Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah
Sheikh Abdullah, a towering leader in Kashmir, was instrumental in his state’s deciding to join the Indian Union. He was born into a poor middle-class family of traders and manufacturers in a small village near Srinagar (Kashmir). After graduating from Islamia College in Lahore, he enrolled at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) where he discovered liberal and progressive ideas. In 1931, back to Srinagar, he organized the Muslim Conference, to be called soon afterwards National Conference, i.e. a completely secular party, not to be confused with the continuing Muslim Conference. Sheikh Abdullah, who was a close friend of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was definitely a relay for the Congress Party, while the Muslim Conference would look to the other side. Kashmir in those days was a princely state, ruled by a Dogra dynasty from Jammu, thus a Hindu ruler with a population mainly Muslim. In 1947, the Maharaja was facing a crucial choice: whether to join India or Pakistan or remain independent? He hesitated too long. Tribes from Pakistan were about to reach Srinagar. He called Delhi in desperation. Indian battalions were sent under the condition that Kashmir would accede to the Indian Union. Sheikh Abdullah was one of the main actors in these decisions. In June 1949, the Maharaja, Hari Singh, left Kashmir. His son, Karan Singh, became Regent; Sheikh Abdullah was in full command as Prime Minister, but the local developments were at the mercy of international decisions and subject to a negotiated cease-fire. In January 1950, the Constitution of India was ready, including the famous and controversial article 370: this article recognizes a specific status of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. It is still loudly denounced by the Hindu parties. In July 1952, nevertheless, things clearly looked as if they were about to deteriorate again (Delhi Agreement between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah). In August 1953, the Sheikh generated suspicions that he was surreptitiously negotiating for Kashmir’s independence and he was arrested. This arrest allowed an acceleration of the integration process to India. The hereditary monarchy was abolished, and the regent, Karan Singh, was given the title of Sadr-i-Riyasat. The Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, elected in 1957, made the accession of the state to the Indian Union very clear. Sheikh Abdullah was freed by Nehru in 1964 but soon again put under strict survey. His personal charisma proved intact however, especially in 1964 (i.e., during the Mohammed hair-relic theft incident). However, it was only in the 1970s that Delhi finally resolved to soften its position. And, following three wars with Pakistan and the Simla Agreement, it was time for Sheikh Abdullah’s return to power. He was now Chief Minister and more popular than ever, at least in the Valley, where he triumphed in the 1977 assembly elections; while in Ladakh (Buddhist) and Jammu (Hindu), the mood was obviously different. The following years looked quiet and happy. In fact, it was during that period that major errors, both in Srinagar and in Delhi, were committed. Soon after the death of Sheikh Abdullah in 1982, the situation deteriorated. The 1987 assembly elections were a turning point. They had been manipulated. Rebellion, then insurrection and terrorism followed.
HURTIG, Christiane. 1993. “Le séparatisme cachemiri. Du régionalisme à l’irrédentisme”, Hérodote, 71 (October-December):169–85.
LAMB, Alastair. 1991. Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy 1946–1990. Hertingfordbury: Roxford Books.
SINGH, Tavleen. 1995. Kashmir; A Tragedy of Errors. New Delhi: Penguin India.