In this historic interview to Caravan, Sheikh Abdullah speaks out how Delhi hired Kanranjia of Blitz and Ganjoo of Statesman to malign him as a secessionist and Islamist
Kashmir Ink reproduces an old interview with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah published in the October 1980 issue of CARAVAN. The interview done by the publication’s Special Correspondent was headlined ‘The Sheikh’s life has been swinging between two extremes: from power to prison and back to power: Will he fall out of grace with Mrs Gandhi again?’
The place was Srinagar, and time 9.30 in the morning on 8th August 1980. The Personal Secretary of Sheikh Abdullah took me to the Chief-Minister’s residence. I saw the Sheikh walking out of his bedroom and advancing towards the lawn. A servant brought him a rose-bud. He took it and pinned it in his buttonhole.
I was reminded of Jawaharlal Nehru. Sheikh Abdullah smiled—again like Nehru—and offered me a chair.
Before I could open my battery of questions, I was reminded of what the Director of Information of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Bakshi Ghulam Ali, had told me. He had asked me not to raise any controversial issue in my meeting with Mr Abdullah.
A strange request it was. How was this possible? How can you keep away from controversies while talking to one of the most controversial persons in the country?
Many controversial issues came to the fore during this meeting with the Sheikh. Yet one could not go too far with delicate issues—the censor was already imposed by the Director of Information.
For instance one could not ask questions like: Has the demand for plebiscite in Kashmir come to an end? Wouldn’t you like to take back the part of your speech on Martyrs’ Day which has created so much of uproar? Is it true that many Pakistani nationals are staying illegally in Kashmir? How come your relations with the late Mr Nehru suddenly got strained? Don’t you feel that because of religious orthodoxy the Muslims still remain backward, and that religion has been exploiting us.
However, he talked for one hour and 45 minutes instead of the promised 20 minutes.
Question: You are the beloved leader of the masses. Doesn’t your position create a kind of wall between you and the people? Don’t you feel that it would’ve been better for you to have stayed away from power like Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narain?
Sheikh Abdullah: Yes, I should have kept away from politics of power. But there is nobody in Kashmir, yet, who can control this State riddled with problems. Our State needs somebody who has a place in people’s heart; whose word carries weight with them; who is their sincere well-wisher. The new generation lacks such people. When in 1975 the situation in Kashmir became quite delicate, I was invited to form the Government. I never desired to become the Chief Minister. In fact, the tag of Chief Ministership has been forced upon me.
When the boat of Kashmir was caught in turbulent waters, the leaders felt that only my personality could save the situation from getting out of hand. They called me to take the reins of the Government in a delicate situation. I thought it improper to keep aloof and just watch the show.
Fortunately, the situation is much better as compared to the one in 1975. When matters improve further I will step down from power. My wish is that the younger generation comes forward during my lifetime.
Can the new generation provide the leadership after you have left?
Well, during my life-time the new generation should come forward. I will be there to guide them.
Would you like your son Farooq Abdullah to replace you later?
No. You should not talk like that. We have fought against monarchy and kings. Here the people’s choice is supreme. It is for them to decide who should head their Government.
Jamiat-e-Tulba has been raising the issue of “Islamic Revolution” and does not consider it imperative to be loyal to India. What have you to say about this organisation?
This organisation is being blown out of proportion by media people. I have not even seen that boy who has been raising the slogan of “Islamic Revolution”. You come yourself and see how many people know him.
You do not give much importance to this organisation! But from yesterday’s news report in Statesman about the arrest of its members, it appears that you consider this organisation a danger.
This report is absolutely baseless. We do not consider this organisation as a danger to us. It appears that somebody else is pulling the strings secretly. In fact, the media have unnecessarily created a great deal of commotion about it.
But this organisation does not consider it necessary to remain loyal to India. Isn’t this a serious matter?
Many groups say like that. Even Naxalites say this. In Assam, people have been talking in similar vein. India is big; a few ripples here or there do not quite matter. Such things should be ignored. In fact, in Kashmir there are lots of people who have been deprived of power. They want to create instability and disturbances. They wish to fish in troubled wafers. These people are using the newspapers for their selfish ends. See, for instance, the President of Jamiat-e-Tulba said in his press conference that “Sheikh Abdullah should bless our movement,” and the newspaper published it: “Sheikh Abdullah has blessed our movement.”
There have been malicious attempts to link me with Jamiat-e-Tulba. This is to create rift between me and New Delhi. In fact the same things are being repeated which took place in 1953. Then a similar kind of situation was created which caused my arrest. I was India’s hero but was treated as a traitor.
