily at times.

A demeaning Stalinist rewriting of history began. Its authors fall into two groups. One is led by a leader whose ambition is to emerge as Sheikh Abdullah the Second; Kashmir should accede to Pakistan and Pakistan should become an Islamic State. But Abdullah was great despite his grave flaws, failings and mistakes. They are petty and mean despite whatever few qualities they might possess. Unlike them, he stood for the unity of all the three parts of the State – the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh. It is no secret that at least one leader of the Hurriet secretly desires trifurcation of the State – in company with the RSS. The other group comprises the common people and the intelligentsia who are justly and deeply resentful of Abdullah’s goonda politics, authoritarian behaviour and corruption.

In 1947 the composition of the population province-wise was as follows: Kashmir Province 16,15,600 Muslims and 1,13,000 non-Muslims – 93.5% and 6.5% respectively; Jammu Province (excluding Poonch) had 8,34,000 and 7,27,480 – 53.4% and 46.6%, respectively;  the Poonch Jagir had 3,82,700 Muslims and 39,000 non-Muslims; Gilgit-Baltistan together had 2,70,000 Muslims and 41,000 others – 77% and 13% respectively. Ladakh Province was and is predominantly Budhist. The Kargil district – predominantly Muslim – was separated in 1979. In 1947, under the ruler Hari singh’s leadership and that of his wife, Muslims of Jammu were brutally subjected to ethnic cleansing.

The 2011 showed the Muslim population at 85.67 lakh (68.31% of the total population of 125.41 lakh) – and the Hindu population at 35.66 lakh (28.43% of the total).

Jammu and Kashmir originally had 14 districts – 6 each in the Kashmir and Jammu divisions, and 2 in Ladakh. Ten of these districts were Muslim-majority – 6 in Kashmir, 3 in Jammu and 1 in Ladakh (Kargil). Three districts had a Hindu majority and 1 had a Buddhist majority.

In 2006, 8 new districts were created, taking the total number of districts to 22. Of these, 17 have a Muslim majority – 10 in Kashmir, 1 in Ladakh, and 6 in Jammu. Hindus are the majority community in 4 districts of the Jammu division; Buddhists are the majority in Leh.

In the six districts in the Kashmir Province – Kupwara, Badgam, Baramulla, Srinagar, Pulwana and Anantnag – Muslims constitute between 94.59 to 98.24 per cent of the population. In the Jammu Province – Poonch, Rajouri and Doda have a Muslim majority (90.44, 62.71 and 60.71 per cent respectively). In the Jammu, Udhampur and Kathua districts, they comprise 7.02, 30.21 and 8.82% of the population, respectively. However, as the then Chief Minister of State Dr. Farooq Abdullah pointed out, on 22 October 2000, a tehsil in Udhampur, Gool Gulab Garh, would go to the Valley. So will three in Rajouri.  In the Ladakh district 14.27% of the people are Muslims; in Kargil they are 76.87% (Zeeshan Sheikh; Indian Express; 30 December 2016).

There was a time when M.K. Gandhi wrote to the Kashmiri leader Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz, once an associate of Abdullah, in a letter on 15 May 1934 as follows: “I have gone through your paper. We are sowing as we have reaped. Seeing that Kashmir is predominantly Mussalman it is bound one day to become a Mussalman State. A Hindu prince can, therefore can only rule by not ruling i.e. by allowing the Mussalmans to do as they like and by abdicating when they are manifestly going wrong. This is ideal. What is expedient is more than I can judge.” (Bazaz; Kashmir in Crucible; Pamposh Publications, New Delhi; 1967; p. 176).

Given the communal diversities, Abdullah risked losing support in Jammu and Ladakh if he accepted the two-nation theory. He was genuinely opposed to it given his leftist ideological orientation. But he was also a devout Muslim. His main platform was the Hazratbal Shrine. Bazaz, who later fell out with him, persuaded him to convert the Muslim Conference to the National Conference. His pen-portrait of his colleague bears quotation in extenso.

