A critical player in the J&K saga was Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, born in 1905 in Soura, a village on the outskirts of Srinagar. He became famous as Sher-e-Kashmir: the Lion of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah’s father was Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim, a middle class manufacturer and trader of shawls. Sheikh Abdullah’s grandfather was a Hindu Kashmiri Pandit by the name of Ragho Ram Koul, who was converted to Islam in 1890 and was named Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, the name his grandson took. Sheikh Abdullah married Akbar Jahan in 1933. She was daughter of Michael Harry Nedou and his Kashmiri wife. Michael owned a hotel at the tourist resort of Gulmarg—his father was a European proprietor of a chain of hotels in India including Nedous Hotel in Srinagar.

Sheikh Abdullah did MSc in Chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in 1930. It was at the University that he became politically active. He formed the Muslim Conference, Kashmir’s first political party, in 1932, and later renamed it to National Conference in 1938. The Muslim Conference founded by Sheikh Abdullah was reportedly communal: some say that he later changed its name to National Conference only for tactical reasons. Sheikh Abdullah was a protagonist of Kashmiri nationalism linked to Islam; and his role model was Dr Mohammad Iqbal, a scion of another Kashmiri Pundit convert to Islam—like himself—who propounded the ideology of Pakistan way back in 1930.

Although Gandhi had thought it prudent to keep himself aloof from the affairs of the Princely States, Nehru had set up “The All-India States’ Peoples’ Conference” for the States in 1939. Nehru had associated himself with Sheikh Abdullah in that capacity. He was supportive of his agitations. Sheikh Abdullah had launched the ‘Quit Kashmir’ agitation against the Maharajah in May 1946 leading to his arrest. The agitation, felt most Congress leaders, was opportunist and malevolent, and driven by selfish consideration of self-promotion—after all, Maharaja was not an outsider like the British. Sheikh Abdullah indulged in such acts knowing he would receive tacit support of Nehru. Although Sheikh Abdullah had tried to project his fight against the Maharaja as a fight against the feudal order, and a fight for the people of J&K—something the gullible, socialist Nehru believed—in reality his purpose was communal, to get Muslim support, and grab power.

Alarmed at the acts of Sheikh Abdullah, and Nehru’s support to him, the Kashmiri Pandits had telegrammed Sardar Patel on 4 June 1947:
“The statements of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru concerning Kashmir affairs being entirely unverified and tendentious are universally condemned and resented by Hindus of Kashmir. By encouraging Sheikh Abdullah’s Fascist and Communal Programme he is doing great disservice to the people of Kashmir. His [Abdullah] unwarranted and wrong statements about facts and demolishing mosques inflame Muslims against Hindus…”

Sheikh Abdullah had endeared himself to Nehru—who had called him ‘my blood-brother’—and others by projecting an anti-feudal, democratic, leftist, pro-India, pro-Congress, and above all, a secular image: perhaps to get Maharaja Hari Singh out of the way, and then to sit in his place; for his   later actions belied that image, and disappointed and shocked Nehru. S. Gopal, Nehru’s biographer, had written that Nehru regarded Abdullah as ‘an old friend and colleague and blood-brother’. Nehru held Abdullah beyond suspicion, and trusted him fully. For Nehru, Abdullah was Kashmir, and Kashmir was Abdullah! To have reposed such blind faith in Sheikh Abdullah and in his capability to deliver, grossly overestimating his popularity and remaining innocently unsuspicious of his intentions, even to the extent of being unfair, unjust and insulting to the Maharaja and non- Muslim Kashmiris, reflected negatively on the expected leadership qualities from Nehru.

Wrote Sita Ram Goel: “Pandit Nehru had befriended Shaikh Abdullah simply because the latter was also, and for a long time, a Soviet-addict like him. I have in my possession several pamphlets published by the People’s Publishing House [publisher of Communist literature] in praise of the Sher-e-Kashmir. Pandit Nehru dropped Shaikh Abdullah primarily because the Shaikh picked up a quarrel with Sadiq &Co., the communist clique in Kashmir.”

Sheikh Abdullah was made ‘Head of the Emergency Administration’ in J&K on 30 October 1947 by Maharaja Hari Singh at the instance of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. He took oath as Prime Minister of Kashmir on 17 March 1948. He was accused of rigging elections to the Constituent Assembly in 1951. He was dismissed as Prime Minister on 8 August 1953, and was arrested and later jailed for eleven years upon being accused of conspiracy against the State in what came to be known as the ‘Kashmir Conspiracy Case’. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed was appointed in his place —it was he who had arrested Sheikh Abdullah. Wrote MO Mathai:
“When Feroze Gandhi [Indira Gandhi’s husband] heard of the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 he came to my study beaming. He said that Bakshi did a foolish thing in arresting Sheikh Abdullah, and added that Bakshi should have had Sheikh Abdullah taken to the top of a lonely hill on the Azad Kashmir border, pushed down and shot, and published the news that Abdullah had fled to Pakistan.” 

