Revisiting AATISH-E-CHINAR: The Biography of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah
Sheikh Abdullah’s autobiography, Aatish-i-Chinar (Ali Mohammad & Sons, Srinagar) first appeared in 1985. It was published three years after its author’s death. The book is a political biography of one of the multiple selves of Kashmir. It presents the birth and evolution of various struggles including a big mock struggle that Kashmiri people undertook with some modicum of agency and some sponsorship from outside. It mourns betrayal of sheikh Abdullah’s idea and celebrates his some overrated and some underrated achievements. It trades some fiction amidst a huge mass of indispensable facts about Kashmir and its paradoxes, its glory and misery and its convoluted destiny. Although it was the first comprehensive account of Sheikh Abdullah’s long political career, the narration of certain events makes it highly doubtful. Moreover, no part of this posthumous manuscript has been put in final form by the author during his lifetime. Nevertheless, it is more an interpretation of the notes by the editor than an autobiography in the strictest sense. Its editor, Mohammad Yusuf Tang, frankly admits the limitations of the book. Besides, he also admits the lack of knowledge of historical methodology.
Although this book can be countered by another book by using well documented historical sources, however, my focus will be on certain important historical events which altered the course of the history of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah deliberately chooses to remain silent on many issues in his book to hide his failures which had a far-reaching impact on Kashmir polity and on which I am going to discuss through well-referred sources. This review article tries to analyse objectively two of his much-debated decisions (rather controversies) namely changing of Muslim Conference into National Conference (1939), and his role in securing Kashmir for India (1947) on which he has kept silence.
Changing of Muslim Conference into National Conference (1939)
The consciousness that arose against dictatorial oppressive Dogra Raj ultimately concretized in the formation of the first ever known political organisation of Jammu and Kashmir namely All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference under the presidency of Sheikh Abdullah. First, let me contest his justification for conversion of Muslim Conference into National Conference. Sheikh Abdullah claims that Muhammad Ali Jinnah on his visit to the valley in June 1936 had given his suggestions favouring to conversion. According to him, Jinnah had declared it an obligation of Kashmiri Muslim leadership to consider non-Muslims as a wheel of their political van. In fact, he had not suggested any change in the name and constitution of Muslim Conference but only suggested the Muslim leadership assure the minorities about the safeguarding of their rights and equal treatment and thus include them in their struggle. Moreover, Sheikh Abdullah claims that in 1937, he received similar suggestions from Allama Iqbal about the formation of a united political front as he had received from Jawahar Lal Nehru earlier . It appears doubtful because seven years back in 1930 Dr Iqbal had participated in Muslim League session of Allahabad and had adumbrated his theory of Pan-Islamism and a separate state for the Muslims of the subcontinent in his Presidential address . Therefore, there arises doubt regarding such a type of suggestion from Dr Iqbal during 1937. The fact of the matter is that Dr Iqbal had already voiced his feelings in 1933 about the role of a single party for the Muslims of Kashmir. He declared that: “I appeal to Muslims of Kashmir to beware of the forces that are working against them and to unite their ranks. The supreme need of the moment is a single party representing all Muslims in the State. ” (emphasis added). Moreover, Sheikh Abdullah brought resolution for changing Muslim Conference into National Conference in June 1938 after Iqbal’s death (Iqbal died on 20 April 1938). As Sheikh Abdullah does not refer to any letter (which he usually did) where Iqbal could have suggested him to change the nomenclature and constitution of the party, he might have thought of getting away from a witness.
Moreover, Chowdhary Ghulam Abbas writes in his autobiography ‘Kashmkash’ that Sheikh Abdullah gave two reasons for a joint platform in favour of nationalism. First, that Prime Minister Gopal Swami Ayanger promised him that if they succeeded in bringing a common nationalist platform, the government might be forced to adopt revolutionary steps (responsible government) and two ministers would be inducted from the joint platform into the government. Secondly, now some non-Muslims want to work for political activities. Both these statements were unnecessary on the part of Sheikh Abdullah. The question arises over here that why would Swami Ayanger promise to introduce responsible government to make the political position of the Muslims stronger in the state thereby increasing risks in near future of ending oppressive Dogra Raj. Neither were non-Muslims interested in joining hands with the Muslims of the state as the Maharaja was already unduly pampering his religious community at the cost of dominating Muslim population. In addition to it there took place an agreement which is very important and has not been analysed properly by the historians (there are few professional historians in Kashmir) between Sheikh Abdullah and Chowdhary Abbas during deliberations on the changing of Muslim Conference into National Conference in which it was agreed:
- a) Clause 3 reads that the ideology of Indian National Congress would not be taken forward in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by the National Conference.