“By far the most important of all the Conference leaders is Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the man who has been the chief hero of the Kashmir movement and has been primarily responsible for the politics of the State during several years in the past. It would be no exaggeration to say that Sheikh Abdullah is the National Conference. Many legends came to be woven round his personality when he was at the zenith of his fame. At one time he was the most respected man among the Muslims, who conferred on him the title of ‘The Lion of Kashmir.’ I have seen people kiss the hand that touched his body. He was often mobbed by his devotees and at times had a narrow escape on such occasions. No one in the history of Kashmir has enjoyed so much popularity with the masses as he.

“Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was born in 1905 at Suwara, a village which is at a distance of only four miles from Srinagar. His parents died when he was a boy and he was brought up by his elder brothers. The family occupation was trade, and his father was a shawl merchant. But, like one of his elder brothers, young Abdullah was educated for some suitable Government job. He got his M.Sc. degree from the Muslim University, Aligarh, in 1930 and soon after found himself in the whirlpool of Kashmir politics.

“Mr. Abdullah has made supreme sacrifices for the national cause. Unlike so many of his earlier Muslim colleagues, he disdained to use his political influence for building his future career. When he could have easily become a high official of the Government if he had desired to become one, he chose to be a humble worker for his down-trodden countrymen. The nobility of his character will be valued very highly when one knows that all along he lived a poor life with no income except the small monetary help that his brothers continued to give him out of their earnings from the family trade. Sheikh Abdullah even denied himself the well-deserved membership of the Legislature, to which he could have been elected unopposed from any Muslim constituency in Kashmir. This supreme self-abnegation was really commendable and raised him in the estimation of all.

“Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah started his political career as a communalist. But he displayed a marvelous capacity to carry the Muslims on a path of progress. In this he had to face tremendous difficulties of great magnitude, but he proved equal to the task. His courage in changing the outlook of the Muslim politics was amazing. The conversion of a communal organization, lock, stock and barrel, into a national body is unparalleled in contemporary politics, and will remain unique feat in the political history of Kashmir….

“As a friend he is very lovable and sociable. He has no false sense of prestige; and when his pocket did not allow him to maintain a car, he began to ride a bicycle. But Mr. Abdullah has proved a great disappointment to his intellectual and progressive colleagues in the National Conference. He is a hater of books and no admirer of intellectual movements. Believe it or not but this is a fact that he has not read any history of Kashmir. …

“Mr. Abdullah is a devoted Mussalman and believes that much of his success has been due to the fact that he has been a true follower of Islam. In politics he is not sure where he is. He is tossed between communalism and nationalism and, oddly enough, sometimes even professes to be a socialist and gives a sermon to his audience on the subject of “Haves and Have-nots”. He is a good mob-orator, though his speeches are not always responsible and balanced. He can indeed get angry in public and denounce and threaten and abuse like any dangerous demagogue. He hardly cares for facts and figures and, therefore, at times, comes to grief…

“Sheikh Abdullah showed a marvelous aptitude for progress till 1939, but when, soon after the formation of the National Conference, Muslim upper classes became vociferous, it appears that his faculty for further growth deadened and decay set in. The indifference of his Muslim colleagues, and his own, towards the intellectual side of the movement is mainly responsible for this set-back.” (Inside Kashmir; The Kashmir Publishing Co., Srinagar, 1941, pp. 344-350, a collector’s prize today). Bazaz’s ego was not any smaller than Abdullah’s. He aspired to guide, if not control, the Sheikh. Bazaz was a follower of M.N. Roy, a former Communist who espoused “Radical Humanism” Abdullah had his leftist friends like B.P.L. Bedi. He allowed Communists to claim his support, as Nehru did. But both pursued their own goals which conflicted and led to a bitter parting in 1952-1953.

The All India States People’s Conference was established in 1927 since the Indian National Congress officially disavowed any interference in the princely States; a policy which it soon discarded. Sheikh Abdullah was drawn towards it and its leading light, Jawaharlal Nehru who had emerged as a socialist and a strong opponent of the princely order.

