Falling From Grace: “I have offered enough sacrifices. I cannot offer more”

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Thirty-seven years after signing the Indira-Sheikh Accord, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah continues to dominate the political discourse in Jammu Kashmir. He is widely discussed and ridiculed. Some hold the `tragic hero’ in high esteem and some accuse the `saviour’ of betrayal. For some he continues to be an inspiration but for some he was a `chicken hearted’ and `myopic’ leader who `brought misfortune to the people who loved him’. As they say history does not forgive anybody; today we find the `tallest leader’ of Kashmir in the witness box. Shall Kashmiris punish him for going against the tide in 1947 and 1975?
Fall of Dhaka is believed to be the reason behind Sher-e-Kashmir’s U-turn in 1975. But a critical analysis of events of those fateful years unveils the truth. The wavering stand of the leadership came to fore immediately after Operation Gibraltor (1965 war). Although the objectives of this war could not be achieved, Pakistan succeeded in putting across the message that it could not be taken for a ride. And, for the sake of arguments if it is accepted that fall of Dhaka dampened the spirits of the leadership, the 1965 operation should have emboldened them. But that did not happen because the leadership was up to something `fishy’.
In his memoirs, three time acting president of the Plebiscite Front, Munshi Muhammad Ishaq admits he had full knowledge of Operation Gibraltor. When Batmaloo was set ablaze by the Indian army, Munshi resigned from the post of acting president of the Plebiscite Front on August 18, 1965. Khawaja Sonaullah Bhat (Editor Aftaab) contacted Munshi same evening to know about the developments. A tearful Munshi told him that “an opportunity to liberate Kashmir had been lost.”
Munshi writes in his memoirs, “Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beg have started deviating from the basic stand of the Front. The Executive Council in its meeting, March 22, 1969, decided to contest elections, which we had been boycotting till date. I severely opposed the proposal. The people, by and large, and majority of the Front workers supported me. I shall oppose the move tooth and nail come what may. Moulana Farooq and Moulana Abbas Ansari approached me and subtly expressed their support. Let us see what happens in the coming days.”
Munshi walked out of the meeting and decided to muster support against the decision. He called on the prominent members of the Front across Kashmir but nobody, not even Sofi Muhammad Akber was ready to listen to him. He finally, addressed a press conference on August 7, 1969. The Daily Aftaab reported the Press Conference as follows:
“The Panchayati elections are in news these days and some people are connecting self determination to these elections. However, the members of the Front have nothing to do with the elections because we believe elections cannot be a substitute to self-determination. If some people decided to contest elections in total violation of the constitution of the Front, it does not mean that the Front has decided to join the fray. The Front is alive and shall continue to strive for the attainment of the right to self-determination. We want a referendum in accordance with the UN resolutions.”
The leadership responded by declaring Munshi a traitor. He was also accused of voting in favour of contesting elections. Munshi denied the allegations. In his detailed answer, Munshi quoted two news items reported in Hamdard, dated April 9 and April 11, to expose the lies of the leadership. “Our correspondent came to know that the Executive Council discussed the issue and 21 members including the President voted in favour and just 9 voted against it.” (Hamdard, April 9).
The Front leadership was pushed to the wall. They decided to oust Munshi from the Front. Mirza Afzal Beg’s letter No PF/2068, dated August 18, 1969, initiated the process. Beg sought an explanation from Munshi who responded by owning the statements published in the local newspapers. Beg in his letter No 2095/PF, dated September 3, 1969, suspended Munshi’s membership till further orders. Munshi later published a pamphlet Nida-e-Haq in which he narrated how leadership had been conspiring to `slaughter’ the Plebiscite Front.
Another acting president of the Plebiscite Front, Advocate GN Hagroo in an interview recorded a month before his death said: “Soon after the 1971 war, the home ministry prepared a file which accurately showed Sheikh Abdullah’s assets and wealth. In the last paragraph of the report, the home ministry suggested action against Sheikh Abdullah for having wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. Sheikh Abdullah was shattered by the report. Meanwhile, New Delhi had won over Begum Abdullah and his sons through Miss Sarabhai. The home ministry report and the pressure at domestic front forced Sheikh Abdullah change his stand. Soon after, Beg and Parthasarthy talks commenced.”
Hagroo’s views have been supplemented by Shabnum Qayoom in his book ‘Kashmir Ka Siyasi Inqilaab’. In a foot note on page 23, Vol. V, he writes: “New Delhi blackmailed Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah to sign the accord. It was decided that the Nedous Hotel shall be confiscated if Sheikh refused to sign the accord.”
A member of the constituent assembly, Abdul Gani Goni threw light on various aspects of Sher-e-Kashmir’s life during the 2008 Amarnath Land Row at his Barazulla residence. Goni was the speaker of legislative assembly in 1975. One day he was informed about Sheikh Sahib’s arrival in the assembly complex. Goni narrated the incident. “I greeted Sheikh Sahib. He was dejected. He said, `Show me my room.’ I informed him no room in the complex was meant for him. I further informed him that only chief minister can have a room in the assembly complex. I was surprised by his answer. `I want to see that very room.’ I was pained to see the lion of Kashmir in such a state of mind.”
Goni paused for a moment. He was going to share a secret. “Before leaving the assembly complex, Sheikh Sahib said, `I have offered enough sacrifices. I cannot offer more.’ I shook hands with him and watched him leave the complex amid shock and utter disbelief.”
Justifying the accord, Sheikh writes on page 837 of his autobiography: “It was not a deviation from the basic stand. It was change of strategy. We shifted our struggle from streets to the table.”

Author – Zahir-ud-Din – can be contacted at [email protected]

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