Do you fear arrest now?
Definitely, I fear arrest any time. Whatever is happening now had happened during 1953. It was said that I had been trying to hatch a conspiracy against India; that I was going to declare Kashmir as an independent country on the Id day; that the American army was going to arrive at Kashmir—the same kind of propaganda is going on now.
And when such a situation has to be created, newsmen like Karanjia (of Blitz) and O.K. Ganju (of Statesman) are called and promoted to write against me. Ganju writes all fabricated stuff —rather, he gets it written by somebody else. He himself cannot even write two straight sentences. These newsmen are creating unnecessary propaganda against me. They are attempting to link my speech of 13th July with “Islamic Revolution.” Their conclusions are far-fetched.
The riots which took place in Srinagar are again said to have been instigated by my speech. The people forget that such kind of disturbances often take place.
Where there are accidents on the roads, and when somebody dies, people gather. Something like that happened here too. Unfortunately the truck which killed belonged to the army. The driver was arrested by the police. And the soldiers of the unit to which the truck belonged came with lathis and hockey sticks. They beat up people and damaged whatever came in their way. The army was involved in this affair so the situation was quite delicate. Despite that, we brought it under control within two days. Can they (Central leaders) do it? Now, instead of feeling grateful to us for having handled the situation well, they are using the same against us.
To malign our Government it is being said that this was a communal riot, when it was not. You kill our people like birds and not even expect them to get provoked?
Don’t the people of Kashmir trust the army and consider it as their protector?
How can people consider an army as their protector, which treats them like cattle? In the incident at Srinagar the entire army was not involved, but only one unit. But if one unit of the army does something wrong, it discredits the entire army. It is quite natural that people show their anger against the entire armed force.
Under what condition were you made the Chief Minister in 1975? What was the reason which led the Congress to dissolve its own Government in the State (of Mir Qasim) and install you as the Chief Minister?
The condition in the country then was quite bad. When the Congress Party was finding it difficult to run Governments in other States, Kashmir stood out with its peculiar problems. When they could not control it, they said: “Here, it’s for you. It is getting out of our control.” Then, Mrs Gandhi and I had certain talks and agreements.
Now, how come your relation with the Congress got strained?
They have not got strained. Actually, the freedom movement here was led by the National Conference. The situations which developed after 1947 were again dealt with by us alone. We had links with the Congress but we were never a part of it. Now the Congress Party wants to run the State. How is it possible? I have told Congressmen that when they could not bring Muslims to the fore in the rest of the country, how could they do it in Kashmir? When they could not become popular with Muslims elsewhere, how could they expect to gain popularity here? Here, people hardly know of the Congress.
Yes, we have known Congress here in 1953 when they fired bullets at us.
Why do you want to keep the National Conference confined to Kashmir?
The National Conference was formed to tackle the problems of the State and not of the entire country. Kashmir has its own special problems. Our Constitution has a federal structure. There are separate units with their own special problems. Two States can have the same problem also. For instance, the disputes relating to area and rivers — as between Maharashtra and Gujarat. But most of the problems are provincial which have to be tackled on the State-level only. So you see, we have a lot to do in Kashmir itself. How can we talk of the entire country?
Many times you got an opportunity to lead Indian Muslims but you never took up the task. Why?
Muslims should lead themselves. They should organise themselves on the State-level. For instance, the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh should organise themselves and then work in collaboration with any reasonable party.
In 1973 it seemed that you would lead Indian Muslims when you actively participated in the activities of Muslim Majilis-e-Mushavarat and Muslim Personal Law Board. But later you retraced your steps, why?
The regional parties may find a common platform to discuss national problems. We can come together like that. After having found answers to national problems, they can formulate a common policy. For that purpose all can meet on the platform of mushavarat.
But nobody lets mushavarat to continue. The Muslim League claimed the exclusive right to lead the Muslims of the country. And thus the talk of having a common platform to discuss national problems came to naught.
Today there is a crisis of leadership at the Centre. Except for Mrs Gandhi in the ruling Congress, there is nobody who has the stature to provide leadership at the national level. Thus in order to find a suitable replacement, Rajiv Gandhi is being forcibly dragged into politics. At this juncture would you like to play an active role in the politics at the national level?
I feel that the role I am playing now is the right one for me. The time is not ripe yet for a leader of a minority community to emerge on the national scene. In other countries it is possible—as it happened in England. There, a Jew became the Prime Minister and nobody objected to that. It was possible there because the people there are quite advanced in their outlook. However, around 200 years back the situation there was even worse than the one in our country today. In our country, this kind of thing cannot be contemplated, yet.
