After assessing the situation S.M.Abdullah reached to the conclusion that the time was ripe to change the course….
Titbit 62, Titbit 63 and Titbit 64 were dedicated to Allama Iqbal because of mainly two reasons. One, he was born in an ethnic Kashmiri family and second he was the originator and first president of Kashmir Committee, Lahore. Iqbal had expressed fears that not only would secularism weaken the spiritual foundations of Islam and Muslim Society, but that India’s Hindu majority population would crowd out Muslim heritage, culture and political influence. While as Muslim politics in the sub-continent was handled by a galaxy of Muslim leaders, in Kashmir the people were too innocent and naive to understand the tricks of the trade. It is in this context that whenever Kashmiris visited the Allama, he would invariably ask them to carry his message to the subjugated people to get united and pursue education. Allama Iqbal till his death remained available to Kashmiris visiting Lahore and extended help to students to pursue higher education. Those were the days when Ms. Mehmooda Ahmed Ali Shah travelled to Lahore (1934), passed intermediate and continued with her studies in Govt College, Lahore till post graduation in Political Science. Ms. Mehmooda for all those years frequently visited Allama Iqbal and drew inspiration from him. Ms. Mehmooda, perhaps, was the first highly educated and emancipated Kashmiri woman who remained in association with the Allama, claims Mehmooda in her autobiography ” Kashmir—Kal aur Aaj ” in Urdu and published in 1971. During her stay in Lahore she had ample time and opportunity to meet prominent poets, researchers and writers such as Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Prof Mahmood Sherani, Mohammed Din Taseer, Khalifa Abdul Hakeem, Ahmed Shah Bukhari, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Prof Mohammed Shafi, Imtiaz Ali Taj and Abdul Rehman Chugtai. She also happened to meet, on many occasions, Krishen Chander, Ali Sardar Jafri, Khawja Ahmed Abbas and Makhdoom Mohi-u-din. Intriguingly her autobiography is conspicuously silent about the Kashmiri leadership and yet too generous in praise of J.L.Nehru.
S.M.Abdullah had read portions of Allam’s poetry and developed immense urge to meet the Poet of the East. After taking admission in Islamia College, Lahore for graduation studies the Sheikh met Noor Shah Naqashbandi and Saad-u-din Shawl who had been exiled from Kashmir and were living in Lahore. Abdullah saw Allama Iqbal reciting a poem, for the first time, during a function arranged by Anjuman Himaet Islam in Lahore. Using good offices of two prominent Kashmiris in exile, Abdullah got introduced to the Allama. Iqbal’s magnetic personality and magical voice left mesmerising impression on the Sheikh’s mind. During the following years Iqbal’s poetry was used profusely by Abdullah retentively. S.M.Abdullah met Allama Iqbal a number of times which left a deep imprint and feeling of reverence on him. The question arises that had Iqbal not died in April 1938, would he succeed to restrain Abdullah from converting Muslim Conference into National Conference.
Inputs from autobiography of S.M.A ” Aatish Chinar”.
After assessing the situation S.M.Abdullah reached to the conclusion that the time was ripe to change the course….
On 27 August 1938 almost entire leadership of Muslim Conference was arrested. Hindus abstained from the agitation which was started by Muslims in the wake of large scale arrests. One youth namely Ismail Najar resident of Mohalla Makhdoom Sahib was killed in the forces firing. A resolution highlighting a new charter of Demands was issued by the Organisation and signed by leaders representing different communities. The demands included:
- menace of unemployment
- overloading of numerous taxes
- exorbitant revenues
- lack of medical facilities
- misirable plight of labourers
- stoppage of subsidies/amunities to non state subjects/capitalists and
- ever growing size of administration.
It also mentioned that the people’s cause is just, reasonable and righteous. The signatories wanted to shape things according to their choice (Ref: Inside Kashmir).
S.M.Abdullah was released from Muzafarabad Jail on 18 February 1939 and many others followed him. He was given a rousing reception once he reached Srinagar on 24 Feb.
