Sheikh Abdullah to Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965

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  • Publish Date: Oct 26 2017 10:11PM
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  • Updated Date: Oct 26 2017 10:11PM
Sheikh Abdullah to Lal  Bahadur Shastri in 1965

‘Intention to erode Article 370, characterization of J&K accession as ‘final and irrevocable’ give set-back to confidence’

 

 The letter excerpted from the new book by Dr NYLA ALI KHAN is exclusive to KASHMIR INK

 

Poring over the speeches of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, arguably the only Kashmiri leader who enjoyed mass support in his lifetime, has enabled me to realize that instead of allowing polarizing elements to disrupt nation-building, we need to cull advanced and reformist ideologies in order to build common ground.

As I underscored in The Life of a Kashmiri Woman (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), to my mind, there is a historical value in revisiting and challenging the historical narratives about the political personages of pre-and post-1947 Jammu and Kashmir and the movement for an independent Kashmir. My attempt to highlight the history of a region in a particular era, as I’ve done in The Life of a Kashmiri Woman as well, is not to localize it.

As I’ve said before, I think it is important to reshape historical memory so that it includes the humanitarian and pluralistic endeavors of leaders of the movement at that critical juncture post-1948. I have been working on Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflections on Kashmir for a while, because I am of the firm opinion that a consciousness cannot be built without a mechanism of political training, ideological education, and progressive action, which a close study of his speeches and interviews would enable.

A serious student of South Asian politics and the politics of Kashmir in particular could analyze the ways in which experiences have been constructed historically and have changed overtime.

I am reproducing a letter that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah wrote to then Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shashtri, soon after Sheikhsahib’s visit to Pakistan and the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru. The letter echoes the current Kashmir situation in almost entirety - except that National Conference then fought for the right to self determination and some of the actors who are now fighting for such a right were then a part of the electoral process. It was written just after Sheikh sahib’s visit  to Pakistan on the urging of then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru to try and work out an acceptable bilateral settlement to Kashmir. But while Sheikh Sahib was holding his meetings in Pakistan, Nehru passed away. And Sheikh sahib had to cut short his visit. What followed was a return to the familiar stalemate which continues until this day. In this letter addressed to the Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Sheikh sahib bemoans the bleak state of affairs and the arrest of National Conference workers.  

 

 

 

 

Letter to Indian Premier Lal Bahadur Shashtri, March 17, 1965

Flat no. 224, 

St. James Court,

London –S. W. 1

March 17, 1965

 

My dear Shastriji,

 

The very day I arrived in London, I heard the disquieting news of the widespread arrests made by the Jammu and Kashmir government after my departure from Srinagar. Information since received indicates that these arrests have not only been made on a very large scale throughout the Valley and also in Jammu, but that they are accompanied with the usual repression and manhandling of the victims. I need hardly say that this course is not only unfortunate but also further complicates the already unhappy situation in Kashmir.

Ever since 1953, when I was deposed and arrested, a policy of repression and oppression has been followed in Kashmir, because of which thousands of my followers and sympathizers have heavily suffered. Apart from the untold sufferings that Kashmir had to go through, this policy made things worse and rendered a solution to the Kashmir problem all the more difficult. It further embittered Indo-Pak relations and also added to cold-war tensions. Fortunately, however, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at long last realized the futility of this policy by taking a bold stand and calling a halt to it. He released me and my colleagues from prison, and invited me for talks to Delhi. You are aware of the long discussions we had on the Kashmir question and the desirability of finding an amicable settlement of this dispute. My talks with him convinced me of his genuine desire to find a solution to the problem. It was at his instance that I went to Pakistan in order to pursue my mission of bringing about an honorable and equitable solution. I was heartened to find that President Ayub Khan fully shared the desire for such a settlement. But, unfortunately, when a meeting between him and Panditji was arranged, the latter passed away. As a result, naturally, the progress of my mission was held up. I knew that as Panditji’s successor in office, you would take some time to give things stability before you took up the threads where Panditji had left them. Accordingly, I waited anxiously for the moment when we could resume our joint efforts to bring about a settlement of the dispute.