- b) Clause 4 says that as the Muslim League being a single representative organisation of the Indian Muslims won’t be opposed at any cost in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In other means, it could be interpreted in this way also that Muslim League could propagate its idea and programme in the state.
These conditions were agreed upon by Sheikh Abdullah and his group in order to facilitate a smooth transition of conversion of Muslim Conference into National Conference. Sheikh Abdullah has completely remained silent in his autobiography Aatish-i-Chinar. The point is that Chowdhary Abbas wrote his book Kashmkash in 1950. If Abbas is wrong in putting his arguments on the talks held between him and Sheikh Abdullah, why didn’t Sheikh countered Abbas in his autobiography which was written much later in late 1970’s? Actually, Sheikh deliberately chooses to remain silent for known reasons. It had a far-reaching impact and it altered the course of the history of Jammu and Kashmir. The conversion led to the disunity among the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir State with Chaudhary Abbas taking Muslims of Jammu region all along with himself in the revived Muslim Conference. Moreover, the consequences of the conversion could be seen during the course of the movement. During the course of Quit Kashmir movement, all the leaders of Muslim Conference were jailed along with people associated with National Conference. Sheikh Abdullah was the only leader released at the behest of Nehru, Patel, and Gandhi to facilitate the accession drama. Here I argue that if the leaders of Muslim Conference too had been released, Sheikh would not have dared to endorse the accession openly and the situation would have been different. Also, Muslim Conference had already passed a resolution on 19 July 1947 in favour of Pakistan .
Role in handing Kashmir to India
Sheikh Abdullah got many chances to reconsider his decision of joining the Indian Union during and after the Quit Kashmir movement. Firstly, Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, Sheikh’s deputy went to meet Sheikh in Baderwah Jail in 1946 to seek details about what to do next. Bakshi realised that Sheikh Abdullah was not in favour of accession with Pakistan but his wish had been to enter into Maharaja’s government so that relations would be built with India. Secondly, after the independence of India, Sheikh Abdullah wrote to Moti Ram Begara (National Conference leader) from Baderwah jail ruling out any possibility of Kashmir joining Pakistan. After Sheikh Abdullah was released from jail, backdoor talks between Sheikh Abdullah and Prime Minister Mehr Chand Mahajan were going on to facilitate Sheikh Abdullah’s entry into Maharaja’s administration. However, these talks broke down in the light of Poonch rebellion which ultimately led to tribal revolt.
Thirdly, after Sheikh Abdullah’s release on 29 September 1947, many other National Conference leaders and workers were too released. To honour them on their release from jail, a public gathering was organised by National Conference in the lawns of Pather Masjid. Here Maulana Syed Masoodi spoke that they had given a commitment of Secularism to United India not divided one. Now Pakistan has become a sovereign country, the leadership must ponder over the situation and they must re-think their policy what to do next. Maulana Masoodi was clear what he was advocating. He was recognising public mood that Kashmir should access with Pakistan.However, Sheikh didn’t give any heed to Maulana Masoodi’s advice. Sheikh Abdullah said in the same gathering that Maulana Masoodi has been in jail for quite some time. He has been released yesterday and does not know the ground realities. This reflected Sheikh Abdullah’s mindset. He had already decided to side with India.