By then the Sheikh had emerged as the foremost leader of the Kashmiris, with significant support in Jammu as well. The State’s educated youth was restive. Political parties were banned. On 12 April 1930 Abdullah returned to Srinagar after an M. Sc. from the Aligarh Muslim University. Kashmir’s top leadership was educated there. A small Reading Room was set up in fulfillment of plans laid in Aligarh. Newspapers from Lahore were avidly read there. Greater Kashmir, a leading daily published from Srinagar, carried articles on its birth. Those by the historian Prof. Fida Muhammad Hussain on 11 August 2009 and by Tabassum Kashmir on 14 August 2009 are very informative. Apparently the Reading Room was formally inaugurated on 8 May 1930. The best guide is Kashmir’s Fight For Freedom by Muhammad Yusuf Saraf, former Chief Justice of Azad Kashmir High Court, in 2 Volumes, published by Feroz Sons, Lahore in 1977-1979. They cover the period 1819-1946 in Vol. 1 and 1947-1978 in Vol. 2. It is a definitive study. The author was educated in Baramulah, Kashmir and at Aligarh. There soon emerged a Reading Room Party. Its members were politically aware and sought Muslims’ entry into the administration. Another account is in Ghulam Hassan Khan’s Freedom Movement in Kashmir (1931-1940); Light & Life Publishers; Jammu and New Delhi; 1980.

In response to its representation, the Cabinet Secretary invited a delegation for discussion. On 16 October 1930 Sheikh Abdullah and Abdul Aziz Fazili met him. Three milestones were crossed before Abdullah emerged as the sole leader. One was the killing of ten Muslims and injuries to a few others on 13 July 1931 in Srinagar which is still observed as Martyrs’ Day in Kashmir. A fateful faultline emerged. Hindus were displeased at the revolt against Maharaja Hari Singh. A communal cleavage was palpable. Once the ban on political associations was lifted, an All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was formed. It held its first annual session at Srinagar on 15-17 October 1932.

The next milestone marked a change in the character of the movement. It was the conversion of the Muslim Conference into the National Conference. Bazaz claims, not altogether wrongly, to be a co-author of the moves “for reorienting Kashmir politics on secular lines” with Abdullah since 1935. “On 1 August 1935, they jointly started a weekly Hamdard in Urdu to popularize the ideology and to lay the foundations of progressive nationalism in the State”. (P.N. Bazaz; The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir; Pamposh Publications; 1954; p. 167. Most informative; but tinged with personal feelings of disappointment after the fall out with Abdullah).

The Sheikh made the proposal at the Sixth Annual Session of the Muslim conference as its President on 25 March 1938. “The demand for responsible government is not meant for eighty per cent Muslims alone but for all the inhabitants of the State therefore it is necessary to march together with the twenty per cent non-Muslims.” The Working Committee endorsed the proposal on 28 June 1939. So did a Special Session of the Muslim Conference on 11 June 1939. Chaudhari Ghulam Abbas supported the change despite his reservations. He changed his stance later. (Vide Saraf; Vol. 1; p. 539). Abdullah was also disappointed at the lack of the expected support from the Hindus (ibid., p. 547).

Abdullah became an enthusiastic supporter of the State’s Peoples’ Conference. It was in 1937 that he first met Nehru at the Lahore Railway Station. (Sheikh Abdullah’s autobiography Aatish–e-Chinar (1982) English translation The Blazing Chinar; Gulshan Books, Srinagar, Kashmir; 2013, p. 160). His amanuensis was one Mohammed Yusuf Teng. It bears huge and questionable traces of extravagant defamatory and embittered reckless aspersions on all and sundry. Remarks in bad taste tarnish the work. It was dictated when Sheikh Saheb was in declining health while Teng’s ambitions were on the rise. A strong bond was forged. Nehru’s claims to be a Kashmiri were false. His family had migrated to Delhi “during the reign of the Mughal King Farukh Sayyer”. Nehru was a true Allahabadi.

