Change of strategy?

Sher-e-Kashmir was ditched by Madam Gandhi by informing the Parliament about the accord on February 24; something which she was not supposed to do as per an unwritten agreement between them

In August 1965 `Operation Gibralor’ was launched to liberate Jammu Kashmir. The Plebiscite Front was very active then and was assigned the job of mustering public support in favour of the operation. The operation should have emboldened the leaders but that did not happen.

Three time acting president of the Plebiscite Front, Munshi Muhammad Ishaq writes in his memoirs. Munshi admits he had full knowledge of Operation Gibraltor and had been taken into confidence by people who mattered at that time in Pakistan.  When Batmaloo was set ablaze by the Indian army, Munshi resigned from the post of acting president of the Plebiscite Front on August 18, 1965. Khawaja Sonaullah Bhat (Editor Aftaab) contacted Munshi same evening to know about the developments. A tearful Munshi told him that “an opportunity to liberate Kashmir had been lost.”

 Divulging details of the plan, he said, “We had been told to muster public support in favour of the operation. It had been decided that we would not remain unconcerned during this movement. Pakistanis had talked with us and I had personally agreed with their plan. Their plan was to undertake a sudden operation of occupying the Srinagar airport, radio station, Sader Police Station and other police stations at Khanyar and Maharaj Gunj. We had been entrusted with the responsibility of seeking public support for this action so that there could be no other alternative for India except to agree to have an honourable settlement of the Kashmir issue. And the message of armed revolution which was being broadcast from ‘Sadai Kashmir’ would take a real shape and would be implemented. But we, ‘out of selfishness and temerity, did not cooperate.”(SIC) (Kashmir in Flames by Sonaullah Bhat, Page 109, 110)

 This was the time when Munshi came to know about the wavering stand of the leadership. However, he remained silent and revolted in 1969 when the Front decided to take part in municipal elections. (Greater Kashmir, November 16, 2003).
Munshi broke his silence. “Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beg have started deviating from the basic stand of the Front. The Executive Council in its meeting, March 22, 1969, decided to contest elections, which we had been boycotting till date. I severely opposed the proposal. The people, by and large, and majority of the Front workers supported me. I shall oppose the move tooth and nail come what may. Moulana Farooq and Moulana Abbas Ansari approached me and subtly expressed their support. Let us see what happens in the coming days.”

Munshi decided to muster support against the decision. He called on the prominent members of the Front across Kashmir but nobody, not even Sofi Muhammad Akbar, was ready to listen to Munshi. He finally, addressed a press conference on August 7, 1969. He accused the leadership of having decided to contest municipal elections.  The Daily Aftaab reported the Press Conference as follows:

 “The Panchayati elections are in news these days and some people are connecting self determination to these elections. However, the members of the Front have nothing to do with the elections because we believe elections cannot be a substitute to self-determination.  If some people decided to contest elections in total violation of the constitution of the Front, it does not mean that the Front has decided to join the fray. The Front is alive and shall continue to strive for the attainment of the right to self-determination. We want a referendum in accordance with the UN resolutions.” The leadership responded by declaring Munshi a traitor. He was expelled from the Plebiscite Front.

Another acting president of the Plebiscite Front, Advocate G N Hagroo in an interview recorded a month before his death said: “Soon after the 1971 war, the home ministry prepared a file which accurately showed Sheikh Abdullah’s assets and wealth. In the last para of the report, the home ministry suggested action against Sheikh Abdullah for having wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. Sheikh Abdullah was shattered by the report. Meanwhile, New Delhi had won over Begum Abdullah and his sons through Miss Sarabhai. The home ministry report and the pressure at domestic front forced Sheikh Abdullah change his stand. Soon after Beg-Parthasarthy talks begun.”

 Hagroo wrote an article for Greater Kashmir on December 14, 2006. He wrote:  “Beg tried his best to safeguard all the genuine rights of Kashmiris. While Parthsarthy protracted the talks, Sheikh grew impatient. One day when Beg was talking to Parthsarthy, Sheikh walked in and ordered Beg to meet him outside immediately. When Beg came out, Sheikh screamed at him. ‘Why are you protracting the talks? I am not interested in your ifs and buts. I am interested in getting some sort of accord for using as a face saving device.’” (SIC)

Hagroo was a close friend of Beg. Both hailed from the same locality of Islamabad. He told Hagroo: “I could not comprehend Sheikh’s thinking and managed to sign the so-called accord. After the accord was signed, Sheikh was so quick to rush to Jammu (winter capital of the state) that he did not allow Beg to collect his bedding.”

Before signing the accord, Sheikh Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beg issued a series of statements wherein it was mentioned that New Delhi had agreed to restore pre-53 status. Amid massive protests, the Plebiscite Front Council discussed the terms and conditions of the accord and ratified it on February 15. A few members opposed it. Sofi Muhammad Akbar and Advocate G N Hagroo were two of them.  

On February 15, 1975, the Plebiscite Front gave consent to Indira-Abdullah Accord and on February 28 Kashmiris responded to Pakistan Prime Minister, Zulifkar Ali Bhutto’s strike call. The strike paralysed life in Kashmir. But on March 3 when Sheikh Abdullah arrived in Srinagar the same people accorded a rousing reception to him. While the saner elements across the globe were trying to understand the strange behaviour of Kashmiris, Sheikh Abdullah had strong reasons to feel depressed. He was ditched by Madam Gandhi by informing the Parliament about the accord on February 24; something which she was not supposed to do as per an unwritten agreement between the duo.

Sheikh Abdullah received the shocking news at Jammu and expressed his reluctance to go to Raj Bhawan where he had to take oath as chief minister of the state. According to Shabnam Qayoom, Indira Gandhi when informed about Sheikh’s reluctance, urged the governor, L K Jha to allow Mir Qasim, who had submitted his resignation, to continue as chief minister.  Gandhi also urged Jha to tell Qasim to follow her directions on Nedous Hotel Issue.  The lease of the hotel had expired recently and the government had plans to lease it out to another party. This, according to Shabnam, forced Sheikh to sign the accord.

According to Qayoom, Mir Qasim persuaded Sheikh to attend the function. He agreed and later accused the media of misinterpreting some of the clauses of the accord. “I will apprise the people of the terms and conditions of the accord soon. No mention has been made about my correspondence with the Prime Minister”, he said.

Justifying the accord, Sheikh writes on page 837 of his autobiography:  “It was not a deviation from the basic stand. It was change of strategy. We shifted our struggle from streets to the table.”  
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