Sheikh Abdullah- weakened by desire for power

1


The dislike of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah for Maharaja Hari Singh is too well known. The only point on which the two had ever agreed, albeit for different reasons, was that they would have preferred Kashmir to be independent than accession to either of the two dominions. Maharaja of course wanted to preserve his dynasty while Abdullah nursed the ambition of becoming “Sultan of Kashmir”.

In his book “Looking Back”-page 162, Mehr Chand Mahajan,  the then Prime Minster of Kashmir, recalls a meeting between Abdullah and Hari Singh in which the former suggested that it would be a very good thing if India and Pakistan both recognized  the State of J&K as an independent State like Switzerland to which Maharaja nodded assent. The only dissenting voice, of course was Mahajan’s own who categorically differed with the view.

That Abdullah did not discard his ambition even after accession to India is clear from his address to UN Security Council in February 1948 as India’s representative. He praised Nehru for making accession subject to ratification by people of Kashmir. He reiterated his point more than once that he and his colleagues were still deciding whether Kashmir should accede to India, Pakistan or be independent.

What is not widely known is that while in New York in connection with the above address, he met Warren Austin, the US representative at UN.  Austin later conveyed the contents of discussion and his own impressions to George Marshall, the US Secretary of State in a telegram. In his view of the matter, Abdullah’s principal purpose of the visit was to make it clear to US authorities that there is a third alternative, namely independence. He did not want his people torn by dissensions between India and Pakistan and in his opinion Kashmir would be better off as an Independent State with liberal US and British aid.

Back home Abdullah was entangled in dirty political games deftly played by Nehru-Patel combine. They decided that the concept of responsible government in which Abdullah was head of the emergency administration be strengthened by upgrading him as Prime Minister in a Mysore-type Government. This model of Government gave limited role to Prime Minster (akin to Dewan) and all real powers vested with the ruler as head. Hearing this Abdullah, livid with rage, rushed to Delhi. He conveyed his displeasure to Nehru, who feigning ignorance, advised him to see Patel. Before departure Abdullah was briefed about the impulsive and short temperedness nature of Patel and hence provided an escort in the person of Gopala Swami Ayinger (Some say it was Jamna Das Akhter). The Idea was to scare him and force him to commit mistakes in fear. The plan worked well and Abdullah promised of a good behavior in future in lieu of full-fledged Prime Minster-ship. That announcement was made on 5th March 1948.The shift in his attitude and behavior became easily discernible in his press conference of 6th March as published by “the Statesman” of next day.
“We have decided to work with India and die for India. We made our decision not in October last, but in 1944, when we resisted the advances of Mr. Jinnah. Our refusal was categorical. Ever since the National Conference had attempted to keep the State clear of the pernicious two nation theory …”  

Of course, the power had played its part but as it is said the elixir of power has its side effects as well. While possessing it makes one strong, the fear of leaving it makes one weak. Abdullah was no exception to this rule. After donning the mantle of Prime Minster-ship, he had become scared of Patel. This is proved by an incident which happened during a debate on Kashmir in Indian Parliament. Sheikh Abdullah, who was present during the debate on a particular point, walked out of Parliament in a mood of exasperation. Sardar Patel noticed this from his seat. He, therefore, called an elderly member of the House and instructed him to tell Sheikh that he could walk out of Parliament, but he would not be able to leave Delhi. This warning unnerved Sheikh and immediately brought him around. The fear of being divested from power had made him weak. (Thematic Volumes on Sardar Patel by P.N. Chopra-page 16)
(The author is a practicing Chartered Accountant. Feedback at amzargar1@indiatimes.com)