Thank you Sheikh Nazir Ahmed. Thanks for your January 7, 2013 address to the National Conference workers refreshing their memory and reminding them of November 18, 1947, when outside the Palladium cinema hundreds of them had gathered to greet first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru. The Palladium cinema then functioned as emergency office of the National Conference – where summary trials of political adversaries were carried out with impunity – I may not recount enactment of those chilling dramas. It was nice of you to remind your workers about the pledge made to the people of the state by Pandit Ji– as the NC workers in Kashmir popularly called him. Standing on a table with Sheikh Sahib (Sheikh Abdullah) on his right side, he had promised them holding of plebiscite for allowing them to decide their future. For Sheikh Abdullah standing by his side Jawaharlal was confident of referendum going in India’s favor. Seven days after he made a statement in the Constituent Assembly of India, on November 25, 1947 not only reiterating his commitment to plebiscite but also amplifying it further and even suggesting modus operandi for enabling people to exercise this right. To quote him: “In order to establish our bona fides, we have suggested that when people are given the chance to decide their future, this should be done under supervision of an impartial tribunal such as the United Nations”. These commitments were made 43 days before India took Kashmir to the United Nations, Security Council and it adopting resolutions calling for holding a plebiscite in the state under its aegis. Broadly, the UN resolution was just reaffirmation of Nehru’s pledge to the people of Kashmir.
In your address, you accused New Delhi of repeatedly backstabbing Kashmir leadership and reneging from promises made to the people of the state. Stating that it was high time for GoI to full the promises made by Pandit Nehru you shared you disappointment with your party workers and posed a question to them: “We still don’t know why we were ditched. Why tallest leader of Kashmir was put in prison.”
Some analyst friends questioning timing of your statement have reservation about your intentions in asking New Delhi to fulfill its promise of holding plebiscite in the state- a demand that even a group of Hurriyat leaders has dropped for its fearing it as a live wire. I do not attribute your statement to the heresy that New Delhi has been subtly suggesting to Omar Abdullah to play Syed Mir Qasim of 1975 for yielding place for a group of leaders called in official style book as ‘moderate separatists’. It is just a pipe dreaming- such things do not happen for the heck of it that too for those playing on the slippery wickets. Having heard you many times in the past, I do see your two-hour speech to your party workers more as catharsis than as a political statement.
It in fact has been one-liner in your statement: “We still don’t know why we were ditched,” that caught my attention and made me look for an answer for your question. History with all subtlety has equally a one-liner answer for your question- the “Lion of Kashmir” to use milder phrase lacked clarity of mind and after his release by Maharaja from jail on 29 September 1947, on the intervention of Sardar Patil he suffered from acute “dithering syndrome” and “inconsistency”. My quiver is full of historical evidences to support my argument but let me confine to just a few to illustrate my point of view.
Sardar Patel intervened for his release for Nehru in his 27 September 1947 letter writing to him ‘releasing Abdullah will help in enlisting the support of his followers needed for bringing accession of Kashmir with India.’ In response to this letter, Patel had written to Nehru ‘on Kashmir we are on the same page and we want accession of Kashmir with India.’ Did Sheikh know that Nehru wanted to use him just as tool for executing his plan or he was a willing partner is an important question?
Sheikh was invited to New Delhi and at the same time, he had an invitation for meeting M.A. Jinnah in Karachi for working out relations of Kashmir with Pakistan. Notwithstanding, he nursing an impression that in Karachi he would be jailed his old friends like Mian Iftikhar-u-Din, visited Kashmir and made it clear to him that Quaid-e-Azam had no ill will against him. He would have full freedom to work out the type of relations he wants to have with Pakistan. Instead of visiting Karachi, he preferred to visit New Delhi first and promised him of visiting Karachi later but he never visited. Sheikh Sahib stay at 17 York Street has its own tales to tell – some told many still untold.
Many supporters of Sheikh, in defence of his not visiting Karachi and meeting Jinnah say that he did not want to join Pakistan but wanted an independent Kashmir. On February 5, 1948, as a member of Indian delegation, he spoke at the Security Council but to the surprise of Americans even at the same time, he talked about independent Kashmir to Ambassador Warren R Austin. Howard Schaffer in his book, “The limits of Influence” writes, ‘Indian’s had made Abdullah a member of UN delegation but they had not calculated he would undercut them by calling independence of Kashmir in private conversation with US officials.” (page 19). ‘US was not against the idea of independence but ‘later Sheikh backed out from the line he had taken in New York and told US Ambassador in New Delhi that he only wanted autonomy in internal affairs.’ Shaffer writes that US first experience with Abdullah was that he suffered from “inconsistency and ambiguity.”
On the one hand as transpired from the Henderson papers which were made public in 1978 he was talking of independence and seeking financial support from US on the other at the same time in the words of Indian historian Ramachandra Guha, “ he hammered out a compromise known as Delhi Agreement, whereby Kashmiris would become citizens of India in exchange of an autonomy..” Had Sheikh clarity of mind he would not on one side toy with idea of independent Kashmir and on the other strengthen state’s relations with India.
This inconsistency that runs throughout Abdullah’s political life from 1948 onwards has largely contributed to the perpetuation of uncertainties in Kashmir.