Abdullah first met Jinnah earlier in 1935 (Vide Abdullah; Chapter 30, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Myself; p. 220). Jinnah had come to Srinagar as counsel in a case relating to a contested marriage which he won. Their paths diverged. In a speech at the Aligarh Muslim University Union on 6 April 1939, Jinnah said: “I have been to Kashmir and have seen the miserable lot of the Muslims. Some Muslim leaders specially Mr. Abdullah have been misled; they have fallen not into the hands of their friends but their foes just as many of our brethren in British India have fallen into the trap. Our first task is to rescue Muslims from falling into the clutches of their opponents. When you go to Kashmir ask your leader to spare the Muslim League and confine himself to the betterment of his own people. Many people who used to say that the Muslim League was in the wrong, today admit that it is right. I hope Mr. Abdullah for whom I have great respect, will also realize that we are right. We will help the Kashmiris but you must make the League stronger and avoid falling into the hands of our enemies. I am fully alive to the problem of Kashmir. I am sure with the co-operation of the Muslim League and the Muslims of Kashmir we shall yet rescue Kashmir.” (Waheed Ahmad; The Nation’s Vice, Speeches and Statements, March 1935 – March 1940; Quid-i-Azam Academy, 1992; p. 363. An invaluable volume).

By then, the All India Muslim League had begun taking a keen interest in the affairs of Hyderabad; especially the Muslim minority and the ruler the Nizam. Bahadur Yar Jung addressed annual sessions of the League. Criticising the League’s policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of the States, the Sheikh said: “How can we tie ourselves to you? You are the people who in a resolution in Patna threatened to create difficulties for the Congress in the affairs of the States. While we were in greater stress the Congress came to our rescue. It was the Congress which voiced our grievances and supported us. Maulana Zafar Ali has in a speech at Kapurthala declared that the Congress is an enemy of the Princes and they in the League are their friends and protectors. If that is right let me say clearly that we cannot be with those who want the present state of affairs to continue.”

He argued that there was no material difference in the position as it then existed in British India and Kashmir. Referring to Jinnah’s observation that for the achievement of India’s independence the majority community must win the confidence of the minority, Sheikh Abdullah said: “Will anybody tell me how am I wrong, representing a majority community as I do, in trying to win the confidence of the minority community which happens to be the Hindus, the Sikhs and others in Kashmir? May I know what irreligious act am I committing in trying to take the minorities with me to have self-Government for the people? Is it not absurd that what is right here becomes wrong in the case of Kashmir?” (The Tribune; 14 April 1939; G.H. Khan; p. 371).

Saraf has documented Jinnah’s visits to Kashmir. The first was in the mid twenties with his wife Rattanbai, (affectionately called Ruttie; (Vol. 1; p. 619). The next visit was in 1936 for the civil suit. The last visit was in 1944, from May to 25 July. He stayed for two long months. It sadly led to a breach with Abdullah. He tried to bring about a merger of Abdullah’s National Conference and Chaudhri Ghulam Abbas’ Muslim Conference but failed. Both the parties had extended a royal welcome to him.

Jinnah spoke at the annual session of the Muslim Conference, held under the Presidentship of Ghulam Abbas, in the compound of the Jamia Masjid on 17 June 1944. He said: “I have also found that among the people who met me, 99% supported the Muslim Conference”. (Saraf’s Vol. 1, p. 629). In truth Sheikh Abdullah held sway over the Valley while Ghulam Abbas held sway over Jammu. Nor had the Sheikh any significant support in the areas that now comprise Azad Kashmir (Saraf has a most detailed account of Jinnah’s trip not found elsewhere). He was present when Abdullah denied “using derogatory language about the Quaid-e-Azam” (p. 63). Saraf acknowledges that the Muslim Conference lacked “a presentable Kashmiri-speaking leader”.

Neither the Muslim League nor the Congress was impressed by Abdullah’s impetuous Quit Kashmir movement in 1946 which fizzled out earning him a long term in prison. At the trial he was defended by a Congress leader, Asaf Ali (Vide A.G. Noorani; India’s Political Trials; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999; for Abdullah’s account vide The Blazing Chinar; pp. 255-265).

Abdullah’s reflections on the episodes are significant. “There is a very interesting aspect to the Quit Kashmir movement. Whereas  the Congress Party had large supported us, the Congress press, which was dominated by Hindu capitalists, supported the Maharaja. As against this, while Jinnah and the Muslim League opposed us, the Muslim press gave us its full support. Inquilab, run by Mehr and Saalik, branded the Muslim League and Muslim Conference retrograde. Zamindar and Ihsaan too supported us and opposed the League openly in their editorials. Agha Abdul Kareem Khan alias Shorish Kashmiri, who advocated the demand for Pakistan, wrote in his characteristically impassioned style about our movement:

O Hari Singh! Fear the fiery calls!

