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196. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah

Born5 December 1905(1905-12-05)
Soura, Kashmir, British India
Died8 September 1982(1982-09-08) (aged 76)
Srinagar, Kashmir, India

Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir

In office
5 March 1948 – 9 August 1953

Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir

In office
25 February 1975 – 26 March 1977

Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah (Kashmiri: शेख़ मुहम्मद अब्‍दुल्‍ला (Devanagari), شيخ محمد عبداللهSher-e-Kashmir (the Lion of Kashmir) (December 5, 1905, Soura, Kashmir – September 8, 1982, Srinagar), was the leader of the National Conference, Kashmir's largest political par, and one of the most important political figures in the modern history of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1933 he married Akbar Jahan, the daughter of Michael Harry Nedou, the eldest son of the European proprietor of a chain of hotels in India including Nedous Hotel in Srinagar, and his Kashmiri wife Mirjan. Michael Harry Nedou was himself the proprietor of a hotel at the tourist resort of Gulmarg(The writer Tariq Ali claims that Akbar Jehan was previously married in 1928 to an Arab Karam Shah who disappeared after a Calcutta newspaper Liberty reported that he was actually T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabiaa British Intelligence officer. He claims that Akbar Jehan was divorced by her first husband in 1929.) He agitated against the rule of the Maharaja Hari Singh, and urged self-rule for Kashmir. He was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir State after its provisional accession to India in 1947, and was later jailed and exiled. He again became the Chief Minister of the state following the 1974 Indira-Sheikh accor and remained in the top slot till his death on September 8, 1982.

Early life

The most important source of Sheikh Abdullah's early life is his official biography Atish e Chinar (In his foreword Sheikh Abdullah says it should be considered as his memoirs) and the main facts regarding it as given in Atish e Chinar (Urdu) are detailed below (See Chapter "Bachpan Aur Ibtadai Taleem" Atish e Chinar page 1-14 and "Ibtadai Azmaishain" page 15-22)
Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was born in Soura, a village on the outskirts of Srinagar, just eleven days after the death of his father Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim, a middle class manufacturer and trader of Kashmir shawls. In his own words he was born an orphan. Sheikh Ibrahim like the poet Iqbal was the descendant of a Hindu Kashmiri Pandit named Ragho Ram Koul who was converted to Islam in 1722 by the saint Rashid Balkhi and after conversion changed his name to Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. Thus Sheikh Abdullah was the namesake of the progenitor of his family branch.

According to Sheikh Abdullah, his step brother mistreated his mother and his early childhood was marked by utter poverty. His mother was keen that her children should receive proper education and so as a child he was first admitted to a traditional school or Maktab where he learnt the recitation of the Koran and some basic Persian texts like Gulistan of Sa'di, Bostan, Padshanama, etc. Then in 1911 he was admitted to a primary school where he studied for about two years. His elder step brothers then stopped his further education and he was first set to work in the family workshop embroidering shawls and later asked to sit on a grocers shop as a sales boy.
However, their family barber Mohammed Ramzan prevailed upon his uncle to send him back to school. He had to walk the distance of ten miles to school and back on foot but in his own words the joy of being allowed to obtain a school education made it seem a light work. He passed his Matriculation examination from Punjab University in 1922.

 Higher studies

After matriculation he obtained admission in Sri Partap College the leading college of Kashmir. Because of extreme poverty he had to walk the distance of about fifteen miles from Soura to S.P.College and back and so developed Cardiomegaly (perhaps an early sign of beriberi brought about by malnutrition and severe exercise.) He was admitted to the Mission Hospital where under the treatment of the famous Neve brothers he recovered completely. His elder brother Sheikh Maqbool was moved by his illness and agreed to pay for his stay in the college hostel from where he passed his intermediate(F.Sc.) examination.
He obtained admission in Islamia College Lahore from where he completed his B.Sc.Degree. After that he obtained admission to the M.Sc. Chemistry course in Aligarh Muslim University and obtained Masters degree in Chemistry on 12 April 1930. He was the first Kashmiri Muslim to have obtained a Master's degree in Chemistry.

Political career

Kashmiri polymath and lawyer Molvi Abdullah. His lectures motivated Sheikh Abdullah and other educated Muslim youth to struggle for justice and fundamental rights
As a student at Aligarh Muslim University he came in contact with and was influenced by persons with liberal and progressive ideas. He became convinced that the feudal system was responsible for the miseries of the Kashmiris and like all progressive nations of the world Kashmir too should have a democratically elected government.