A section of educated Muslims had serious reservations against proposed change of Muslim Conference into National Conference. On 5 March 1939 Abdullah addressed a mammoth public meeting at Mujahid Manzil. He exhorted the audience to prepare a list of those persons who were fined by the govt. during agitation. He also assaulted a plane clothes policeman while he was engaged in gathering intelligence outside Mujahid Manzil.
Abdullah undertook a whirlwind tour of entire Kashmir valley so as to assess the mood of the people. After assessing the situation S.M.Abdullah reached to the conclusion that the time was ripe to change the course as none among the leading political beings came forward to lead opposition against the change over. Abdullah, in between, left Kashmir to attend State People’s Conference at Tripura where he presided the proceedings. Prominent leaders such as Nehru, Sardar Patel, Bhola Bhai Desai, Rajinder Prasad and Kamla Devi participated in the event organised by the Congress.
On 13 June 1939,as a pressure tactics, Director Education issued a missive to all his employees that they should desist from participating in any political activity. Factually teachers had actively participated in Milad celebrations which was politico-religious in nature.
While S.M.Abdullah was engaged in changing M.C into N.C., Muslim League workers assembled at Dargah Hazratbal and unfurled Islamic flag there. A procession was taken out with Mujahid Manzil as destination. Muslim League workers made an attempt to take possession of Mujahid Manzil forceibly. It resulted in a clash. Abdullah lead the counter attack and he was seen pelting stones on M.L. workers. The same day Abdullah addressed a public meeting at Pather Masjid where he blamed the govt. to engineer divide/unrest to sabotage attempts at formation of National Conference. Mirwaiz also suddenly became pro-active and appealed people through a poster to dissociate from M.L and N.C.
After coming back from Punjab tour ( Ref previous post) solid change in Abdullah’s narrative remained a highlight. Certain things came to public knowledge for the first time such as during all these years of thirties he had been sending congratulatory telegrams to the Maharaja on latter’s birthdays. On various occasions the Sheikh publicaly admitted that he was loyal to the ruler, but his rights can’t be denied. During one of his public meetings he referred to and praised the leadership of Mustafa Kamaal Attaturk (1881- 1938) of Turkey and (Gazi) Saad Zaghlol (1859-1927) of Egypt, least realising that his audience belonged to land locked Kashmir valley who had geographical disadvantage and facing illiteracy, poverty and lack of communication for centuries. Obviously the people were ignorant about happenings in immediate neighbourhood leave alone Egypt and Turkey.
Right from the birth of Muslim Conference, non-muslims always expressed their reservations about the Organisation and remained convinced that neither it is inclusive nor a secular movement. S.M.Abdullah remained busy in proving his secular credentials and untiringly invited non Muslims to the M.C. fold. However some non Muslim leaders such as Sardar Budh Singh, Lala Girdhari Lal Anand (Jammu), Durga Prasad Dhar, Kashi Nath Karhilo, Sham Lal Saraf, J.N. Zutshi etc unequivocally supported the Sheikh. They were convinced that the Muslim leadership is not fighting for the rights of Muslims alone and the movement is well intentioned in favour of entire population. However non Muslim leadership stressed expressly to change the name of Muslim Conference and make the Organisation broad based.
Sir Albion Banerjee (1871-1950), I.C.S, was a Bengali Brahmin who became Prime Minister of Kashmir in 1927 and resigned on moral grounds in 1929. He had earlier served British Sarkar as Diwan of Cochin and Mysore. He developed differences with the Maharaja on the latter’s lavish lifestyle, that was sustained by a poor population. Sir Banerjee had remarked that ” J&K State is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Mohammedan population absolutely illiterate labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages, and practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the govt. and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievences………….The administration has at present no or little sympathy with the people’s wants and grievences.” These words of Banerjee had come as a setback to the Maharaja and a big booster for representations of Kashmiri’s aspirations. A few years later in his public speeches Abdullah profusely exploited the remarks of Sir Banerjee on many occasions.