Is it true that in 1979 President Sanjeeva Reddy wanted you to lead a National Government at the Centre?
Yes, the President was contemplating the idea of bringing everybody together to pull the country out of the crisis. He even had a talk with me. But still I feel that my taking over as the Prime Minister would not have been proper.
Your close associates like Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq and Mirza Afzal Beg left you. Is that why you have stopped relying on your associates?
In life, experience makes you become careful. I had thought that as my heart is clear, others too had clear hearts. I considered it downright immoral to have one’s associates dogged by the CID. I have realised that such an attitude does not pay.
Is it true that during your Pakistan visit you had proposed to Marshal Ayub Khan that India and Pakistan should have a common defence?
At that time my main purpose was to bring India and Pakistan across the table. Thus to make Field Marshal Ayub Khan agree to that, I had visited Pakistan.
Ayub asked me, “How will we solve the problems?” I said that in India and Pakistan all kinds of solutions have been put forth. We can pick up those one after another and whichever appear suitable can be discussed at length. And if we can solve certain outstanding problems in this manner it is fine —and even if we cannot, at least certain misunderstandings could be removed.
I made some headway in this direction. Ayub even agreed to come to India. But, that was not to be. When I was in Pakistan, Pandit Nehru passed away. The person whom he had to talk to was no more. I came back.
You did not renew your efforts?
How could I? As I came back to India I was arrested. And when I came out of jail, things had changed.
Do you think that “Kashmir- problem,” for which you have struggled for years, has been solved?
We know that the “Simla- Agreement” has settled that dispute.
Are you satisfied with the “Simla Agreement”?
The two countries have entered into this agreement. And they are satisfied. Who is bothered about our satisfaction?
Last year you got the “Anti- Defection Bill” passed. What has been the outcome of it?
The outcome has been quite good. We have not had any problem about it. Now certain people are trying to challenge it in the Supreme Court. Let us see what happens. But, I feel that to maintain morality in politics, it is a must.
What kind of differences have you had with Mian Bashir, who is trying to challenge this bill in the Supreme Court and who has defected from National Conference to Congress (I)?
The only complaint he had was that he was not made a Cabinet Minister.
Recently you had gone to New Delhi and Mrs Gandhi promised you that your Government would not be toppled. Do you trust her word?
(Laughs heartily) There is a couplet by Mirza Ghalib…. (tries to remember but cannot. In fact, he wanted to quote:“Tere vade par jiye hum to ye jaan, jhut jana. Ki Khushi se mar na Jate, agar aitebar hota. Ye na thi hamari kismet ki visaie yar hota…” (There is no truth in your promise. I would have died with happiness had I relied on it. It was not my luck to have had a meeting with you…)
On what basis have you become friends with Bhartiya Janata Party? You once considered Jan Sangh as an enemy of Muslims.
I do not have enmity with anybody. In politics we look for mutual benefit. We do not abuse anybody. Yes, they belong to Jan Sangh. But the original ideology which they professed has undergone a change. We had a quarrel with that ideology.
Would you like to lead a movement which might aim at the unification of India and Pakistan—as they were before the Partition?
What can you do in this regard now? Yes, the Partition originally was a wrong step, but it is not possible for the two to come together again—as they were before Independence. They can be brought together on the emotional plane now. We can bring the two countries together the way America and Canada have come closer. They have common trade and other relations and there is scarcely any tension between them. When those two neighbours can live together cordially, why can’t Pakistan and India? America and Canada do not have such strong ties as we have. We have blood relations with the Pakistanis.
What difference can you point out between the style of functioning of Pandit Nehru and that of Mrs Gandhi?
Nehru was on one level and Mrs Gandhi is on the other. There is a lot of difference between the two. There are however a few similarities too. But, that is quite natural—Mrs Gandhi is, after all, Nehru’s daughter.
In your view which of these countries have proved better than others for the Muslims —India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?
Neither of three. Now, it depends on Muslims how they live. If in India you live properly—with amity and reason, then this country can prove congenial. And if you take the wrong path then, naturally, it would adversely affect you. It is the same for Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
It is alleged that nowadays you are usually more inclined to compromise and have lost that image of ‘Lion of Kashmir’.
What has led us to compromise? What has been the cause of dispute? From the very beginning we have extended a friendly hand towards India. It didn’t start yesterday. In 1931, we were trying for that when Pakistan did not even exist. The socio-economic programme we called “New Kashmir” had been our goal which we are still striving to achieve. No change has occurred on that front.
