Pandit Raghunath Vaishnavi

When the house owner saw an old man planting flower saplings in his garden at Rawalpora on a pleasant spring morning, he thought his wife had called the new gardener. He watched the old man keenly for some time. Suddenly the old man stood up and left.

He did not ask for money. The house owner was surprised. Later, he came to know that the old man was a prominent freedom fighter who had struggled for several decades for the rights of his people. He was none other than Advocate Raghunath Vaishnavi.

When Mohi-ud-Din Karra, joined the Janata Party in 1977, a shocked Vaishnavi retired from politics, but the concern for bleeding Kashmir remained in his heart till he breathed his last. To bring solace to his mauled soul, Vaishnavi would wake up early in the morning, pick up his bag of flower saplings and plant the same in the lawns of his neighbours.  That was how he consoled his melancholy.

Like most of the Kashmiris, Vaishnavi resented occupation of his beloved homeland by alien troops. When Mohi-ud-Karra launched the Jammu Kashmir Political Conference in June 1953, Vaishnavi became its founder vice-president. The newly launched organisation held its first rally at Sehyaar, Safakadal. The people responded by taking out processions and chanted pro-Pakistan slogans. Political Conference believed in merger of Kashmir into Pakistan. All leaders including Raghunath Vaishnavi were arrested and lodged in a Jammu jail.

The RSS leader, Shyam Prasad Mukherjee, was arrested for violating the permit system. He died in custody. The RSS workers held demonstrations across India. The protesters turned violent at Jammu. Some of them were arrested and lodged in the same jail where Vaishnavi and others were detained. The Jail Superintendent, Feroz Din, somehow came to know about the RSS plan to eliminate the leaders inside the jail. He urged the government to shift the detained leaders from the jail.

Finally, the leaders were shifted to Udhampur prison. Vaishnavi was a dedicated worker and never complained about his sufferings. His family lived from hand to mouth. The organisation was in no position to support his wife. While her husband languished in jails, she was left high and dry by those who received funds for the welfare of the families of the prisoners. However, despite her despondency, she never compromised her integrity.

Syed Rasool, an activist from Surteng Rainawari, is all praise for Vaishnavi and salutes his contribution to the freedom struggle. He saw Vaishnavi for the last time in late-1970s at Late Justice Rizvi’s house at Sharifabad, Bemina. He was disappointed by the U-turn of his leader, Mohi-ud-Din Karra.

Kashmiriyat was his religion and he worked indefatigably for the welfare of Kashmiris. Even after retiring from politics, Vaishnavi went from pillar to post to seek an amicable settlement of the Kashmir dispute. According to his grand daughter, Mona Bhan, “Vaishnavijee’s belief in an equitable and a non-violent resolution for Kashmir and Indo-Pak amity and reconciliation remained resolute. He founded and chaired India-Pakistan Conciliation Group of Kashmir (1965-70), and was also a member of the Steering Committee of All J&K State People’s Convention from 1968-1971. An astute political analyst and an intrepid statesman, he proposed independence for Kashmir under the UN Neutralization Guarantee at the Second Plenary Session of All J&K State People’s Convention in June 1970. Relentless in his pursuit to establish peace in the subcontinent and ensure a just, transparent, and a realistic solution to the Kashmir dispute, Vaishnavijee founded and chaired the India-Pakistan Peace Forum of Kashmir from 1986 onwards.”

In his illustrious career as an advocate and a political advisor, Vaishvavi fought several high-profile political cases for Plebiscite Front and advised the members on the political future of Kashmir without a trace of vested self-interest. “He was a man of integrity. He never rejected a brief on political grounds and commanded respect in the Bar,” said his colleague, Latif Qureshi.

Vaishnavi did his masters in Political Science and Psychology from Punjab University Lahore, and LLB from the Allahabad University. Vaishnavi’s career as a political activist began in the 1930s. He became a member of UP Civil Liberties Union in 1937. He played a pivotal role as the Founder-General Secretary of Kashmir National Congress in 1938. When Kashmir National Congress was reinvented as National Conference in 1939, Pt. Rughonath Vaishnavi was one of its founder members. He also became one of the working committee members of NC from 1941-43. However, due to political differences with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, he resigned from NC in 1943.

From 1947 onwards, he advocated a peaceful, realistic, and a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute. From 1953 to 1964, he was the founder Vice President of Kashmir Political Conference. His political philosophy was driven by the urgent need to respect the aspirations of Kashmiris.

For his political stance on Kashmir, Vaishvani suffered seven years of detention in several prisons in Jammu Kashmir. The perpetual detention, however, did not break his determination. After his release from the prison, he pursued the cause with renewed enthusiasm.

Vaishnavi was a prolific political writer until his death on November 22, 1996. In addition to being the editor of an Urdu newspaper Jamhoor in the 1950s and a columnist for several other English and Urdu newspapers, he contributed frequently to various journals, such as the OtherSide and The Radical Humanist. His rich collection of letters, telegrams, and essays to key political figures in India and Pakistan urging them to resolve the Kashmir issue from a humanist perspective stands testament to his belief in human dignity and freedom and the insurmountable love, passion, and commitment for Kashmir and Kashmiris, irrespective of religious, ethnic, or political affiliations.

Vaishnavi did not accept the freedom fighter allowance. He spent his last days with his daughter, Dr Purnaima Bhan Vaishnavi, at Udhampur. “I will not accept the allowance until the Kashmir dispute is resolved in accordance with the wishes of the people,” he told his daughter.
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