Events from 1933 till formation of N.C. were so interwoven that a departure from chronological order became inevitable while writing these posts. The period was significant and had strong bearing on the further course of the freedom movement in J&K. Heavy political investment to change the complexion of the most formidable organisation ( Muslim Conference ) into a secular outfit was quite visible. Enhanced activities in the field of politics, religion, social affairs etc continued with lot of intensity and fervour. Sher-Bakra divide, huge gap between the rich and poor, palace intrigues, race of beaurocrates to have close proximity with the ruling class, crack downs of the govt on hapless and deprived majority, conspiracies of the ruling class to divide overwhelming majority, burden of taxes, lack of medical facilities and employment, poor education are worth mentioning. Internecine clashes between the followers of the Mirwaiz and S.M.Abdullah intensified. Simmering communal feelings between Hindus and Muslims persisted as intermittent out-bursts of leaders during public speechs had become a fashion or may be a requirement. Jammu region particularly Mirpur and Poonch were grappling with a series of thier own problems and shortcomings.On the other side Kashmir could not insulate itself with the fall out of 1935 Act.
S.M.Abdullah and others ( leadership ) remained busy in periodic interactions with Indian National Congress leadership. Abdullah’s relationship with Nehru continued to grow which left an imprint on his mind. Stream of important developments, political or otherwise, played a significant role in the shaping of future strategies.
In 1934 ( June, July and August ) S.M.Abdullah vigorously campaigned for the elections. He held a series of public meetings at Mohalla level in Srinagar. Abdullah swept the elections and established his credentials as undisputed leader. The inaugural meeting of the Assembly was convened on 17 October in which the Maharaja also participated ( a departure from the past practice ). Proceedings of the Assembly continued till 2nd November.
After the Assembly session, the third annual convention, of the Muslim Conference was held at Sopore on 11, 12 and 13 November 1934. The General Council was unanimous to elect S.M.Abdullah once again as President which he refused, terming it as ‘monopoly’. As an alternative the Council elected Mian Ahmed Yar Khan as the President.
After the event of Muslim Conference S.M.Abdullah left Kashmir for planes where he spent almost four months meeting Indian leadership of different hues. In between he witnessed the functioning of legislative proceedings at Delhi. During his stay at Lahore he was asked a question on the sidelines of a function by a journalist about communal environment in Kashmir. He promptly attributed it to the communal elements of Punjab. He lashed out on Punjabi leadership as they had been allegedly interfering into Kashmir affairs. He confidently announced that he will draft his future strategy on the lines of Indian Congress. He came back to Jammu and watched proceedings of Legislative Assembly and left for Srinagar on 22 April. On reaching Srinagar he started his newspaper (Hamdard ) and used it for furtherance of his newly adopted political thought.
It has already been mentioned in the previous post that concerted attempts were started during 1933 to convince S.M.Abdullah to have paradigm shift from Muslim Conference to an all inclusive organisation so as to broaden the political canvas. Worthwhile to mention here that the demand of the M.C leadership to the Ruler was to concede ‘Responsible Government ‘.
In May 1938 a new political outfit as ‘ National Congress was made at Srinagar with Mohammed Omar Bhat as President and R.N.Vaishnavi as general secretary. Madan Lal, Veer Prakash, Kishore Lal and Ali Mohammed Bhat were its founding members. This party was not an extension of Indian National Congress and it failed to enhance its size, appeal and currency among general masses and ultimately merged with the National Conference. Simultaneously an association named National Conference was formed in Jammu with S.A.Sheikh as its President (a local Jammu initiative).
The working Committee of M.C met at Srinagar on 28 June 1938 to deliberate on the move to change the name of the Party. Marathon discussions continued for five days and the following resolution was adopted:
“Whereas in the opinion of the Working Committee the time has now come when all progressive forces in the country should be rallied under one banner to fight for the achievement of ‘ Responsible Government’, the working committee recommends to the General Council that in the forthcoming annual session, the name and the Constitution of the organisation be so altered and ammended that all people who wish to participate in the political struggle are enabled to become members of the conference irrespective of their caste, creed or religion”.
Ref: Kashmiris Fight For Freedom by M.Y.Saraf
There was a feeble voice against the resolution in the Organisation which invited an attempt at ouster of a few leaders namely Ch. Ghulam Abbas, Sheikh Ahmad Din (Banhali) and Abdul Majeed Qarshi from the Party. They were asked to resign which they turned down firmly.