Sheikh Abdullah was released on 8 April 1964. Nehru passed away on 27 May 1964. Sheikh Abdullah was later interned from 1965 to 1968. He was exiled from Kashmir in 1971 for 18 months. Consequent to the Indira- Sheikh accord of 1974, he became the Chief Minister of J&K and remained in that position till his death in 1982.

BN Mullik, who was the then Deputy Director of the IB—the Intelligence Bureau—with charge of Kashmir, and later head of the IB, wrote in his book, ‘My Years with Nehru: Kashmir’ that his report of Kashmir of 1949 stating, inter alia, intense local anti-Pak feelings and no weakening in Sheikh Abdulla’s ideological commitment to India so pleased Nehru that he had copies of the report circulated to all embassies and ministries. However, the realist and wise Sardar Patel, with a gift for
making right judgements, was not amused. Here are extracts from the book: “…Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was unhappy. This report of mine apparently went against the views which he had held about Kashmir in general and Sheikh Abdullah in particular. He suspected that the Sheikh was not genuine and was misleading Pandit Nehru and was not happy that the report should have been given such wide circulation… A few days after I had sent the report, the Home Secretary informed me that the Sardar did not agree with my assessment and had taken exception to the fact that I had submitted this report without first consulting him…
“I got a summons to see the Sardar the next day. He was not well and was seated on his bed. He looked at me quietly for some time. Then he asked me whether I had written the report, a copy of which was in his hands. I replied in the affirmative. He asked me why I had sent a copy of this to Jawaharlal without consulting him. I replied that I had submitted the report to the Director. Sardar Patel then enquired whether I knew that Jawaharlal had sent copies of this report to all our embassies abroad and what was my reaction to this. I said that I had heard about the circulation only the previous day from the Home Secretary and I was naturally happy to hear that the Prime Minister thought so well of my report that he had thought fit to circulate it to our Ambassadors abroad. The Sardar then said that he did not agree with my assessment of the situation in Kashmir in general and of Sheikh Abdullah in particular…
“The Sardar then gave me his own views about Sheikh Abdullah. He apprehended that Sheikh Abdullah would ultimately let down India and Jawaharlal Nehru and would come out in his real colours; his antipathy to the Maharaja was not really an antipathy to a ruler as such, but to the Dogras in general and with the Dogras he identified the rest of the majority community in India. In his slow voice, he firmly told me that my assessment of Sheikh Abdullah was wrong, though my assessment of public opinion in Kashmir valley about accession was probably correct. After having pointed out what he considered to be my error in judgment, he was, however, good enough to say that he agreed with my views that I should submit only independent assessments to the Government and not tailor them to suit the known or anticipated views of particular leaders. He said that I would soon discover my error but, at the same time, he complimented me on the way the report had been written and the pains I had taken over it. This was the greatness of the Sardar. Whilst disagreeing with my views, he recognised my right to express them…
“That day I came back to my office wondering whether I had really made a mistake in my assessment of Kashmir and whether what the Sardar had said was not right after all. Events, as they turned out subsequently, proved that the Sardar was right and I was not. Within three years we found ourselves fighting against Sheikh Abdullah. Sardar Patel was dead by then. Yet, I feel that possibly events might have turned out differently and the subsequent pain, turmoil, and embarrassments could have been avoided if the special difficulties of Kashmir had been understood by all concerned and they had guided their talks and modified their actions on the basis of this understanding. Probably, things would not have come to this pass at all if the Sardar was still living, because Sheikh Abdullah had a very wholesome respect and fear for him.”

Nehru ultimately realised his blunder after he discovered what Sheikh
Abdullah really was. Wrote Balraj Krishna:
“Nehru himself came round to Patel’s view later in 1962, when he told Mullik of Abdullah’s ‘communal activities throughout the period he had acted as the National Conference leader. It was the Pakistani aggression which had mellowed him a little for a short time, because the tribals had committed gruesome atrocities on the Muslim population in the Valley. But, as soon as he became Prime Minister, he came out in his true colours once again and started his anti-Hindu activities… his entire outlook and behaviour was based on the fact that the Kashmir Valley had a Muslim majority.’”

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