The birth anniversary of Sher-e-Kashmir shall be observed in the coming days. Much has been written and said about him. People will continue to write about him in future as well. Some will condemn him while others may glorify him. He was the one who saw a role for non-Muslims in the freedom struggle and to ensure their participation, he converted the Muslim Conference into National Conference. The “Tragic Hero” who intended to bring non-Muslims into the freedom movement but in the process, lost his trusted friends, some of whom were instrumental in introducing him to the public.
The process of rechristening Muslim Conference (MC) started in 1933. The annual session of the organization was held at Mirpur (now in Pakistan-administered Kashmir) on September 15-17. Several resolutions were passed on the concluding day of the session. One of the resolutions sought participation of non-Muslims in the freedom struggle. The resolution was, by and large, welcomed by the members. However, some members described it a conspiracy against Muslim unity. The resolution also evoked reaction from Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal. The great poet in his letter (dated October 12, 1933) urged Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah to ensure unity of Muslims without fail. Sher-e-Kashmir, however, says that Allama Iqbal persuaded him to go for the conversion.
The conversion process was formally launched during the sixth annual session of the MC held on March 25-27, 1938 at Jammu. In his presidential address, Sheikh Abdullah stressed the need for `responsible government’. Several resolutions were passed. It was decided to change the name of the organization to ensure participation of non-Muslims in the struggle.
On June 24, 1938 a special meeting of the working committee of MC was held at Srinagar. Most of the members severely opposed creation of National Conference (NC). Moulvi Abdullah Vakil accused Sheikh Abdullah of a sell-out. Editor of Pasbaan, Syed Meraj-ud-Din Ahmad said: “The oath taken by Sheikh Abdullah, Dr Peshan, Ram Nath Shastri, Jia Lal Kilam and Kashap Bandhu to break the MC has been fulfilled.”
Chowdhary Ghulam Abbas severely criticized the move. He said: “NC will become a mistress of Indian National Congress.” Sheikh Abdullah listened patiently but rejected the apprehensions of the members as unfounded. Finally Abbas consented to the conversion on the following conditions: NC shall have no truck with the Congress; the inclusion of non-Muslims should not harm the identity of the Muslims; Hindus and Muslims cannot unite. However, they can work together to achieve political goals; we hope Sheikh Abdullah shall not take any step to harm the interests of Muslims.
Sheikh Abdullah readily agreed to these conditions. Soon, he and other leaders were arrested in connection with ‘responsible government’ agitation. In February the leaders were released and by the end of May the stage was all set for the `infamous conversion’.
On June 11 NC was suggested as the new name of the organization.
Contrary to his expectations, the newly formed National Conference (NC), however, evoked lukewarm response from the non-Muslims. Attempts to revive the Muslim Conference (MC) started immediately.
The idea was discussed in detail by senior NC workers including Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi. Munshi Naseer-ud-Din (Editor Albarq) discussed it with Sheikh as well. It is believed that Sheikh agreed in principle with the members. He is believed to have told Munshi Naseer: “You go ahead. I will work as an ordinary member of the MC. I will not accept leadership of a communal organization.” One such meeting was held in the lawns of erstwhile Teachers’ Training School at Magarmal Bagh.
As the time passed the non-Muslims in the NC started giving sleepless nights to Sheikh Abdullah. He had to shave off his beard. Soon after his `trusted friend’ Kashap Bandhu wrote an editorial in Martand and criticized Sheikh Abdullah for taking out Millad processions. A frightened Sheikh succumbed. In 1943 Sheikh decided not to take out the procession. This gave the newly formed MC a chance to prove its mettle. A Millad procession sponsored by MC evoked overwhelming response.
Raghunath Vaishnavi who was the general secretary of National Congress, an organization that later merged into NC also deserted him. In 1953 he joined the Political Conference, an organization that stood for total merger of Jammu Kashmir with Pakistan.
Another friend, Prem Nath Bazaz also parted ways. He jointly owned the daily Hamdard with Sheikh Abdullah. The partnership was broken and Bazaz became his `worst enemy’. On June 10, 1947, Bazaz wrote an editorial in Hamdard. It read: “The Hindus do not like NC. However, some Hindus have joined it not because they love it but for the hatred it has exhibited against Muslims of India. The inclusion of a handful of Hindus in NC does not make it a representative of the minorities. The Hindus and Sikhs praise NC in public because they believe that it is working against the interests of Muslims…”
In 1975 when Sheikh Abdullah signed the infamous Indra-Abdullah accord, his `friend’ Kashap Bandhu refused to join his government. The only non-Muslim who remained with him was Budh Singh.
The irony is that the present day pandits hold him responsible for the `miserable plight’ they are in. Some of them have publicly accused him of persecuting Kashmiri pandits. Sher-e-Kashmir must be taking painful turns in his grave.
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