The Sher-e-Kashmir ended his 22-year-long `wandering in the political wilderness’ in 1975 and assumed office as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on February 25, 1975 with Congress support. Some important events during those fateful years merit a mention here to prove that people were not happy with the developments (the U-turn of the leadership).
Peoples League activist GM Bulla registered protest against the (then proposed) Accord on February 11, 1975. He unfurled a Pakistani flag in the Sopore Chowk. He was arrested, and killed under torture. His body was laid to rest during the night of February 15 amid tight security. People were forced to stay indoors.
Noted poet, fiction writer and historian, Akhtar Mohi-ud-Din compiled a novel Jahanmuk Panun Panun Naar, and dedicated it to the person who would launch the armed struggle to set things right. The novel was written in February 1975.
Opposing Sheikh Abdullah at that time was suicidal. National Conference goons were always on the prowl, but this did not daunt Akhtar. In 1975, he knew that the time was fast approaching when Kashmiris would resort to guns.
On November 14, 1973, college girls opened a new chapter in Kashmir history. The leaders were all set to take the Plebiscite Front to the altar for their vested interests. A deal had been finalized. People, by and large, were scared of indulging in political talk. It was at this crucial juncture of Kashmir’s history that the students of Government College for Women did the “impossible.” Daring cane-charges and tear smoke shells, the defiant students made a strong political statement.
The stage had been set to change the name of the college on the birth anniversary of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. The students resisted the move. Out they came on the Maulana Azad Road and pelted stones on government vehicles and the police. Unaware of the mood of the girl students, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah arrived on the scene in his car to preside over the function. He had to retreat as a few stones thrown by “delicate hands” smashed his wind screen. But for this incident, the political wilderness of Plebiscite Front leaders would have ended in 1973 itself. It deferred the transfer of power to the Sher-e-Kashmir by two years, believes noted historian Shabnam Qayoom.
The agitation spread to other districts. People, especially students, came out in large numbers to protest. They raised slogans against New Delhi and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. His effigies were burnt at a number of places. The government was forced to close down all educational institutions indefinitely. When the colleges opened after a fortnight, the students of the Regional Engineering College staged a demonstration at Lal Chowk. Brutal police action left several students injured. Scores were taken into custody.
But notwithstanding these incidents and the agitations they triggered, the Sher-e-Kashmir fell from grace. He reached Jammu to take oath as the Chief Minister of the state. Contrary to his expectations, Indira Gandhi briefed the Parliament about the Accord on February 24, something she was not supposed to do as per an unwritten agreement between the two.
The Sher-e-Kashmir received the shocking news at Jammu and expressed his reluctance to go to the Raj Bhawan where he had to be sworn in the next day. According to Shabnam Qayoom, when informed about Sheikh Abdullah’s reluctance, Indira Gandhi urged the governor, LK Jha, to allow Mir Qasim, who had submitted his resignation, to continue as Chief Minister. Gandhi also urged Jha to tell Qasim to follow her directions on the Nedous Hotel Issue. The lease of the hotel had expired recently and the government had plans to lease it to another party.
According to Qayoom, Mir Qasim persuaded the Sheikh to attend the function. He agreed, and later accused the media of misinterpreting some of the clauses of the Accord. “I will apprise the people of the terms and conditions of the accord soon. No mention has been made about my correspondence with the Prime Minister,” he said.
The Sheikh’s correspondence with Indira Gandhi has been published by Qayoom in his Kashmir Ka Siyasi Inqilaab (Vol 5). But the Sher-e-Kashmir has not made even a passing reference of it in his autobiography, the Aatish-e-Chinar. The correspondence reflects Sheikh Abdullah’s desperation.
His honeymoon with the Congress proved short-lived. He had to feign illness to woo the voters in 1977, and a year later had to go for the infamous Public Safety Act (PSA) to crush dissent. This legislation proves that the Sher-e-Kashmir was not comfortable in the chair. The resistance camp, though disillusioned, was strong enough to force him to frame the draconian legislation. National Conference leaders say that the law was framed to curb timber smuggling. But the way it was invoked speaks volumes about the situation and the attitude of the government led by none other than the Sher-e-Kashmir.
Yet again, he could not complete his term in office. This time New Delhi had no role in it. Accords had settled nothing. Just six years later, Kashmiris resorted to guns to secure their rights. The Sher-e-Kashmir’s son and National Conference workers had to run for their lives.