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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 2, January 24, 2009

Kashmir in Perspective

Monday 26 January 2009, by I K Gujral


A history-maker has surrendered to Death. For a great man like him there can be no conventional praise or blame. Physically and mentally he was outsize.

It was once said about De Gaulle—of whom he reminded me so much—that he was possessed by an all-consuming and uncontrollable passion, transcending all other cravings, for France. It was love affair with an abstraction which took physical form of mingling with the crowds of his loyal supporters. How aptly it applies to the Lion of Kashmir!

He was completely devoted to accomplishment of everything what he believed to be in the interest of his people. With dedication, courage, vision and intelligence, he pursued his chosen course—never to be deterred by fear or temptation!

I first saw him in August of 1934, addressing a small crowd on the banks of Lidder at Pahalgam. I could not understand his language but the impact of his oratory was visible. And, then, I witnessed an unforgettable sight: people collecting bits of soil on which he had walked. They kissed it and wrapped it in their loose garments! Such reverence for him remained undimmed all through his life.

My next meeting with him was to come years later—in 1940. By then he had covered many a mile and had come to occupy a unique position in the ranks of freedom-fighters in Jammu and Kashmir and beyond.

It was usual for him and some of his leading colleagues, Bakshi, Beg, Sadiq, Karra and others to assemble in the Amira Kadal office of Sadiq almost every evening. These were brain-storming sessions where all socio-political issues were discussed with heat and passion.

The Sheikh, unlike Sadiq for instance, was not a Leftist of the Marxian brand. He sailed very close to the Nehruvian perceptions of a socialist society. This enabled him to be tolerant of all shades of thinking amongst his followers.

Soon we were able to organise a group of National Conference activists—led by Sadiq who drew inspiration from the Communist Party’s thinking at the time.

The following year, I went to Srinagar again. Sir Gopalswami Iyengar was then the Prime Minister of Kashmir. The National Conference leadership had decided to formally put forward its ‘New Kashmir’ programme. It was a radical manifesto, so they found it hard to persuade any press to print it.

Bakshi, Sadiq and myself went to Lahore, by different buses to avoid detections. Both Sadiq and Bakshi were correct in assuming that they would be bodily searched at toll-points at Domel and Kohala. I carried the script—rather badly typed.

At Lahore it was equally difficult to find a ‘friendly’ press in those war days when the Defence of India Rules operated ruthlessly. A woman comrade in the Lahore Students’ Union succeeded in persuading her father, who owned a small press. He personally printed it in the night when all his workers had gone.

I had many occasions to meet him subsequently at Lahore and at Srinagar. We were in correspondence during my stay in Moscow where I succeeded in acquiring some Pashmina and Karakul goats for the State. A part of his wish remained unfulfilled—getting the mink rabbits for breeding.
In 1978, Farooq came to Moscow to stay with us. Sheikh Sahib had written to me ‘to take care of him’—a father’s emotion and concern!

FOR the last time in our lives, I met Sheikh Sahib on June 17 this year. Both my wife and I had gone to Kashmir at his invitation and he treated us with utmost warmth and cordiality.

In our meeting wearing his white skull cap, he looked quite relaxed and happy. We got a feeling that his face was somewhat puffed due to kidney malfunction.

In the first meeting he talked at length about the controversial ‘Bill’ on citizenship which had raised so much dust. He had come to suspect that the Centre was making preparations to push him out once again. He blamed the ‘small ones around the power centre’ for generating a myopic view of issues and events: but he was not at all cowed down.

The last meeting on June 17 was painful. He was laid in a small bedroom of his modest house and had got himself supported from the back with cushions. He was weak but cheerful. His two charming daughters were nursing him. They served coffee to both of us, then discreetly withdrew.

Talking of his health, he said that he had an attack of diarrohea to start with and that was followed by intense constipation which affected his pallet—he hardly felt like eating.

I was feeling guilty for talking to him in this state of health. But then the door suddenly flung open and in came a young, charming son of Farooq directly jumping on his grandfather’s bed to hug him. He had just arrived from his school at Sanawar for a holiday. This visibly cheered him up. His expression mellowed and for a while, the two held each other warmly and kissed. Sheikh had forgotten his illness.