Fear Time, which has taken a new course!”

On this Abdullah was wrong. Despite his reservations, Nehru alone supported him. Maulana Azad was skeptical. Vallabhbhai Patel and most of the Congress opposed the Quit Kashmir Movement.

The Cabinet Mission comprising three British Cabinet Ministers of Britain had arrived in India in March 1946. The National Conference drew up a Manifesto for Naya Kashmir. Para 26 listed the “branches of administration of the Council of Ministers. Among them were defence, industry and foreign affairs. Thus even if India had   not been partitioned, Kashmir would have staked a claim to independence. Incidentally it retained the Maharaja as head of State (M.K. Teng, R. K. K. Bhatt, Santosh Kaul (Eds.) Kashmir: Constitutional History and Documents; Light & Life Publishers; p. 389).

On the eve of the partition of India all the three sides laid bare their plans and calculations. Sheikh Abdullah confided to Phillips Talbot, who became Assistant Secretary of State in the Kennedy Administration. “Sheikh Abdullah visited Delhi and had an engagement to meet Liaquat Ali Khan in Lahore. He told me that Kashmir would be “finished” if it had to join one Dominion and thereby incur the enmity of the other. What he sought, he said, was an arrangement by which Kashmir could have normal relations with both countries. It was at that juncture that Pathan tribesmen swept into Kashmir.” (An American Witness to India’s Partition; SAGE Publications, New Delhi; 2007; p. 378). Abdullah did not have an “engagement” with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, but was actively seeking one.

Jinnah held that the decision on accession lay with the rulers of princely States. Nehru held it lay with the people. (Vide the writer’s essay Plebiscite in Kashmir : Stillborn on Killed? Criterion; October/December 2016; p. 5).

This caused grave disquiet among Jinnah’s supporters in Kashmir. A Note by the All Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference, dated 25 August 1947 and addressed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, stated: “Quaid-i-Azam has declared his policy towards the States a number of times – that they can join this or that Dominion or remain independent. He has not even mentioned geographical contiguity, which a State should at least consider when joining this or that Dominion. It follows, therefore, that Kashmir can join Hindustan and Quaid-i-Azam cannot have any objection to it, though geographically Kashmir may be contiguous to Pakistan. Not only that, but even though Kashmir is a nerve centre of defence of Pakistan. The policy of the Muslim League has all along been that of absolute non-intervention in the affairs of the States. In contrast to this policy of Quaid-i-Azam and the Muslim League, the Congress has directly intervened in the affairs of the States, particularly that of Kashmir.

“The National Conference Musalmans are triumphant and they now talk in the terms of a party which is victorious after a “war” and dictates its own terms. They are going so far as to suggest that Quaid-i-Azam should mend his previous attitude and should issue a statement upholding the “Quit Kashmir” slogan and placing the same interpretation on the Treaty of Amritsar as Gandhiji has done. Then, they say, they will consider helping Muslim Conference to persuade Maharja to join Pakistan. … They argue that the Muslim League stands for the sovereignty of the rulers whereas the Congress stands for the sovereignty of the people.

“As far as the Muslim Conference followers are concerned, though they resisted to believe that the Muslim League was disinterested in them, yet they are now openly giving expression to their feelings of disgust. They feel as if they are left in the lurch and that the Pakistan Government has absolutely no interest in them – at least now for her own sake, when such an important issue is there as to whether Kashmir should join Pakistan or Hindustan.

“In conclusion, the situation as at present demands most immediate attention of the Pakistan Government and her leaders to allay the fears of Musalmans of Kashmir and assure them that they are not forlorn and forgotten. The Muslim Conference is faced with a grim situation and they want to act before the Maharaja decides to join Hindustan as, if he once decides, nothing can be done. But what will be the attitude of the Pakistan Government and her leaders? That is not certain. … If, God forbid, the Pakistan Government or Muslim League does not act, Kashmir might be lost to them and the responsibility for this would be theirs.” (Z.H. Zaidi, Editor-in-Chief; Jinnah Papers; Quaid-i-Azam Papers project, Government of Pakistan; First Series; Vol IX; pp. 213-216).