Muslim Conference formed

Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues were greatly influenced by the lectures of a Kashmiri polymath and lawyer Molvi Abdullah. Molvi Abdullah's son Molvi Abdul Rahim, Sheikh Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Gilkar were the first three educated Kashmiri youth to be arrested during the public agitation of 1931.
Kashmir's first political party the Muslim Conference with Sheikh Abdullah as President, Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas as General Secretary, and Molvi Abdul Rahim as Secretary was formed on 16 October 1932. In his presidential address Sheikh Abdullah categorically stated that the Muslim Conference had come into existence to struggle for the rights of all oppressed sections of the society and not Muslims alone. It was not a communal party and would struggle for the rights of the oppressed, whether Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, with the same fervor. He reasserted that the struggle of Kashmiris was not a communal struggle.

In March 1933 the Muslim Conference constituted a committee which included Molvi Abdullah and nine other members for the purpose of establishing contacts with non-Muslim parties and exploring the possibility of forming a joint organisation. According to Sheikh Abdullah this effort was not successful because of the unfavourable reception of the idea by the non-Muslim parties. Sheikh Abdullah later changed the name of the Muslim Conference to National Conference, under the influence of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Formation of Praja Sabha (Legislative Assembly)

As a result of the 1931 agitation the Maharajah appointed a Grievances Commission with an Englishman B.J. Glancy as President which submitted its report in March 1932. Subsequently a Constitutional Reforms Conference also presided over by B.J. Glancy recommended the setting up of an elected Legislative Assembly (Praja Sabha). Consequently a Praja Sabha with 33 elected and 42 nominated members elected on the basis of separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims was established in 1934. Women and illiterate men without sufficient property, or title, or annual income of less than Rupees four hundred did not have the right to vote. Roughly less than 10% (according to Justice Anand only 3%) of the population were enfranchised.
Even after the formation of Praja Sabha in 1934 as recommended by the Commission real power continued to remain in the hands of the Maharajah.

Seventeen years later in 1951, the government of Kashmir with Sheikh Abdullah as Prime Minister held elections to a Constituent Assembly on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Sheikh Abdullah's Government had been accused of rigging in these elections to the Constituent Assembly. Nonetheless, due consideration should be given to the quantum leap in moving from elections with 10% of enfranchised population to universal adult suffrage and that too just after a cease fire from an active war.

 Meeting with Nehru

Sheikh Abdullah was introduced to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1937 and as he too as a leader of the Indian National Congress was demanding similar rights for people of British Indiaand had formed The All India States Peoples Conference for supporting the people of Princely States in their struggle for a representative government the two became friends and political allies.

 Muslim Conference renamed as National Conference

He introduced a resolution in the working committee of the Muslim Conference for changing its name to National Conference on 24 June 1938 to allow people from all communities to join the struggle against the autocratic rule of the Maharaja. Meanwhile he along with his liberal progressive friends, many of whom were not Muslim like Kashyap Bandhu, Jia Lal Kilam, Pandit Sudama Sidha, Prem Nath Bazaz and Sardar Budh Singh drafted the National Demands the forerunner of the famous Naya Kashmir (New Kashmir) Manifesto (which was a charter of demands for granting a democratic constitution committed to the welfare of the common people of Kashmir)
He presented these demands to the Maharajah in a speech on 28 August 1938. The Maharajah of course was not willing to accept these demands and so he along with many of his companions was arrested for defying prohibitory orders and sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine. His arrest provoked a public agitation in which volunteers called Dictators (so called because they had the authority to defy laws that was forbidden for normal law abiding party members) courted arrest.This agitation was called off on the appeal of Mahatama Gandhi. He was released after serving his sentence on 24 February 1939 and accorded a grand reception by the people of Srinagar on his return. Speeches were made at the reception stressing the importance of unity among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Subsequently the resolution for changing the name of Muslim Conference to National Conference was ratified with an overwhelming majority by the General Council of the Muslim Conference on 11 June 1939 and from that date Muslim Conference became National Conference.

Quit Kashmir Agitation

In May 1946 Sheikh Abdullah launched the Quit Kashmir agitation against the Maharajah Hari Singh and was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment but was released only sixteen months later on 29 September 1947
(See Tehreek e Hurriyat e Kashmir By Rashid Taseer (Urdu) volume 2 page 29 for "National Demands" discussion and see Chapter 12 page 310-313 regarding presentation of "Naya Kashmir" Manifesto to Maharaja Hari Singh. Full text of "Naya Kashmir" manifesto is given from page 314 -383. Also see relevant chapters from Atish e Chinar regarding 1931 agitation (Chapters 9, 10 and 11) Glancy Commission (Chapter 15) formation of Muslim Conference (Chapter 18) meeting with Nehru (Chapter 23), reasons for change in name of Muslim Conference to National Conference (Chapter 24) and becoming president of All India States Peoples Conference (Chapter 31). His arrest and subsequent release following the Quit Kashmir agitation is discussed in Chapter 34 page 372-389.)