The plenary session of the Party got deferred because of face off between the govt and the M.C as a result of the sentence of three years awarded to Raja Akbar Khan (Mirpur), an important pillar of the movement. Hartals and demonstrations were witnessed all over the State. The appeal against the conviction of Akbar Khan was rejected which resulted in spontaneous and fierce reaction. In August 1938 restrictions were imposed under section 144. The people in huge numbers participated in anti-government activities in defiance of the prohibitory orders. Apart from Muslims, non Muslims also gathered on joint platform. Many public meetings were addressed jointly by S.M.Abdullah, P.N.Bazaz, Moulana Masoodi, Kashap Bandhu, Jia Lal Kilam, G.M.Sadiq etc at various places in Srinagar. S.M.Abdullah, Budh Singh and few others were arrested. The agitation continued for a few weeks in Srinagar and elsewhere. Scores of protestors were arrested in Srinagar and mufasil areas. Sadurdin Mujahid offered himself for arrest. Prominent among the arrested included Mirza Afzal Beg, Sofi Akbar, Sheikh Mohammed Akbar and Maqbool Sherwani (both from Baramula). Choudhry Abass, who had come from Jammu was also arrested after addressing a public meeting at Khanqahi Moula on 15 September. All the leaders were sentenced to six months imprisonment. In totality about one thousand arrests were made which included about 60 non-Muslims.
In July 1932 Abdullah and P.N.Bazaz had a frank and detailed meeting at Cheshma Shahi garden, Srinagar. Abdullah was immensely impressed by Bazaz during the meeting and both firmly resolved that the movement will get strengthened if it is driven on secular, progressive and democratic path. Abdullah acknowledged versatility of Bazaz’s political thought and both developed a special relationship and mutual admiration.
It is imperative to find out the context, background and circumstances which compelled S.M.Abdullah to shun Muslim Conference and rename it as National Conference. In fact several attempts were made towards this change, the first being in 1933. On 7 August 1933 a Provisional Committee to that end was formed with Syed Ahmad Shah as President and R.N.Koul as Secretary. P.N.Bazaz was one of its members and undoubtedly brain behind it. However the attempt could not make any headway for diverse reasons. Owing to some thunderous speeches earlier, Abdullah had been maligned by Kashmiri Pandits , labelling him as communal. To overtly demonstrate his change of heart the Sheikh gave an interview to Tribune’s correspondent on 3 February 1934 at Jammu in which he advocated the cause of majority and minority population on equal basis. He disclosed in the interview that if Hindus have some reservation in standing with Muslims, then J.L.Nehru is the right person to negotiate and his decisions will be a binding for both sides.
According to P.N.Bazaz (Ref: Kashmir Ka Gandhi) S.M.Abdullah was a nationalist from the core of his heart—his communal speeches notwithstanding. Bazaz vehemently and forcefully defended the secular outlook of Abdullah which was reported in detail by newspaper “Haqeeqat” dated 20 September, 1935.
The role of Bazaz in the Glancy Commission was his investment and a huge asset for future course of action. This naturally endeared him to the Muslim rank and file. His political craft brought him into a position of confidence with S.M.Abdullah and front ranking Kashmiri Muslim leaders such as Moulana Masoodi and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and others. Slowly but steadily Bazaz succeeded in convincing them that the real fight is not between Muslims and Hindus but between rich and the poor. Bazaz repeatedly advanced argument that the benefits achieved as a result of Muslims struggle such as Legislative Assembly, freedom of Press, abolition of grazing tax etc were available across the board. By now S.M.Abdullah had risen to great heights of popularity and his association with Pandit Nehru might have tempted him to widen his field of activity. So the stage was getting set to change the name of Muslim Conference.