Sheikh Abdullah was released from prison on 29 September 1947 only to discover that the people desired accession to Pakistan. He began having second thoughts about the consequences of the State’s accession to India. Three important Pakistanis from Lahore, each one of whom had personal relations with him, Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din, Doctor Muhammad Din Taseer and Malik Taj-ud-Din, then Manager of the Associated Press of Pakistan, went to Srinagar with the blessings of the Punjab Government. They remained in Srinagar for two to three days and had extensive discussions with him. They did their best to persuade him to see the writing on the wall and support the State’s accession to Pakistan in the larger interests of the very people whom he had served since 1931. They tried to assure him that the Pakistani Government would be fair and generous to the National Conference leadership, but whether they had the authority to make such a commitment from those who really mattered, is quite doubtful. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, it appears, was not by now averse to the State’s accession to Pakistan, but he did entertain serious misgivings about the role that the largely feudalistic leadership of Pakistan might play in the State after its accession. He also feared that the hostility against him at the top of the Muslim League as well as that of  the Dogra dynasty may have serious consequences for him and his party.

Besides, he was determined that the State’s internal autonomy be guaranteed and that its accession be limited to defence, foreign affairs, communications and currency. At long last, it seems to have been agreed that on their return, they should place these matters before the Pakistan Government for its consideration and that he would send Khawaja Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq to Lahore to continue the talks so that the ground was prepared for his visit to Karachi to discuss the matter with the Quaid-e-Azam. He told them that he had been invited by Pandit Nehru to visit him at Delhi and that after his visit to the Indian capital was completed, he would directly fly to Karachi. He also told them that so long as he did not come to Karachi, the situation should not be precipitated. Mr. Justice Sheikh Anwar-ul-Haque, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who accompanied the delegation to Srinagar confirmed to this writer on 28th July, 1974 while on a visit to Muzaffarabad in the company of Mr. Hamood-u-Rehman, Chief Justice, that it had been agreed that Sheikh Abdullah would visit Karachi after his visit to Delhi for talks with the Pakistan Government. The three Pakistani leaders then returned to Lahore.” (Saraf; Vol. 2, p. 800).

On 21 October 1947 the Sheikh issued a long statement in New Delhi which said, according to the Associated Press of India: “Sheikh Abdullah, leader of the National Conference of Kashmir speaking at an ‘At Home’ given in his honour today touched upon the question of Kashmir’s accession and said that so far as Pakistan was concerned they were very keen on her accession. For, due to the strategic position that the State held, if the State joined  the Indian Dominion, he thought Pakistan would be completely encircled. Explaining the difficulties with which the people were beset in making up their minds without responsible Government, Sheikh Abdullah said that the happenings in certain States such as Patiala, Bharatpur, Kapurthala and elsewhere had naturally caused apprehensions in the minds of the Muslim in Kashmir who formed the majority of the population. They were afraid that the State’s accession to India portended danger to them. Similarly the Sikhs and Hindus of the State were apprehensive of Kashmir joining Pakistan.

“The Kashmir leader said that the problem could only be solved by the grant of complete responsible Government including the nationalisation of the State Army which was now closed to the people of the Kashmir Valley. Shaikh Abdullah said that the present troubles in Poonch, a feudatory of Kashmir, were because of the unwise policy adopted by the State. The people of Poonch who suffered under their local ruler and again under the Kashmir durbar who was the overlord of the Poonch ruler, had started a people’s movement for the redress of their grievances. It was not communal.

“The Kashmir State sent their troops and there was panic in Poonch. But most of the adult population of Poonch, he explained, were ex-Servicemen in the Indian Army who had close connections with the people in Army who had close connections with the people in Jhelum and Rawalpindi. They evacuated their women and children, crossed the frontier and returned with arms supplied to them by willing people. The present position was the Kashmir State forces were forced to withdraw in certain areas. Shaikh Abdullah deplored the course of events and suggested the only remedy was to trust the people and make them responsible for the governance of the State.” This document was published in a rare publication (Kashmir Before Accession; Superintendent Government Printing, Lahore; 1948; pp. 16-17).

