Communists and Kashmir

They were called as “pongas”.   It was perhaps nickname coined by the ruling elite of the state during fifties for the communists in the state. I don’t know etymology of this word, if it has been derived from Kashmiri word “pog” meaning inauspicious,   used against Mogul soldiers who were called as “poga-Mogul”   after Akbar’  invasion of the state. But the word stayed remained in currency for many more years.

Notwithstanding the nickname, the fact remains that the communists occupied the intellectual space of the state for about two decades. It started with the birth of National Conference in 1938. National Conference was born out of the womb of the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference – an organization that articulated the suffering of the Muslims. Eighty percent of population under brutal Maharaja rule provided an opportunity for the communist ideologues   to occupy the intellectual space of Kashmir. In 1984, Kh. Ahmed Abbas told me in an interview that ‘after 1938, we considered Kashmir “as laboratory for testing socialist ideology.” 

Seen in right historical perspective it was not leadership of this nascent organization but the communist ideologues that shaped its political thought and outlook. The doctrine of the “Naya-Kashmir” drafted by the communist couple from outside the state B.P.L. Bedi and Freda Bedi became political gospel of this organization.   The impact of communists was so immense on the NC that it had virtually made important non-communist leaders like   Afzal Beg and Molvi Masoodi to toe their line. In 1947, when question of state’s accession with India and Pakistan arose both Jawaharlal Nehru and Quaid-e-Azam utilized the services of intellectuals and writers with left leanings to for seeing Kashmir joining their domain. Rajinder Singh Bedi in an interview told me that Nehru deputed a whole brigade of the communist writers to woo Sheikh Abdullah. Equally, Quaid Azam deputed   Mian Iftikharuddin, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Dr MD Taseer to Kashmir to invite Sheikh Abdullah for discussing future of Kashmir. Why Sheikh did not visit Karachi is a separate subject beyond the scope of this column.

The literature on role of communists in Kashmir before and after 1947 is scanty. To some extent this void has been filled with the publishing of a new book titled ‘Progressive Literary Movement in Kashmir’ by journalist and writer Ghulam Nabi Khyal. The book sponsored by the Sahtiya Akademi spreads over ten chapters is hard bound and ever chapter leaves scope for discussion.

 The book is important for students of contemporary literature as it provides a peep into the literary scene in the Kashmir during twentieth century more particularly during fifties and sixties.  It introduces a whole crop of writers during fifties and sixties influenced by communism.  However, the author perhaps because of the guidelines of the sponsors for the projected has not been honest enough to look at the role played by a large number of progressive writers in the state. They at no point of time represented the common peoples aspirations and urges instead they propagated agenda of a particular group of politicians in the state. Unlike progressive writers in other parts of the sub-continent they did not advocate ‘justice and forging resilience’ but instead worked as tools for foisting a particular outlook. The author has not mentioned their role in 1953, when Sheikh was deposed. Some progressive writers like Nadim had played a dubious role in providing grist to the propaganda mill about Sheikh conspiring with USA for an independent Kashmir. He however, subtly hints at intellectual dishonesty of some top progressive poets like Nadim and Rahi by stating that in 1956, Baskshi   won them to his side by offering them plum jobs and concessions.

Out of share naivety the author at couple of places like some historian has tried to establish connectivity between Indian freedom struggle and Kashmiri uprising   against tyrant autocracy forgetting that the Congress leadership got interested in Kashmir only after Prem Nath Bazaz sent what I call as SOS to Gandhi and Nehru after July 1931. Kashmiris in fact had drafted manifesto for their struggle in 1925, in the shape of memorandum presented to Lord Reading. However, the author rightly highlights the inspiring role played Dr. Iqbal in Kashmir struggle against tyranny.

In this book Khyal has kick-started a debate by placing whole range of Kashmir Sufi poets for their love of humanity under the canopy of progressive writers forgetting their poetry was inspired by love of Prophet (SAW) and not out of any dogmas.

The book however is a good addition Kashmir literature.