KASHMIR: A Review of Two Biographies of Sheikh Abdullah

Punch line By Z.G. Muhammad: ‘Oh! It is a whopper sandwich.’It was my instantaneous reaction after finishing reading yet another book on Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. It was the second book I read about him during the past month. The first one that I mentioned in some previous columns was Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah- Tragic Hero of Kashmir by Ajit Bhattacharjea; an octogenarian journalist in Kashmir is generally counted amongst the ‘sympathetic’ for his earlier book the Wounded Valley. His book on Sheikh Abdullah, though based on secondary sources, is readable and quite enjoyable. He has beautifully built up Abdullah story from the memoirs of Sheikh Abdullah, B.N. Mullick, Syed Mir Qasim, Karan Singh and Nehru- Sardar Patil correspondence and other sources. He undoubtedly has blended extracts from his source material and his analysis with deftness to present a holistic story of Sheikh Abdullah. It tells how Sheikh was more sinned against by India than his sinning. The Abdullah story, when seen dispassionately, is the Kashmir story with all its troughs and crests, less of triumphs more of tragedies. The book, despite having a lucid style it is only half-story.

The second book, titled My Years With Sheikh Abdullah (Kashmir 1971-1987), written by Ghulam Ahmed published by Gulshan Publishing House, Srinagar spreading over 161 pages, can be read as part two by Ajit Bhattacharjee. It starts where Ajit’s book closes. The second book is incisive and authentic- it is the firsthand account by an insider who has not only been witness to power politics in the state but has been in the thick of things for more than sixteen years. Out of eight Chief Ministers who ruled the state during the past sixty-one years, he, directly and indirectly, worked with six. The book tasted to me like a whopper sandwich for its content. Like the signature fast food product sold by the international fast-food restaurant chain Burger King globally, it has many untold bitter and sweet stories between its glossy covers.

As very well said by one Indian historian Ramchandra Guha, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah has been an “intriguing and charismatic figure”. He dominated Kashmir political scene for fifty-one years and his ghost continues to hover around the state’s political landscape. The book is revealing not only about Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah but on many other counts. The author subtly suggests that New Delhi always looked for cronies in the saddle of the chief minister. Any disagreement was seen as defiance and counted as blasphemy. The Defiant was punished and penalized. While eulogizing Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi for his ‘tremendous organizing capacity, innate intelligence, sound judgment about men and matters, deft handling of the critical and explosive situation and efficiency, he candidly tells why New Delhi wanted ‘Goliath to be wiped out of the scene’. He writes, “The centre thought that Bakshi had become too big for his boots so deeply he entrenched himself. He did not fit in the scheme of things on Nehru’s table Delhi, and consequently, Bakshi became inconvenient for the powers that be.” In the ‘unceremonious and disgraceful’ removal of Bakshi, who not only had protected but strengthened New Delhi’s interests in Kashmir, one may see his nemesis. It holds about Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq also. He played the most important role in depriving the state of its autonomy. He translated the much-cherished dream of right-wing parties like Jan Sangh and other chauvinistic Hindu parties about integrating the state with the Indian union into reality by extending most of the state’s central laws and changing the state nomenclature of Prime Minister to Chief Minister. No moment New Delhi saw streaks of defiance in Sadiq; he was made to ‘pay his price.’ The author writes, “He (Sadiq) too was disenchanted and disillusioned and thereby became inconvenient for the central government because he too dared to defy the Delhi establishment.” The author puts a note of interrogation on the death of Chief Minister, Sadiq’. He writes, “Sadiq also had become defiant which was not liked by Delhi. He passed away in PGI Chandigarh in mysterious circumstances. His close circle of friends alleged that Sadiq might have been done to death by slow poisoning. Given the previous history, this was a possibility, which could not be ruled out.”

The book is pathbreaking because the author has not taken trite and traditional viewpoints on certain important political developments. The lifting of Moe-e-Muqaddas from the Hazratbal shrine in December 1963 continues to be shrouded in mystery. B.N. In his book My Years with Nehru, Mullick the then intelligence bureau chief, had given ‘an impression that Sheikh Abdullah and his pro-Pakistan supporters had engineered the disturbances. The populist view with most historians based on the theories circulated during the early sixties has been that Bakshi was responsible for the displacement of the relic. The book sufficiently suggests that this “diabolical plan” was conceived by “D.P. Dhar Machiavelli incarnate” with twin purpose one to remove the centrality of the Hazratbal shrine and two to pave for installation of Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq as chief minister of the state. (details on page 99-100).

The book is highly caustic about New Delhi’s attitude towards local bureaucracy and how it thought the local bureaucracy was not ‘conducive to central interest and how it was out to demolish it.’ In an appendix to the book, he brings out in detail the war of attrition between local bureaucracy, which was known as a syndicate and outside bureaucracy known pronounced as indicate and how it spoiled the work culture in the state.

The book is not only about Sheikh Abdullah only but about Abullaha’s of Kashmir. The author has fully understood the family’s psyche and has been this family psyche that has caused the 1975 Indira-Sheikh Accord. ‘Mrs. Gandhi considered Abdullah as a thorn in her flesh. She wanted him to join the national mainstream. Sheikh Abdullah was also tired, and the author hails Syed Mir Qasim then Chief Minister for his qualities and attributes winning over Sheikh Abdullah’s to India. The family played a catalytic role in making Sheikh Abdullah bury the movement for the plebiscite. “Sheikh Abdullah”, writes Ahmed “, Came under tremendous pressure from the family to accept the office once again. For too long, they argued, he had remained in the wilderness, without comfort, power and authority.’ He writes negotiations with Delhi were going on with Sheikh’s family members, and close relations were itching for the authority they would wield on acceptance of Gaddi by Sheikh Abdullah. The book unfolds the drama about the dissolution of the Plebiscite Front, its agreed merger into the Pradesh Congress as part of the deal, and the National Conference’s rebirth. It also tells about Shameem Ahmed Shameem suffering an intrigue for influencing Sheikh to revive the National Conference and preventing him from merging the PF with the Congress.

The author not only writes in detail about the working habits of his boss. Sheikh was hard working even at seventy-five or seventy-three when he assumed office in 1975. He enumerates his good qualities as well as counts his weaknesses. Nonetheless, Ahmad is venomously critical of Sheikh Abdullah’s children, particularly Farooq Abdullah. Exposing Farooq Abdullah’s misdeeds, he writes that his grey matter was less than that of a Dolphin. He has analyzed the family feud that he believes affected his health and ultimately caused his death. The book is informative and unveils many behind the scenes, and is a vital addition to the contemporary history of Kashmir. However, the forte of the book is the chapter titled Last Days. He was remorseful and disillusioned in his last days. ‘”He was all the time pensive and heavily overwhelmed by the weight of his blunders he had committed. He knew the damage had been done, and things were beyond redemption.” Sheikh towards of his life lamented his trusting Nehru and “admitted he had been proved wrong.”

Towards the end of his life, Sheikh was worried about New Delhi’s machinations for changing the state’s demography. The author tells us about the publication of twenty thousand copies of a booklet containing Sheikh Abduallh’s take on the nefarious designs about changing the state’s demography. He also tells how it mysteriously disappeared from the press, leaving behind only two hundred copies. Ghulam Ahmed believes that had he lived longer, he would have died in prison.

Z. G .MUHAMMAD is a Columnist and Writer from Srinagar, Kashmir