It is not a statement he would have issued if he intended to accede to India. He had sent one emissary to Pakistan after another, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and G. M. Sadiq. Neither was allowed to meet Mohammed Ali Jinnah or Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Only the Chief Minister of West Punjab, the Nawab of Mamdot, met them. Strangely, neither the admirers nor the detractors of Abdullah care to probe into their brief. What was it? It was obviously to fulfill his plans for independence. He had accepted an invitation by emissaries from Pakistan to meet Jinnah after his visit to New Delhi. The tribal raid from Pakistan was launched while Sadiq was in Lahore.

Even after the accession, Abdullah pursued his plans, to the knowledge of Nehru, in a talk with Patrick Gordon Walker, Britain’s Parliamentary Under Secretary for Commonwealth Affairs, in Nehru’s home on 21 February 1948 – four months after the accession. Walker reported to London. “At this point Nehru fetched in Sheikh Abdullah and said he would leave us to talk together. Just before Nehru left Sheikh Abdullah said he thought the solution was that Kashmir should accede to both Dominions. I had not time to get him to develop this idea before Nehru left the room but questioned him afterwards. He said Kashmir’s trade was with India, that India was progressive and that Nehru was an Indian. On the other, Kashmir’s trade passed through Pakistan and a hostile Pakistan would be a constant danger. The solution therefore was that Kashmir should have its autonomy jointly guaranteed by India and Pakistan and it would delegate its foreign policy and defence to them both jointly but would look after its own affairs. The two Dominions share a common interest in Kashmir and it would serve to unite and link them. I asked whether Nehru would agree to this solution and he said he thought so. He had discussed it with him. … Since drafting the above I have seen Nehru again with reference to paragraph above. He says that he would be prepared to accept a solution broadly on the lines of that proposed by Sheikh Abdullah.”

In New York, as a member of the Indian delegation to the security Council, Abdullah approached the U.S.’ Permanent Representative to the U.N., Warren Austin, on 28 January 1948, who recorded: “It is possible that principal purpose of Abdullah’s visit was to make clear to US that there is a third alternative, namely, independence. He seemed overly anxious to get this point across, and made quite a long and impassioned statement on the subject. He said in effect that whether Kashmir went to Pakistan or India the other dominion would always be against solution. Kashmir would thus be a bone of contention. It is a rich country. He did not want his people torn by dissension between Pakistan and India. It would be much better if Kashmir were independent and could seek American and British aid for development of country.” (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948 South Asia, p. 292).

Abdullah even sought out Pakistan’s delegates. He complained to President Ayub Khan, when they met in Rawalpindi on 26 May 1964, that they “would not even talk to him. … When he went to the Security Council the second time, he did meet Choudhry Muhammad Ali and told him that the only way to get the Indians out of Kashmir was to agree to independence of the State”. (Altaf Gauhar; Ayub Khan; p. 264).

The Sheikh spoke to the U.S. Ambassador to India, Loy Henderson, in Srinagar. He reported to the State Department on 29 September 1950: “In discussing future Kashmir, Abdullah was vigorous in restating that in his opinion it should be independent; that overwhelming majority population desired this independence; and that he had reason to believe that some Azad Kashmir leaders desired independence and would be willing cooperate with leaders National Confederation if there was reasonable chance such cooperation would result in independence. Kashmir people could not understand why UN consistently ignored independence as one of possible solutions for Kashmir. It had held special Assembly to deal with independence for Palestine which was smaller in area and population and less economically viable than Kashmir. Kashmir people had language and cultural background their own. Their Hindus by custom and tradition widely differed from Hindus [of] India, and outlook and background their Moslems also quite different from Moslems Pakistan. Fact was that population Kashmir homogeneous in despite of presence of Hindu minority.

“When I asked Abdullah if he thought Kashmir could remain stable independent country without friendly support India and Pakistan, he replied negative. In his opinion independent Kashmir could exist only in case it had friendship both of India and Pakistan; in case both these countries had friendly relations with each other; and in case US through UN or direct would enable it, by investments or other economic assistance, to develop its magnificent resources. Adherence Kashmir to India would not lead in foreseeable future to improving miserable economic lot of population. There were so many areas of India in urgent need of economic development he was convinced Kashmir would get relatively little attention.” (FRUS, 1950, Vol. 5; p. 1434).