How far do you consider Shahi Imam Abdullah Bukhari to be the leader of Muslims?
(Laughs heartily) Only to the extent he himself is a Muslim.
How far do you think his demand for reservations for Muslims in Army, Parliament and State Assemblies is justified?
He is Imam. I have attended many prayers conducted by him. In that respect he is venerable. He wishes well for Muslims. Religion, and not politics, has been his field. Now he has got stuck in politics—he sways from one point to the other. What can I now say about him?
Are you satisfied with the representation Kashmir has got in the army?
A: I am not at all satisfied. Since 1931, this has been our demand that Kashmiri Muslims, not only they but all Kashmiris, should be given a fair representation in the army. This has always been our demand that Kashmiris should be given fair representation in jobs at the Centre also.
Is it true that in Kashmir you give priority to Muslims in the matters of allotment of jobs?
Yes. It is true. And this policy will continue. It is also legally justified and Muslims have a right to it. As long as Muslims remain backward in education and economically this will have to continue. After that, this would definitely be dropped.
The bill concerning the minority character of Aligarh Muslim University is being moved by the Indian Government. What is your reaction to this?
It has been put in the cold storage. Nobody is talking about it now. What can I say about it?
What influence does Maharaja Hari Singh’s family wield in the State now?
They hardly have any influence. They do not have anything in their hand. They have some property—after all they were rulers. For hundred years they ruled. They have a son—Dr Karar Singh. He is young and educated. He has money. He wants power and tries for it. But his field is India and not Kashmir. He hardly has any influence here.
Don’t you feel that because of the custom of purdah women have remained backward? Do you support the idea of giving freedom to women?
There is a limit to everything. Even women’s freedom should have its bounds.
In Islam the relationship between man and woman has a very healthy basis. Man has been asked to lower his eyes if his eye catches a woman. The woman has also been asked to do the same if she sees a man. And then woman has been asked to cover her erogenous parts. But she has not been asked to cover her face and feet completely.
Now, you look at Arab history. Women were not imprisoned in the houses. They used to go to work at the battle fields—would encourage soldiers, serve them with water, put balm on their wounds etc. Even Hazrat Aisha Sidiqa (Prophet Mohammad’s youngest wife) led a group of women in the battle field. The Muslim woman has never been asked to stay at home.
But there should be a limit to freedom. The kind of freedom you see in Europe has been threatening woman’s existence. The women in Europe feel that freedom lies in showing your body. They have one after another almost discarded all their clothes. This is an extreme of freedom and this is wrong.
The other extreme is that you are wearing a burqa (veil) which does not even permit air inside. This is also wrong.
Apart from politics what are your hobbies?
A: Now, there is only politics. There is scarcely any time for any hobby. I have been interested in flowers and gardening; I have also been interested in reading. But my life has been such a busy one that I scarcely get any time to pursue any hobby. I did a little bit of reading in jail.
After independence, the Indian Government has adopted the policy of nationalisation of various industries. What do you feel about this so called socialism and nationalization?
Here in Kashmir we do not have much of industry. But on the basis of whatever personal experience I have had in this regard, I can say that nationalisation has done more harm than good to the country. We have not done well in the public sector.
In the public sector the employees are mainly concerned about their own benefit. They are not bothered about the loss or profit of the company. While in the private sector this kind of thing does not happen. Here the employees and the employers know that in the well-being of the company is their benefit and progress. We should give more encouragement to private sector.
Because of our policy not to encourage the private sector, we have brought curbs on the big business houses. What happens is that these big houses invest abroad —they put money in industry in Indonesia and Malaysia. As a result the people in these countries are getting employment. While the unemployment in India has been increasing.
If we allow these people to invest in our country, our countrymen too would get jobs and production will also increase. But because of the wrong policies of the Government, this is not happening.
And the public sector is in a mess. They are always showing losses to the tune of millions. I wonder if any public sector is showing profit. You can see their reports.
Would you like your Tourism Department to be run as a private enterprise?
There is nothing in it to be handed over to private enterprise. In fact a large part of tourism industry in the State is being controlled by the private enterprise—hotels, houseboats and restaurants etc.
However, if anybody in the private sector wishes to develop certain tourist spots here, he is welcome. He should come and discuss his project with us. We do not have any affinity with the public sector. We want the nation to prosper—whichever sector may do that.
[Courtesy: Kashmir Ink December 5, 2015 (Greater Kashmir)]