Note: This important political development demands a couple of more posts, which will follow
Continued from Titbit 63 – Allama Iqbal and Kashmir
In the initial phase of freedom struggle autocratic rulers and the Britishers commited a lot of atrocities on Kashmiris. There were apprehensions that all efforts would be made to burry the struggle. It was at this critical juncture that Iqbal knocked at the power corridors of Delhi and got the raining bullets, sticks, punishing taxes and banishments halted. He founded the Kashmir Committee and remained its President for many years. In 1932 when the struggle was formally lead by an organisation, it’s President-Elect Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah invited Iqbal to participate in the meeting. The historic letter which Iqbal wrote to the Sheikh at that time is very relevant. It says:
Dear Shaikh Saheb,
I just received your letter. I am very happy to learn about Muslim Conference through newspapers. I am sure the elders of Kashmir will soon resolve thier issues. I pray to God and believe that your efforts will soon bear fruit. But I have heard that different parties have been formed and thier differences can become a great obstacle in achieving your targets. Compatibility is the only solution to all political and cultural issues. The issues of Indian Muslims stayed stray because they could not develope compatibility, and its people, especially its Ulma continued to be the puppets in the hands of others. But I pray that your country does not face the same situation. I am sorry I cannot attend the conference because of other engagements.
Rest I hope, you are fine.
Mohammed Iqbal ( Lahore ).
The invite that the Sheikh had sent to Iqbal mentioned him as a commiserating guide and mentor, reflecting his deep commitment to the freedom struggle of Kashmir. This conference was held in Srinagar during October 1932.
In 1936 Kashmiri freedom fighters had another fierce encounter with their autocratic rulers. Apart from the routine oppressive tactics, several prominent leaders were forced into exile. They included Moulana Masoodi and Mirwaiz Ahmad-u-llah. Iqbal arranged their stay and boarding at Lahore. He would meet these leaders daily especially Moulana Masoodi and enquire about situation in Kashmir and favour them with valuable advice. Once when Mirwaiz Hamdani met him, Iqbal began with talking in Urdu and later switched to Persian which the Mirwaiz could not understand. Moulana Masoodi intervened and submitted to Iqbal that the Mirwaiz does not understand Urdu, Persian or Punjabi. Iqbal was stunned to learn this and kept looking at Masoodi for a while. After a brief pause Iqbal said: ” Oh, I am ignorant of Kashmiri, the language of my forefathers”. He added in a mesmerizing tone: ” How lucky it would be for a soldier of freedom to embrace martyrdom on the soil of his motherland than die in exile”. Just two days after this Moulana Masoodi entered Kashmir after secretly crossing the border and gave a new lease of life to the freedom struggle. It was a miracle that the oppressors had to face a humiliating defeat ultimately in this struggle.
In the spring of 1937, I along with some friends went to Lahore to arrange some printing. After meeting some prominent personalities from the field of knowledge, politics and culture, we wanted to have a meeting with Iqbal which seemed implausible due to his ill health. One of the friends was an acquaintance of Hakeem Ajmal who would visit ‘ Javed Manzil’ twice a day. We conveyed our wish to him. Out of courtesy he mentioned our request to Allama Iqbal. Hakeem Sahib said that as soon as Iqbal heard the word Kashmir, his pale face lit up. When we were allowed to meet Iqbal, he was busy talking to Hakeem Hassan and Yousuf Saleem lain on bed supported with a big cushion. His eyes were probably closed and he was wearing dark glasses. It seemed as if he was having pain in his chest. He said with a smile, ” So how is Kashmir? “. After some time he further asked: ” What brings you to Lahore?” After listening to our replies, he asked ” How is Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and how is freedom struggle going. Is literacy growing”. We briefed Iqbal. Then he offered his advice to us: ” Now that you are awake, it is time to be united and turn younger generation towards education. A time will certainly come InshaAllah when Kashmir will be free from oppression. I wish to see Kashmir again to the full of my heart”. We tried to say something about differences. He emphatically said: ” Be large hearted. Embrace people……I was planning to visit Kashmir this year but doctors and Hakims have advised against. I have a problem with my eyes too”.
Finally Iqbal died on April 21, 1938. (Concluded)
(Courtesy Sheeraza. Profound thanks to Dr Abid Ahmad who painstakingly helped in translation.)