Head of emergency administration

Hari Singh appealed to Lord Mountbatten of Burma the Governor-General of India for Indian military aid. In his Accession Offer dated October 26, 1947 which accompanied The Instrument of Accession duly signed by him, the Maharaja Hari Singh wrote "I may also inform your Excellency's Government that it is my intention at once to set up an interim Government and ask Shaikh Abdullah to carry the responsibilities in this emergency with my Prime Minister."

Lord Mountbatten accepted the accession after a meeting of the Defence Committee on October 26, 1947. In accepting the accession unconditionally he wrote "I do hereby accept this Instrument of Accession. Dated this twenty seventh day of October, nineteen hundred and forty seven". In the covering letter to Hari Singh. he wrote "In consistence with their policy that in the case of any State where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the State, it is my Government's wish that, as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and its soil cleared of the invader, the question of the State's accession should be settled by a reference to the people" Also in his letter to the Maharaja Lord Mountbatten wrote "My Government and I note with satisfaction that your Highness has decided to invite Sheikh Abdullah to form an Interim Government to work with your Prime Minister. The support of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru the Prime Minister of India was a key factor in getting Sheikh Abdullah appointed as Head of the emergency administration by the Maharaja.

As a consequence, Sheikh Abdullah was appointed head of an emergency administration by an order issued by the Maharaja which was undated except for the mention October 1947 in place of the date. He took charge as Head of the Emergency Administration on 30 October 1947. After assuming the charge of the Head of the emergency administration, he addressing his first meeting with the government officers said "Pakistan is not our enemy and we have the same respect for Mr Jinnah that we had previously. We want the Kashmir issue to be settled by Dialog and if for this purpose I have to go to Karachi to meet Mr Jinnah I am willing to go there".

He raised a force of local Kashmiri volunteers to patrol Srinagar and take control of administration after the flight of the Maharaja along with his family and Prime Minister Meher Chand Mahajan to Jammu even before the Indian troops had landed. This group of volunteers would serve as the nucleus for the subsequent formation of Jammu and Kashmir Militia. This Sheikh Abdullah hoped would take over the defence of Kashmir after the Indian army was withdrawn. This was articulated in his letter to Sardar Patel dated 7 October 1948 in which he wrote, "With the taking over of the State forces by the Indian Government, it was agreed that steps would be taken to reorganise and rebuild our army so that when the present emergency is over and the Indian forces are withdrawn the State will be left with a proper organised army of its own to fall back upon." (Sheikh Abdullah has alleged that most of the Muslim soldiers of the Militia were either discharged or imprisoned before his arrest in 1953. The Militia (dubbed as Dagan Brigade) was converted from a State Militia to a regular unit of the Indian Army on 2 December 1972 and re designated the Jammu and Kashmir 
The UN Security Council brokered a ceasefire among the warring parties(which came into effect before midnight 1 January 1949) having passed a resolution demanding settlement of the question of Kashmir's accession to India or Pakistan by a plebiscite to be held under the auspices of the United Nations (Resolution 47 dated 21 April 1948 and UNCIP resolution dated 13 August 1948).

However, because of wrangling between India and Pakistan, this resolution remains unimplemented.

Prime Minister

Sheikh Abdullah took oath as Prime Minister of Kashmir on March 17, 1948.

Pakistani view

The government of Pakistan in 1947 viewed Abdullah and his party as agents of Nehru and did not recognise his leadership of Kashmir. However there was a change in Pakistan's viewpoint with the passage of time. When he visited Pakistan in 1964 he was awarded a tumultuous welcome by the people of Pakistan. Among the persons who received him was Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas his once colleague and later bitter political enemy who earlier in his book Kashmakash had denounced Sheikh Abdullah as a turncoat and traitor. Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas embraced him and in his speech described him as one of the greatest leaders of the subcontinent and a great benefactor of the Muslims of the subcontinent President Ayub Khan and his then Foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto discussed the Kashmir problem with him. The government of Pakistan treated him as a state guest. Sheikh Abdullah had the rare distinction of having poems in his praise written by three major Pakistani Urdu poets namely Hafeez Jullundhri, Josh and Faiz Ahmed Faiz who admired his lifelong struggle against injustice and for democratic rights of the common man.

