Many a time, when I try to read between the lines, approach of the Congress leadership including Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947, towards Jammu and Kashmir, I get convinced, they had blurred understanding of the Kashmir struggle. On September 27, 1947, when Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister of India in his long letter to Sardar Patel wrote to impress upon Maharaja Hari Singh to make friends with the National Conference and release Sheikh Abdullah from jail for ‘enlisting support of his followers for bringing about accession of Kashmir to Indian union’ he had not understood the real dynamics of the political movement started by the people of Kashmir in 193i. Both, the National Conference and the Muslim Conference were heirs of this movement and its politics.
The forte of their politics lied in representing the ‘political sentiment’ of the overwhelming majority of the state. Notwithstanding, the National Conference professing “secular” politics could not afford to openly delink itself from the “sentiment”, this became evident when five Kashmiri Pandit leaders in the National Conference had demanded writing proceedings of the National Conference in Devnangari instead in Urdu script, opposed creation of the Muslim Auqaf Trust and asked Sheikh Abdullah not to recite verses from Holy Quran at the start of his speech and address public meetings at Hazratbal. Sheikh Abdullah had trashed their demands and all the five quitted from the National Conference. And whenever, a leader or party failed to respect the “sentiment” that runs through the “Kashmir Narrative” like blood in human arteries it suffered ‘political isolation.’
I was recently reminded about this when the National Conference was badly beaten in the recent Lok Sabha elections and almost losing in every Assembly constituency and thereafter kneejerk response of the party. Hoping to steer through rough waters ahead, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah took some populist and quick fix administrative decisions. Not understanding that, more than anything else it has been providing space for articulating the “political sentiment” that matters more to overwhelming majority in the state. Instead of allowing space to voices of dissent he created history of converting houses of political leaders into prison. In eighty three political history of Jammu and Kashmir there no example of detaining leaders for months together in their houses.
Historically, speaking even the towering leaders once at the crests of popularity faced political debacle after they distanced themselves from the ‘popular political sentiment’. In forties when people in general felt that Sheikh Abdullah was ‘diluting’ the sentiment that had brought him to the central stage of politics they started drifting away from him and his party. I n mid-forties people were “abandoning” the ranks of the party. In the words of Josef Korbel author of classical book ‘Danger in Kashmir’ launching of the Quit Kashmir movement in 1946 by Sheikh Abdullah was “solely an attempt to regain popularity which he had lost for his pro-India policy” (p22). The Quit Kashmir movement with all its contradictions and controversies did help the National Conference in general and Abdullah in particular to repair his image and regain popularity and made the Congress leadership get him first appointed as Chief Administrator and then as Prime Minister of the Maharaja in place of Mehar Chand Mahajan. In the words of historian Ramachandra Guha, India saw Sheikh Abdullah as their ‘man” in Kashmir, “only he, it was felt could save Kashmir for the Union of India’
True, besides serving New Delhi’s interests in Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah introduced revolutionary agrarian reforms like land to tiller, abolished big landed estates and cruel debt system. These reforms did help majority community to fight back centuries old economic deprivation, illiteracy and ignorance but fact of the matter is despite working towards ameliorating the lot of peasantry his popularity persistently dipped immediately after 1948. His remaining mute spectator to carnage and killing of hundreds of thousands of Muslim in Jammu had made him an object of hate for leftover Muslims of Jammu province and this hate had also spilled over to Kashmir.
To use Frank Moraes’ remark with ‘power infecting his thinking and judgement’ he had strangulated every voice of dissent and even silenced his political opponents by pushing them in AJK. These action had caused deep troughs in his popularity. Notwithstanding, making bid to remake his popularity he ‘started talking about rethinking of relations with India’ but for fall in his popularity New Delhi was convinced, it could depose him without causing a ruffle- minus some protests there was no sustained peoples agitation against his arrest.
If ‘economic development’ would have been criteria for popular political imagination of people of Kashmir, then Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad would have passed into history as most popular people’s leader of Kashmir. It is a historical reality that in building basic infrastructure for growth and development of the state he played an important role. For enabling economically deprived and socially backward to have two time meals besides providing subsidy on food grains he introduced welfare scheme but for his denial of space to voices of dissent and implicating his adversaries in fabricated cases masses never accepted him as a leader.
Even those few who basked under his reflected glory and made billions could not save him from public wrath and for being disloyal to popular political sentiment, he ultimately passed into history as a “collaborator”. Most of the Chief Ministers including Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq, Syed Mir Qasim for their working on the dictates from the power centres (Syed Mir Qasim writing about arrest of Bakshi in his autobiography ‘My Life Times p.104 clearly identifies real powers centres in Kashmir) and not addressing the “people’s sentiment”, will not find mention even in footnotes of Kashmir History.
Not in fully managed election but in election having some semblance of fairness, it is ‘people’s sentiment’ and not doles or concessions that have impacted the results. This could be true about 2014 elections also whatever percentage of votes will be there.