Abdullah was quite open about his aims as Nehru well knew. He went public in an interview to Michael Davidson of The Scotsman published on 14 April 1949. He said: “ ‘Accession to either side cannot bring peace’. He declared, ‘We want to live in friendship with both Dominions. Perhaps a middle path between them, with economic co-operation with each, will be the only way of doing it. But an independent Kashmir must be guaranteed not only by India and Pakistan but also by Britain, the United States and other members of the United Nations. Would an independent Kashmir, I asked him, a kind of Himalayan Switzerland, be feasible and constructive? Those areas of the present State which bordered India and Pakistan and which had no affinity with the people of the Vale could fall naturally to the Dominion with which they were related by race or religion – the Poonchis, who are Moslem Punjabis, belong obviously to Pakistan, and the Hindus of Jammu, Rajput-Dogras are surely Indians.

“Abdullah replied: ‘Yes, independence-guaranteed by the United Nations – may be the only solution. But why do you talk of partition? Now you are introducing communalism and applying the two-nation theory to Kashmir – that communalism which we are fighting here. I believe the Poonchis would welcome inclusion in an independent Kashmir; if, however, after its establishment, they chose to secede and join Pakistan. I would raise no objection.

“I want a solution that is fair to all three parties – Pakistan, India, and the people of Kashmir. But we won’t submit to a communal solution. There has never been a religious problem in the Vale of Kashmir. Hindus and Muslems, we are of the same racial origin, we have the same customs, wear the same clothes, speak the same language. In the street, you cannot distinguish between Moslems and Brahman Pandits.”  (Durga Das; Sardar Patel’s Correspondence; Navjivan Publishing House; Vol.1; pp. 266-271).

 Little did he realize that Nehru was indulging him and was playing for time. He set about riveting India’s control over Kashmir through the Delhi Agreement of 1952. On 25 August 1952, Nehru sent him a note which he had written in Sonamarg – to finalise the accession through Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly. Both the UN and Pakistan were impotent. Kashmiris will submit. “It must be remembered that the people of the Kashmir Valley and round about, though highly gifted in many ways – in intelligence, in artisanship, etc. – are not what are called a virile people. They are soft and addicted to easy living. … The common people are primarily interested in a few things – an honest administration and cheap and honest food.” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Vol. 19: 328-29). No Kashmiri would utter those words for his own people. Nehru’s outlook was moulded in the political climate of Uttar Pradesh to which he really belonged. It was exposed also to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Bogra, when they met in New Delhi on 17 August 1953: “Most people, of course, were hardly political and only cared for their economic betterment” (SWJN, Vol. 23: 332). Abdullah tried to forge a consensus on self-determination. Nehru ejected him from office as Prime Minister of the State, kept him in prison for eleven years and prosecuted him on the charge that he sought accession to Pakistan. Nehru knew that was a lie.

On his release in April 1964 the Sheikh began advocating a Confederation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. He went to Rawalpindi in response to President Ayub Khan’s invitation. His proposal was brusquely rejected. It implied that Pakistan should surrender its independence to secure end of Indian rule over Kashmir.

If the 1947 war arrested his plans to negotiate with Pakistan, the 1965 war extinguished all prospects of a plebiscite. The 1971 war and the Simla Agreement of 2 July 1972 buttressed the status quo.

By then Sheikh Abdullah had reconciled himself to India’s rule over Kashmir. He accepted humiliating terms from Indira Gandhi to secure a return to power through the accord of February 1975.

The regime over which he presided was authoritarian and corrupt. Militancy first reamed its head after the accord. From 1989 to this day it has refused to die down. Not his earlier record in office, but the abject surrender of 1975 is recalled now. Kashmir’s freedom movement depended on a balance forged by Pakistan’s support. Each war – in 1947, 1965 and 1971 – diminished that support leaving him high and dry.

He knew he had failed and wept bitterly in public at his tragic fate at the J&K State People’s Convention at Srinagar in 1970.