 Arrest and release

On 8 August 1953 he was dismissed as Prime Minister by the then Sadr-i-Riyasat (Constitutional Head of State) Dr. Karan Singh son of the erstwhile Maharajah Hari Singh on the charge that he had lost the confidence of his cabinet (not the house) He was denied the opportunity to prove his majority on the floor of the house. and his dissident cabinet minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed was appointed as Prime Minister. Sheikh Abdullah was immediately arrested and later jailed for eleven years, accused of conspiracy against the State in the infamous "Kashmir Conspiracy Case".
According to Sheikh Abdullah his dismissal and arrest were engineered by the central government headed by Prime Minister Nehru. He has quoted B.N. Mullicks' statements in his book "My Years with Nehru  in support of his statement. A.G.Noorani writing in Frontline supports this view,as according to him Nehru himself ordered the arrest. On 8 April 1964 the State Government dropped all charges in the so called "Kashmir Conspiracy Case". Sheikh Abdullah was released and returned to Srinagar where he was accorded an unprecedented welcome by the people of the valley".

After his release he was reconciled with Nehru. Nehru requested Sheikh Abdullah to act as a bridge between India and Pakistan and make President Ayub to agree to come to New Delhi for talks for a final solution of the Kashmir problem. President Ayub Khan also sent telegrams to Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah with the message that as Pakistan too was a party to the Kashmir dispute any resolution of the conflict without its participation would not be acceptable to Pakistan. This paved the way for Sheikh Abdullah's visit to Pakistan to help broker a solution to the Kashmir problem.

Sheikh Abdullah went to Pakistan in spring of 1964. President Ayub Khan of Pakistan held extensive talks with him to explore various avenues for solving the Kashmir problem and agreed to come to Delhi in mid June for talks with Nehru as suggested by him. Even the date of his proposed visit was fixed and communicated to New Delhi. On 27 May while he was en route to Muzaffarabad in Pakistani Administered Kashmir news came of the sudden death of Nehru and the Sheikh after addressing a public rally at Muzaffarabad returned to Delhi. On his suggestion President Ayub Khan sent a high level Pakistani delegation led by his Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto along with him to take part in the last rites of Jawaharlal Nehru.
After Nehru's death in 1964, he was interned from 1965 to 1968 and exiled from Kashmir in 1971 for 18 months. The Plebiscite Front was also banned. This was allegedly done to prevent him and the Plebiscite Front which was supported by him from taking part in elections in Kashmir.

 After Indo Pakistan war and creation of Bangladesh

In 1971 an insurrection broke out in erstwhile East Pakistan, and subsequently war broke out between India and Pakistan which ended in the creation of Bangladesh. Sheikh Abdullah watching the alarming turn of events in the subcontinent realized that for the survival of this region there was an urgent need to stop pursuing confrontational politics and promoting solution of issues by a process of reconciliation and dialogue rather than confrontation.
If this was not done there was imminent danger of the breakup and balkanisation of both India and Pakistan with disastrous consequences for the people of this region. Realizing this he started talks with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for normalizing the situation in the region and came to an accord called 1974 Indira-Sheikh accord with Indira Gandhi, then India's Prime Minister, by giving up the demand for a plebiscite in lieu of the people being given the right to self rule by a democratically elected Government (as envisaged under article 370 of the Constitution of India) rather than the puppet government which till then ruled the State.

 Chief Minister


Sheikh Abdullahs funeral procession was miles long and the largest in living memory.In this clip the President of India is offering his tribute

He assumed the position of Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately the Central Government and the ruling Congress Party withdrew its support so that the State Assembly had to be dissolved and mid term elections called.
The National Conference won an overwhelming majority in the subsequent elections and reelected Sheikh Abdullah as Chief Minister. He remained as Chief Minister till his death in 1982. During his brief tenure as Chief Minister he tried to develop close ties between the three regions of the State namely Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. He also attempted to promote infrastructural development in the State and built the prestigious Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences and a Convention Centre (SKICC) built to international standards so as to promote Medical and Business tourism in the valley.
Abdullah, described as a six feet four inches (1.93m) to six feet six inches (1.98m) tall man, was fluent in both Kashmiri and Urdu. His biography in Urdu entitled Atish-e-Chinar was written by the noted Kashmiri author M.Y.Taing and published after Sheikh Abdullah's death. It is often referred to as his autobiography as Taing claimed that he only acted as an amanuensis. It is based on extensive interviews that Taing had with Sheikh Abdullah and provides valuable information on Sheikh Abdullah's family background, early life, ringside glimpses of happenings in Kashmir at a crucial juncture in its history, and his viewpoint about the political events in Kashmir in which he himself played a central role.
After his death his eldest son Dr. Farooq Abdullah was elected as the Chief Minister of the State. Omar Abdullah who is the son of Farooq Abdullah has also emerged as an important political leader of the National Conference. He is the present chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

source : Wikipedia

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