Late Sheikh Mohmmad Abdullah was the tallest and most towering personality in the political history of Jammu and Kashmir who during his long political career experienced several ups and downs. He was a crusader who managed Maharaja Hari Singh’s exit from Jammu and Kashmir which had been purchased from the British for a measly amount of 75 lac Nanak Shahi Sikay. Sheikh had a secular mind set which made him take the momentous decision of converting the Muslim Conference into National conference. He ruled the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir as its Chief Minister for several years and was very popular with the masses. At the peak of his popularity the popular slogan in Kashmir was “Ala Kari Wagan kari Bab kari lolo” (Whatever Sheikh Sab does is completely acceptable to us).
However, in the year 1975, fearing that his chances of winning Jammu & Kashmir Assembly elections were bleak, Sheikh saheb had long discussions with his close aide and confidante Late Mirza Afzal Beg and then devised a clever plan. It was then decided that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah would feign illness and pretend that he was bedridden. Beg’s die hard followers spread the message of Sheikh’s “chronic ailment” and the news that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was critical and struggling for life spread across the length and breadth of Jammu and Kashmir like a wild fire. This drama paid off and it helped generate a sympathy wave that ultimately helped Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to comfortably sweep the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly elections in1975. The people didn’t mind because whatever Sheikh did was something that any politician usually does in order to stay in power and to the Kashmiris he was always known and still continues to be referred with reverence as the ‘Lion of Kashmir.’
Earlier, on his birth and death anniversary, National Conference used to hold congregational prayers at Naseem Bagh Dargah after which party leaders, especially his son Farooq Abdullah and his grandson Omar Abdullah would address party workers. This year on the 114th birth anniversary of Sheikh Abdullah, the scene was different. His mausoleum wore a deserted look because the father son duo (Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah) is under detention after New Delhi diluted Article 370 and bifurcated the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into the two union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Laddakh. However, a small gathering assembled at Jammu’s Sher-i-Kashmir Bhawan to pay tributes to late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. In the past, government functions were observed on this day but this year it wasn’t so.
This led to apprehensions among Kashmiris that the authorities may abolish the holiday on the Sheikh’s death anniversary because of the changed political discourse of the Jammu and Kashmir. In addition to this, there are also rumours about the high chances that current dispensation at centre may rename certain places named after Sher-i-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. And with the authorities having cleared the decks for renaming Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, located in the heart of Srinagar, as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium, this rumour is gathering strength.
The irony is that the Public Safety Act under which Farooq Abdullah has been detained was enacted on the instructions of his father Late Sheikh Abdullah. Originally meant to deal with timber smugglers, Late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah enlarged the scope of this Act to detain his opponents who were mainly from Jamaat-e-Islami in what was colloquially referred to as “sher (lion) versus bakri (goat)” fight. For Farooq Abdullah, this must have been a very humiliating moment as he too had booked many political rivals under this Act.
However, the Abdullah family isn’t the only one to blame. Late Mufti Mohammad Syed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti have used the chief minister’s (CM) chair to further their own personal gains and enacted draconian laws in Jammu and Kashmir that later proved to be the proverbial albatross around their necks. While clamour of Iltija Mufti about her mother Mehbooba facing extreme hardships under detention is understandable, but what about all those slapped with PSA (Pubic Safety Act) during Mehbooba Mufti’s CM tenure?
Unfortunately for Iltija, rather than sympathise with her, the general public refrain is: ‘serves Mehbooba right’ and ‘she deserves it’ for having aligned with the BJP! However, people must stay constantly vigilant and ensure that they don’t fall into the trap of blindly following leaders who are mobilising public support for furthering their own personal agendas. Similarly, blocking road and rail traffic as well as downing shutters is something that shouldn’t be encouraged as it doesn’t benefit anyone except those pursuing self-serving interests. As it is, Kashmir has lost a lot in the last three decades due to incessant protests and shutdowns and we must now work to undo the humungous damage that we have caused to ourselves.
One hopes that while cooling their heels in detention, our leaders have constructively utilised their confinement to introspect and realise that rather than hoodwinking the gullible people of Jammu and Kashmir, they need to concentrate on weeding out corruption and increasing efficiency of the bureaucracy. Continuing to build personal wealth and indulging in nepotism will only prove to be the last nail in their political coffin!
(Views and opinion expressed in this article are of the writer only)