Naturally, it was in the interest of the parties concerned from doing anything that would vitiate the atmosphere and make a settlement difficult. I, therefore, hoped that the Indian government would, at least, help in maintaining the statusquo, until the task that we had taken in hand during Panditji’s life was resumed. Nothing, it was expected, will be done in Kashmir that would create tension or give a set-back to the hope that people still entertained for an amicable settlement. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The government of India took certain steps vis-à-vis Kashmir which gave a clear indication that no settlement was intended. The statements of responsible members of government declaring their intention to erode the content and spirit of Article 370, the application of Articles 356 and 357 (Indian Constitution), and also the oft-repeated characterization of accession of the State as “final and irrevocable” are instances in point which gave a serious set-back to a measure of confidence that we had built during the last days of Pandit Nehru. They clearly showed that the government of India, far from going ahead to pursue the revised Kashmir policy initiated by Panditji, was actually moving in the reverse direction and, in fact, undoing what had been done. I can hardly describe the sorrow and pain that this course of events has caused me and other patriots in both India and Pakistan. The present arrests in Kashmir, coming as they do in the wake of the said policy, have naturally caused me great concern. In these circumstances, a question naturally arises: are all the expectations of an amicable settlement to the dispute to be ruled out, and are, therefore, the declarations so frequently made about the desire to settle the dispute peacefully, without foundation? I still hope that such is not the case.

Unfortunately, the relations between India and Pakistan have been bedeviled by this dispute. It is an oozing sore which is responsible for a colossal drain on the depleted resources of the two countries, and it is on account of this dispute that they cannot play their effective role in world counsels. Apart from that, its most tragic aspect is that 5 ½ million people of the State have been passing through troubles and tribulations for the past 17 years. Their economic life has been crippled and legitimate political activity paralyzed. The uncertainty and insecurity that like the sword of Damocles hangs over the people of this State has continuously put in jeopardy peace and prosperity in that region. I cannot conceive of more compelling reasons for an early and amicable settlement of this dispute. I have, several times, had the occasion of discussing this problem with you and your colleagues, and, therefore, do not want to take up your time by dilating on this issue. I strongly feel that the large-scale arrests referred to above cannot be justified. The victims are mostly members of the Plebiscite Front, which is the largest mass organization functioning in the State. True, its avowed objective is to resolve the accession tangle by a free and fair plebiscite, a stand to which both India and Pakistan have committed themselves in and outside the United Nations. This is a legitimate and most constitutional objective. This organization has always declared its faith in peaceful non-communal policies and programs. I know that on several occasions, even in the recent past, when the peace of the State was seriously threatened, it is the members of this organization whose strenuous efforts helped maintain peace and communal harmony. Many a time this was acknowledged by members of the Kashmir administration.

In this haul-up, even Majlis-e-Auqaf Islamia, a purely religious institution, has not been spared. Its chairman, Khwaja Ali Shah, along with many other members has been put behind bars. Again, Maulana Farooq, President of the Awami Action Committee, Maulana Mohammad Yasin Hamadani, former President of Holy Relic Action Committee, as also several other members of the Committee, have been whisked off to prison. Qari Saif-ud-Din of the Jammat-i-Islami is yet another victim in this swoop. Office bearers and members of student and youth federations have also been rounded up. They only “sin” of these respectable citizens and their organizations is that they stand by the right of self-determination of the pledges given in that behalf by India and Pakistan. Otherwise, they have committed no crime. Nobody knows better than you how scrupulously peaceful and non-communal the program of the Holy Relic Action Committee during the most critical period in 1963 and 1964 was, when millions of people in Kashmir joined the movement for the restoration of the Holy Relic. It is preposterous to accuse these organizations of violence and communal bigotry. The only reason for this general swoop is that the government does not tolerate the demand for self-determination.

It is most tragic that the Kashmir government should choose to suppress its political opponents, as they are doing in the present circumstances, by recourse to oppressive laws like the Defense of India Rules, which, on the face of it, can have no relation even to the allegations officially made against those imprisoned. You might have heard that members of the National Conference in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly recently accused the government of arresting the people for merely refusing to join the Congress party in Kashmir. No country having respect for democratic procedures can justify such action. Gleaning through some of the press reports that have reached me from India (Hindustan Times and Indian Express), I find that the Kashmir government has “failed to explain adequately,” the reasons that led to large-scale results and “the drastic punishment.” Obviously, they have no reason, except to victimize their political opponents.

I would earnestly request you to kindly take up the matter in your hands, and, at least, undo the steps taken by the J & K government, and, thereby, help create the vitiated atmosphere in Kashmir.

 

With kindest regards,

 

Yours sincerely,

S. M. Abdullah