And then he continued to talk about his deep concern for recurring communal riots and the situation in Punjab. He had his views regarding inadequacies of leadership and gave expression to his views frankly. He was unhappy with the Opposition leaders too “who had not bothered to ascertain” his point of view and reasons. He later agreed with my observation that this indifference on their part was partly due to his own self-imposed nonintervention in larger national issues. He accepted that he too had not done much to educate the larger public opinion regarding his views and promised to remedy it soon after his recovery.

Reverting to his main theme, Sheikh Sahib said in an anguished tone: “But that won’t end, we will always remain suspects in their eyes, whatever we may do.”

He then talked about the Jamat-i-Islami and its role in the Valley. “Here I am fighting an in-depth battle. The Jamat has to be resisted politically and fought back socially. How do I fight on two fronts when they (in Delhi) doubt my secularism and patriotism?” He slightly raised his voice and said: “Where were they in 1947 when I fought back Jinnah and we made our voluntary choice to join the rest of India?”

I recall another meeting with him in 1974—a couple of months before he re-assumed power when he talked about “serious distortions in our secular outlook”. He reminded me: “Kashmir Valley’s population is overwhelmingly Muslim and sometimes a Hindu outlook of some people finds it hard to live as a minority even in one State.” He explained: “It may not be conscious communalism, yet deep below—it makes them suspicious of others.” And he added. “This induces a psyche of assuming a monopoly of patriotism and love for the country.”

Sustained talk of ‘suspicion’ upsets Kashmiris as it would any self-respecting people anywhere. In my first meeting with him in June this year he had asked: “Why are we always looked at like this? We have fought far more for Kashmir’s integration with India than anyone else.” And then, he added with a touch of sarcasm: “How many Kashmiris were involved in the Samba conspiracy case anyway?”

SOME people found Sheikh Sahib enigmatic, self-contradictory. This may be because they judged him not as a Kashmiri patriot whose love for the rest of India was an extension of his love for his own people whose very identity he had resurrected from a heap of debris left behind by History.

He had a peer—somewhat similarly placed—Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Both of them have suffered the torments of mis-judgement by their fellow countrymen.

I did not realise on June 17 that it was to be our last meeting. As I took leave of him, I got a deep feeling as if he was telling me a part of his testament: an enlightened concept of a secular-federal culture.

On Farooq has fallen a very large mantle and he has to grow a lot to fill it. Kashmir’s polity remains difficult; in this he will have to quickly acquire a large part of his father’s insight and outlook.

But the future does not depend upon him alone. What are the policy objectives of the Central leadership?

Delhi must realise that attempts to ‘stoogise’ Farooq or covertly undermine Article 370 of the Constitution will be counter-productive. Jamat-i-Islami and its cultural roots are not informidable. It can be countered effectively by a leadership whom Kashmiris respect for its commitment to their interests.

The experience of 1953-75 should make us see that even men of stature like Bakshi and Sadiq found it hard to build a credible base since the highly politicised Valley does not accept anyone whom they suspect to be under the thumb of Delhi or who derives his strength from anywhere else but the soil of Kashmir. Farooq will have to balance his credibility at home with acceptance at Delhi. It is a delicate act.

What role will the Congress-I play in the Valley? Perhaps some of them will soon pressurise the Centre to find them a seat on the State’s Treasury Benches. Minus their personal credibility and with the image of being ‘anti-Abdullah’ they can only harm Farooq. But then in the Congress ranks there is a far-sighted statesman—Syed Mir Qasim. In all these years, despite serious denigration, he has kept his nerves and retained his clear sight and has thus sustained a credible base in the minds of his own people. Sheikh Sahib also told me that he had a great deal of respect for Mir Qasim and had offered to send him to the Rajya Sabha last year. The offer was not accepted by the High Command in Delhi for rather odd reasons.

Farooq and Mir Qasim standing together can form an effective nuclei of leadership. The organi-sational structure can, of course, be moulded to suit the national needs.

(Mainstream, September 18, 1982)

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