Fourthly, a deputation of Muslim League reached Kashmir to hold talks with Sheikh Abdullah and other Kashmiri leaders. Its members included Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din, Brigadier Habib-ur-Rehman, Dr Muhammad Din Taseer, and Sheikh Sadiq Hassan – most of them were Kashmiri origin. They had been sent by the Pakistani Government to impress upon the leadership to access with Pakistan. They stressed that Sheikh Abdullah should favour Kashmiri’s immediate accession to Pakistan. The delegation offered Sheikh Abdullah complete internal autonomy and also the right to secede. However, the delegation felt much disappointed hearing the reply of Sheikh Abdullah that their first demand is complete freedom from Dogra rule. Sheikh Abdullah’s mantra was freedom from Dogra rule and then accession. He promised the Pakistan delegation that he will send Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq for further talks with the Government of Pakistan and fix the dates for Sheikh Abdullah’s meeting with Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Sadiq went to Pakistan and met Liyaqat Ali Khan, Raja Gazanfar Ali Khan. He was assured by the Pakistani authorities that Kashmir would be granted complete internal autonomy (Defence, Communication and Foreign Policy would remain with Pakistan) if Kashmir acceded with Pakistan. Liyaqat Ali Khan sent a letter to Sheikh Abdullah through Sadiq in which apart from autonomy, Pakistan authorities were offering Sheikh Abdullah representation in the Foreign Service department, and Kashmir’s interest would be given supreme attention when formulating Foreign Policy of the country. However, it was quite apparent to people near him that Sheikh Abdullah wanted to become Prime Minister under the aegis of Maharaja. It was told by Sheikh Abdullah to Munshi Isaaq in person in clear terms . This all is missing in Sheikh Abdullah’s Aatish-Chinar.
One needs to ask regarding the meaning of Nehru’s promise to the people of Kashmir who had already sent a note to Sheikh Abdullah from Sonamarg in 1952 to finalise accession and ruled out of any possibility of a plebiscite in Kashmir. The question arises why did then Sheikh keeps it secret and why did he raise the slogan of self-determination for long 22 years? The people of the state gave immense sacrifices keeping the spirit of freedom alive for these years. Sheikh surrendered parts of Kashmir autonomy just to obtain crumbs of power, an impression which Sheikh failed to remove until the end of his life. During the middle of Beigh-Parthasarthy talks Tariq Abdullah, son of Sheikh Abdullah returned from London and was made managing Director of Tourist Development Corporation by the Congress government led by Mir Qasim. Tariq Abdullah is the person who went with Pakistani delegation in 1965 and gave an anti-India speech in United Nations in favour of the right to self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. His return from London and to give him a huge post in the administration was an indication that Sheikh Abdullah has decided to bury the coffin of Plebiscite Front. Sheikh Abdullah did not even minced words in condemning Congress for betraying the accord-the way it was reported by the All India Radio. Though it created doubts in his mind but alas. Therefore it should not surprise anyone that once the most popular leader of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdulla’s grave is protected by the police to save it from the very people he proudly claimed to represent.
 S.M.Abdullah, Atash-i-Chinar (Srinagar: Gulshan Books, 1985), p.306.
 Speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in response to the address presented by Muslim Conference at Pather Masjid, Srinagar on June 3, 1936. (Jammu & Kashmir Archives, Srinagar).
 S.M.Abdullah, Atash-i-Chinar (Srinagar: Gulshan Books, 1985), p.228-229
 P.N.Bazaz, The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir (New Delhi: Kashmir Publishing House, 1954), p.147.
 Shamloo, (n.d).Speeches and Statements of Iqbal, (Lahore: Al-Manar Academy), p. 180.
 Chowdhari Ghulam Abbas, Kashamkash (Srinagar: Kashmir Studies Foundation, 2001), p. 169.
 Ibid, p. 178.
 P.G.Rasool, Maslae Kashmir Ki Asli Haqeeqat(Srinagar: Ali Muhammad and Sons, 2013), p.77.
 Munshi Isaaq,Nida-i-Haq (Srinagar: Kashmir Book Foundation, 2014),p. 165.
 Ibid, p.177.
 Munshi Isaaq, Nida-i-Haq (Srinagar: Kashmir Book Foundation, 2014), p. 177.
 Ibid, p. 181.
 Ibid, p. 184; Rashid Taseer, Tahrik-i-Hurriyat-i-Kashmir (Srinagar: Muhafiz Publications, 1973) Vol. III, P. 274-275.
 Munshi Isaaq, Nida-i-Haq (Srinagar: Kashmir Book Foundation, 2014), p. 182.
Selected Works of Jawahar Lal Nehru, Second Series, Vol. 23 (New Delhi: Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial Fund, 1999), p. 322-30.
The author is a Doctoral candidate at Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. His research area includes “Contested Legacy of Sheikh Abdullah. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Note: A part of this piece first appeared in KashmirINK and Oracle-Opinions is publishing its original version with the consent of the author.
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