Eight decades after the Muslims launched the freedom movement, a harsh reality has yet to dawn on the leadership. Wooing the non-Muslims to join the freedom struggle continues unabated. What a waste of time it has been? History is witness to the fact that non-Muslims always stayed away from the struggle. Sher-e-Kashmir could woo a few of them and most of them who came forward had leftist tendencies. And, all of them left Sheikh one by one.
The process of rechristening Muslim Conference (MC) started in 1933. The annual session of the organization was held at Mirpur (now in Pakistan-administered Kashmir) on September 15-17. Several resolutions were passed on the concluding day of the session. One of the resolutions sought participation of non-Muslims in the freedom struggle. The resolution was, by and large, welcomed by the members. However, some members described it a conspiracy against Muslim unity. The resolution also evoked reaction from Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal. The great poet in his letter (dated October 12, 1933) urged Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah to ensure unity of Muslims without fail.
The conversion process was formally launched during the sixth annual session of the MC held on March 25-27, 1938 at Jammu. In his presidential address, Sheikh Abdullah stressed the need for `responsible government.’ Several resolutions were passed. It was decided to change the name of the organization to ensure participation of non-Muslims in the struggle.
A meeting was held at Srinagar. Muhammad Umar Bhat suggested creation of a new organization `National Congress’. However, this was severely opposed. But Bhat created the National Congress and some people including Raghunath Vaishnavi, Seth Kishori Lal, Madan Lal, Ved Prakash and Ali Muhammad Bhat joined it.
On June 24, 1938 a special meeting of the working committee of MC was held at Srinagar. Most of the members severely opposed creation of National Conference (NC). Moulvi Abdullah Vakil accused Sheikh Abdullah of a sell-out. Editor of Pasbaan, Syed Meraj-ud-Din Ahmad said: “The oath taken by Sheikh Abdullah, Dr Peshan, Ram Nath Shastri, Jia Lal Kilam and Kashap Bandhu to break the MC has been fulfilled.”
Well-known leader from Jammu Chowdhary Ghulam Abbas severely criticized the move. He said: “NC will become a mistress of Indian National Congress.” Sheikh Abdullah listened patiently but rejected the apprehensions of the members as unfounded. Finally Abbas consented to the conversion on the following conditions:
NC shall have no truck with the Congress; the inclusion of non-Muslims should not harm the identity of the Muslims; Hindus and Muslims cannot unite. However, they can work together to achieve political goals; we hope sheikh Abdullah shall not take any step to harm the interests of Muslims.
Sheikh Abdullah readily agreed to these conditions. Soon, Sheikh Abdullah and other leaders were arrested in connection with ‘responsible government’ agitation. In February the leaders were released and by the end of May the stage was all set for the `infamous conversion’.
On June 11 NC was suggested as the new name of the organization. Some members stood up to express their views but Sheikh Abdullah did not allow them to do so. Moulvi Abdullah Vakil offered resistance. He said: “I have a right to express my views. I do not accept your decision.”
Sheikh Abdullah told him to walk out of the room. Ghulam Ahmad Ganie, Sheikh Ahmad Din, Mirwaiz Ghulam Nabi Hamdani and seven others also walked out along with Vakil.
This is how Muslim Conference was taken to the altar for ensuring participation of non-Muslims in the freedom struggle. Surprisingly non-Muslims lived comfortably in Dogra rule. They were loyal to the Dogra rulers and missed no opportunity to subject Muslims to persecution. But, Sher-e-Kashmir saw a role for them in the freedom struggle. But contrary to his expectations, the newly formed National Conference (NC), however, evoked lukewarm response from the non-Muslims. Attempts to revive the Muslim Conference (MC) started immediately.
The idea was discussed in detail by senior NC workers including Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi. Munshi Naseer-ud-Din (Editor Albarq) discussed it with Sheikh as well. It is believed that Sheikh agreed in principle with the members. He is believed to have told Munshi Naseer: “You go ahead. I will work as an ordinary member of the MC. I will not accept its leadership.” One such meeting was held in the lawns of erstwhile Teachers’ Training School at Magarmal Bagh.
In 1944 when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Kashmir, the NC hosted a reception in his honour. Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Zahra Hamdanai posed three questions to the Quaid. His last question merits a mention. “Keeping the Muslim Majority population of the state in view which party can serve the interests of Muslims better. NC or MC?” The Quaid replied: “Apparently NC. But can you tell me how many non-Muslims are members of the party?”
This stunned the NC workers. Hamdani had to eat a humble pie. Someone from the crowd cried, “Budh Singh, Kashap Bandhu.” This was greeted with laughter by the people present much to the discomfort of the NC workers.
The Quaid said: “Had non-Muslims joined the NC, the Maharaja’s government would have succumbed in seven days.”
As the time passed the non-Muslims in the NC started giving sleepless nights to Sheikh Abdullah. He had to shave off his beard. Soon after his `trusted friend’ Kashap Bandhu wrote an editorial in Martand and criticized Sheikh Abdullah for taking out Millad processions. A frightened Sheikh succumbed. In 1943 Sheikh decided not to take out the procession. This gave the newly formed MC a chance to prove its mettle. A Millad procession sponsored by MC evoked overwhelming response.
Raghunath Vaishnavi who was the general secretary of National Congress, an organization that later merged into NC also deserted him. In 1953 he joined the Political Conference, an organization that stood for total merger of Jammu Kashmir into Pakistan.
Another friend, Prem Nath Bazaz also parted ways. He jointly owned the daily Hamdard with Sheikh Abdullah. The partnership was broken and Bazaz became his `worst enemy’. On June 10, 1947, Bazaz wrote an editorial in Hamdard. It read: “The Hindus do not like NC. However, some Hindus have joined it not because they love it but for the hatred it has exhibited against Muslims of India. The inclusion of a handful of Hindus in NC does not make it a representative of the minorities. The Hindus and Sikhs praise NC in public because they believe that it is working against the interests of Muslims…”
The world knows about Kashmir and the movement. Why do the leaders then try to project themselves as secularists by wooing the non-Muslims? It must stop now.
(Source: Aatish-e-Chinar by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Kashmir Ka Siyasi Inqilab by Shabnam Qayoom, Tareekh-e-Hurriyat-e-Kashmir by Rashid Taseer, Kashmakush by Chowdhury Ghulam Abbas, Tareekh-e-Jung-e-Azadia-e-Kashmir by Munshi Naseer-ud-Din, Jinnah in Kashmir by Tabasum Kashmiri –a series of articles published in local dailies, interview with Muslim Conference worker, Muhammad Yusuf Khan of Balgarden).
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