BJP is Copying Islamists in Destroying Abdullahs and NC in Kashmir
In going after the National Conference and the Abdullahs, Delhi’s BJP government may embolden Islamists in Kashmir
There is a different BJP ruling at the Centre now. With respect to Kashmir, abrogation of Article 370, for which the Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookherjee struggled around 1950, was on top of its agenda. It was done successfully on August 5, 2019. But BJP’s Mission Kashmir doesn’t end there. The Jana Sangh and the BJP leaders have been holding Sheikh Abdullah responsible for Mookherjee’s “custodial killing”. He had been arrested by Sheikh’s Police on May 11, 1953, and lodged in a jail in Srinagar where he died of heart attack on June 23.
Purported allegations in the Public Safety Act dossier against Mehbooba may still be understandable to some. But Farooq Abdullah’s continued detention and now the PSA charge-sheet against Omar and other NC leaders is, for many, clear enough that the ‘new BJP’ is on the “wolf-and-the-lamb” story in the valley.
Systematic Dismantling of the Abdullah Legacy
On the eve of 2020 Republic Day, when State honours are announced for national heroes in recognition of their outstanding contribution to public service and other spheres, the Government of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir removed the NC founder Sheikh Abdullah’s name from its Police medals. Sher-e-Kashmir Police Medal for Gallantry/Meritorious Service was christened as ‘Jammu and Kashmir Police Medal for Gallantry/Meritorious Service’.
Previously on December 27, 2019, the Government, currently functioning directly under the control of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, removed Sheikh’s birthday, December 5, as a gazetted holiday from the official calendar.
In the Valley now there is a buzz that that Sher-e-Kashmir Park, Abdullah Bridge, Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC), and Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST) are all tipped to get fresh names—palatable to the leaders of the BJP from Jammu to Delhi.
In the maze of politics, irony dies a thousand deaths in Kashmir.
‘Sher-e-Kashmir’ (the Lion of Kashmir) was peoples’ sobriquet for Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (1905-1982) who spearheaded a successful mass movement against the Dogra monarchy, mobilised the Kashmiri Muslim opinion against Pakistan in the crucial times of 1947, and helped India make the strategically important Jammu and Kashmir its territory.
Jinnah Saw Sheikh Abdullah as a Traitor Once, Now His Grandson is Seen As Such By the BJP
In 1938, Sheikh converted his Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference into the secular Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. He adopted ‘red’ as the colour of his JKNC’s flag and popularised his slogan “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Ittihad”. Jinnah and company viewed it as Sheikh’s treason to the Muslim cause.
The twentieth century political history is replete with Sheikh’s “treason to the Muslim cause” including Jinnah’s public humiliation which he allegedly presided over in Srinagar. He rejected Jinnah’s two-nation theory and sided with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru. His bonhomie with Delhi saw an anti-climax in August 1953 when he was arrested, removed as Prime Minister of J&K, jailed for years and prosecuted for “conspiracy against India”.
In 1947-48, Sheikh and his party played key role in resisting the incursion from Pakistan. His followers were mercilessly killed as they misled the raiders and delayed their advancement to Srinagar.
Under Sheikh’s leadership, Kashmir’s men and women formed militias and chased away the raiders with the slogan “hamlaavar khabardaar, ham Kashmiri hain tayyaar’.
In 1975, Sheikh dumped his 22-year-long movement for right of self-determination, signed the Indira-Abdullah Accord and worked as Chief Minister till death in September 1982. During these seven eventful years, Sheikh enfeebled all separatist and pro-Pakistan voices. He got Jamaat-e-Islami and its schools banned and shut eyes to the NC workers’ anarchic crackdown on the Jamaat habitations, over Z.A. Bhutto’s execution by Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime in Pakistan, in April 1979.
National Conference Paid the Price for Opposing Militancy in the Valley
At a civic reception in Srinagar’s Shalimar Garden around 1980, President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy extolled Sheikh as “Sher-e-Bharat” (The Lion of India).
A groundswell of support for Sheikh was evident from his arrival in Kashmir in February 1975 to his landslide victory in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections of 1977 to his million-strong funeral in 1982. Who’s who of India’s politics attended Sheikh’s funeral and paid him homage as India’s hero. Years later, BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee inducted Sheikh’s grandson, Omar, as the junior foreign minister and Manmohan Singh’s Congress government at the Centre admitted Farooq Abdullah as a Minister.
