Politics is callous. It spares none, not even the dead. At times, it chases politicians even in their graves. It has inherent capacity of reviving controversies buried deep under its debris. History testifies, it makes dead leaders rise from their graves and face people’s trial and suffer the noose.
Thirty years after his death, none but his nephew Sheikh Nazir has put Sheikh Abdullah in the ‘people’s court’ for trial. Out of blue, after a gap of 37 years General Secretary of the ruling National Conference, few days back breathed new life into the controversial Indira-Sheikh Agreement. His take on this agreement was:
“Before leveling allegations against Sheikh, people should read history and check the facts. The 1975 Accord does not have the signature of Sheikh Sahib, neither was it tabled in the State legislature”.
Truly, the six-point agreement that enabled him to return to power not signed by Sheikh Abdullah or Mrs. Gandhi but by their representatives. However, it was by virtue of this agreement that he became the third Chief Minister of the state. The earlier two were G.M. Sadiq and Syed Mir Qasim. By electing a non-Congressman as leader of the House in 1975, the Congress party made a history of sorts.
To recap: On November 13, 1974, Mr. G. Parthasarathi and Miriza Afzal Beg President of Plebiscite Front signed the agreement in New Delhi. On February 6, 1975, Beg announced the agreement saying that it “provided lasting foundation for Centre-Kashmir relations”. Syed Mir Qasim under the orders of Mrs. Gandhi resigned as Chief Minister on 22 February. On 25th February Sheikh Abdullah was sworn as Chief Minister of the state.
It is a historical reality that the 1975 agreement was not born on the spur-of-the-moment but it was an outcome of a series of discussions that started in 1974. Three years dialogue between envoys of Sheikh Abdullah and Mrs. Gandhi. New Delhi initiated the talks at Sheikh Abdullah’s bidding. Initially “Mrs. Gandhi was hesitant” but once she was convinced that he was dropping the demand for right to self-determination and will not be insisting on return to pre-1953 position, she signaled for a ‘go-ahead. Immediately after their release in 1972, Sheikh Abdullah and President of the Plebiscite Front President departed from their political stand by stating that the dispute was not over “the quality of accession with India but over the quantum of accession”.
To prove his credentials to Mrs. Gandhi, after 1973, Sheikh came open against Pakistan “meddling” in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1973, when in the wake of agitation against Arthur Mee’s Book of Knowledge was assuming dimension as ‘serious as the Holy Relic agitation of 1963’ and Pakistan Prime Minister, Z.A. Bhutto had
“appreciated the significance of these protest and asked people of the state to observe hartal (on November 10 , 1973) in support of right to self-determination.’ Sheikh Abdullah had reacted harshly against Bhutto. This posture had convinced Mrs. Gandhi for talks. To quote British historian Alastair Lamb, ‘Sheikh Abdullah roundly condemning Bhutto and reminding him of dangers of meddling in the internal affairs of J &K …… a demonstration of state of mind which persuaded Indira Gandhi —Sheikh could prove the best man to serve India’s interests in the troubled state.’ (Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy 1846-1990 page 304- 308).
Sheikh Nazir’s assertion about S.M. Abdullah not being a signatory to the Accord perhaps made for giving benefit of doubt by all stretch of imagination fails on the touchstone of history. What prompted “astute” general secretary of the ruling National Conference to make such statement that has ruffled feathers of historians, commentators and politicians alike. Ostensibly, the ruling party is not confronted with any such challenge that necessitated raking up a controversy over the Accord that has ensured power to Abdullah dynasty now for about four decades. Is the ailing nephew nursing some guilt about the Accord that will pass into the history as “surrender of the lion of Kashmir?” Number of factors makes me look at the statement as a manifestation of the “guilt” that even Sheikh Abdullah nursed for entering into the 1975 Accord after the Congress party withdrew support to him. Sheikh Abdullah more than once attributed his bidding adieu to demand for Plebiscite under UN supervision to the fall of Dacca and Shimla agreement thereafter.
I wrote earlier also he quoted the then Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner Abdul Sattar conveying him message of Prime Bhutto about his country’s difficulties in supporting the “Kashmir cause” suggesting him to partake in governance of the state. However, the interest shown by Z.A. Bhutto in the affairs of Kashmir after the Shimla agreement and during the deliberations in Shimla belies this assertion. In his recent book Pakistan Foreign Policy Abdul Sattar has written in great detail about the centrality of Kashmir in country’s foreign policy and has given incisive account about, how despite difficulties Bhutto “bargained from a weak bargaining position” for safeguarded the interests of Kashmir. He explains how “no prejudice” clause in Shimla Agreement “protected Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir question from compromise”. There however, is no mention about ever suggesting Sheikh Abdullah to focus on ‘governance of the state forgetting the plebiscite.
Ghulam Ahmed, his Secretary has written that ‘during the last days of his life he (Sheikh Abdullah) was intensely remorseful and wallowed like a tormented soul’ about his faux pas’. Members of Abdullah family including his nephew have also been tacitly subscribing to the belief that he died a ‘guilty man’ and on his deathbed, he had expressed his deep desire to undo his actions in 1947 and 1975. He is supposed to have dictated two chapters to his autobiography on his deathbed- a will. If there is any truth in it is public trust with family to be shared with the people.
If Sheikh Nazir is honest to his mentor, he should get the last two chapters of Abdullah’s autobiography, withheld by the family out of political expediencies, published and leave Abdullah to be judged by contemporary and future historians.
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