In his autobiography, Aatish-e-Chinar, Sheikh records how, in the very first meeting of the J&K Constituent Assembly in 1951, he had strongly advocated that the people of Kashmir should tie their knot with India. "Thirty years have passed since then and we have gone through hell. We have been subjected to all kinds of suffering and humiliation, and yet I stand by what I said then: the solution that I offered then (union with India) is still valid”, he wrote a year before his death.
When a three-member delegation from Pakistan exerted pressure on Sheikh and threatened him that Islamabad could use “other means” if he didn’t ask the Kashmiris to side with that country, Sheikh retorted: “Do whatever you like, but to enter Kashmir you will have to walk over our dead bodies”.
So, when the militancy sprouted years after Sheikh’s death, the first fatal attack was on the JKNC worker Mohammad Yousuf Halwai on August 21, 1989. Over 4,000 Kashmiris, including former Ministers and legislators, are believed to have been killed by militants on account of their association with the NC.
BJP and NC: Love, Hate and More
In sharp contrast to Farooq Abdullah’s jingoistic demands of bombardment on Pakistan in 1996-2002, his successor-son Omar Abdullah had said at the inauguration of a train station near Anantnag in 2008 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Kashmir was a political problem which needed a political resolution.
All through the passage of a House resolution on autonomy in 1999-2000—and after its rejection by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government—Farooq’s National Conference (NC) had asserted that it wanted restoration of the 1953 position to Jammu and Kashmir. But, significantly, it put out a caveat that “any other resolution acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir” would also be acceptable to the party. In a way NC’s cadre signalled to the separatists and the militants around that it would not be an impediment in the way of achieving azaadi.
NC General Secretary and Farooq’s brother Mustafa Kamal was given a long rope to demonise New Delhi and glorify the militants. At least on three occasions, he visited residents of the slain militants and extended condolences to their families—much like the Peoples Democratic Leader Mehbooba Mufti did for years. Officially, however, the NC remained a mute spectator.
On two occasions, Farooq broke his silence and asked his audiences to “remember the sacrifices of the youths who have picked guns for the nation”.
Even after the gulf widened between the NC and the BJP after the former’s resolution of autonomy was rejected, Prime Minister Vajpayee, along with Home Minister LK Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandez, came all the way to Hazratbal when Sheikh’s wife Begam Akbar Jehan died in July 2000.
BJP’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy Towards Separatism A New Phenomenon?
For reasons other than the numbers, BJP in 2015 chose Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP as its coalition partner when it formed the government for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir. Much like Vajpayee previously ignored PDP lifting the green as the colour of its flag, the Hizbul Mujahideen chief Salahuddin’s ‘Pen and Inkpot’ as its election symbol, and Mehbooba’s diatribe against the security forces, Prime Minister Narendra Modi swallowed things far more bitter. From Massarat Alam’s release to withdrawal of cases against “14,000 stone pelters”, to the picture perfect of the “Pakistan within” in 2016—everything was overlooked for the sake of the BJP-PDP alliance.
It was only after the militants revived their base after facing reverses for over a decade and journalist Shujaat Bukhari was gunned down in the Civil Lines in Srinagar that the BJP was forced to withdraw support from Mehbooba’s government.
Until that day, the authors of “Agenda of Alliance” were the national heroes across India. A little later, it was the killing of over 40 CRPF men in a fidayeen attack near Awantipora that changed all the colours. Modi’s tough actions thereafter are believed to have led to his landslide victory in the Lok Sabha election of 2019.
Around the crucial timing of the abrogation of Article 370, even the BJP’s ruling partner, Sajad Lone, who had called Modi his elder brother in 2014, aligned himself with the “greater Kashmir alliance”. BJP’s failure to find takers to its actions within the Valley limited its options to aggression. The Centre got almost all the prominent mainstream politicians either confined to house arrest or lodged in jails. It didn’t stop there.
In the end, let us not forget that before January 2020, Sheikh’s sobriquet was removed only once—in 1990 by militants when even the Government called SKIMS as IMS. Its name was restored only after Farooq Abdullah returned to power in 1996.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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