The fall of Dhaka is believed to be the reason behind the Sher-e-Kashmir’s U–turn in 1975. But a critical analysis of events of those fateful years unveils the truth. The wavering stand of the leadership came to the fore immediately after Operation Gibraltar (the 1965 war). Though the objectives of this war could not be achieved, Pakistan succeeded in putting across the message that it could not be taken for a ride. Assuming for the sake of argument that the fall of Dhaka dampened the spirits of the leadership, but the 1965 operation should have emboldened it. That did not happen because the leadership was up to something fishy.
In his memoirs, the three-time acting president of the Plebiscite Front, Munshi Muhammad Ishaq, admits that he had full knowledge of Operation Gibraltar. When Batmaloo was set ablaze by the Indian army, Munshi resigned from the post of acting president of the Plebiscite Front on August 18, 1965. Khwaja Sanaullah Bhat (Editor Aftaab) contacted Munshi the same evening to inquire about the development. A tearful Munshi told him that “an opportunity to liberate Kashmir had been lost.”
Divulging details of the plan, he said: “We had been told to muster public support in favour of the operation. It had been decided that we would not remain unconcerned during this movement. The Pakistanis had talked with us and I had personally agreed with their plan. Their plan was to undertake a sudden operation of occupying the Srinagar Airport, the radio station, Sadar Police Station and other police stations at Khanyar and Maharaj Gunj. We had been entrusted with the responsibility of seeking public support for this action so that there could be no alternative for India except to agree to have an honourable settlement of the Kashmir issue. And the message of armed revolution, which was being broadcast from Sada-e-Kashmir, would take real shape and be implemented. But we, out of selfishness and temerity, did not cooperate.” (Kashmir in Flames by Sanaullah Bhat, page 109, 110)
This was the time when Munshi came to know about the wavering stand of the leadership. However, he remained silent and revolted in 1969 when the Front decided to take part in municipal elections. (Greater Kashmir, November 16, 2003).
Munshi writes in his memoirs: “Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beg have started deviating from the basic stand of the Front. The Executive Council in its meeting, March 22, 1969, decided to contest elections, which we had been boycotting till date. I severely opposed the proposal. The people, by and large, and majority of the Front workers supported me. I shall oppose the move tooth and nail come what may. Maulana Farooq and Maulana Abbas Ansari approached me and subtly expressed their support. Let us see what happens in the coming days.”
Munshi walked out of the meeting and decided to muster support against the decision. He called on the prominent members of the Front across Kashmir but nobody, not even Sofi Muhammad Akbar, was ready to listen to him. He finally, addressed a press conference on August 7, 1969. The daily Aftaab reported the Press Conference as follows:
“The panchayati elections are in the news these days and some people are connecting self-determination to these elections. But the members of the Front have nothing to do with the elections because we believe elections cannot be a substitute to self-determination. If some people decided to contest elections in total violation of the constitution of the Front, it does not mean that the Front has decided to join the fray. The Front is alive and shall continue to strive for the attainment of the right to self-determination. We want a referendum in accordance with the UN resolutions.”
The leadership responded by declaring Munshi a traitor. He was also accused of voting in favour of contesting elections. Munshi denied the allegations. In his detailed answer, Munshi quoted two news items reported in the Hamdard, dated April 9 and April 11, to expose the lies of the leadership: “Our correspondent came to know that the Executive Council discussed the issue and 21 members including the President voted in favour and just 9 voted against it.”
The Front leadership was pushed to the wall. They decided to oust Munshi from the Front. Mirza Afzal Beg’s letter (PF/2068, dated August 18, 1969), initiated the process. Beg sought an explanation from Munshi who responded by owning the statements published in the local newspapers. In his letter (2095/PF, dated September 3, 1969), Beg suspended Munshi’s membership till further orders. Munshi later published a pamphlet, Nida-e- Haq in which he narrated how leadership had been conspiring to `slaughter’ the Plebiscite Front.
Munshi also made special mention of an earlier pamphlet, Zimni Intikhaab Ka Dhong (The Farce of By-Elections) that urged people (on page 6 and 7) to boycott elections and persuade others to enforce the boycott to expose the tall claims of free and fair elections. This pamphlet was published on the occasion of the Safa Kadal and Budgam by-elections, and was signed by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Maulana Muhammad Farooq, Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg, Muhammad Yasin Hamadani, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Karra, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Maulana Iftikhar Ansari and Maulana Syed Qasim Shah Bukhari.
The Front general secretary, Ghulam Muhammad Shah, read a paper titled “Kashmir Dispute and its Solution”, in the Peoples’ Convention on June 12, 1968. Shah informed the convention that a believer cannot get stuck in the same hole twice. He further said: “Elections cannot be a substitute to self-determination. As long as Pakistan and India are interested in Kashmir, the election cannot be free and fair. The Government of India will never allow fair elections in Kashmir because it will hamper its integral part policy.”
Another acting president of the Plebiscite Front, Advocate GN Hagroo, in an interview recorded a month before his death said: “Soon after the 1971 war, the home ministry prepared a file which accurately showed Sheikh Abdullah’s assets and wealth. In the last para of the report, the home ministry suggested action against Sheikh Abdullah for having wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. Sheikh Abdullah was shattered by the report. Meanwhile, New Delhi had won over Begum Abdullah and his sons through Miss Sarabhai. The home ministry report and the pressure at the domestic front forced Sheikh Abdullah to change his stand. Soon after, Beg and Parthasarthy talks commenced.”
Hagroo’s views have been supplemented by Shabnum Qayoom in his Kashmir Ka Siyasi Inqilaab. In a foot note on page 23 in Vol V, he writes: “New Delhi black-mailed Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah to sign the accord. It was decided that the Nedous Hotel would be confiscated if Sheikh refused to sign the accord.”
Before signing the accord, Sheikh Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beg issued a series of statements wherein it was mentioned that New Delhi had agreed to restore pre-53 status. Amid massive protests, the Plebiscite Front Council discussed the terms and conditions of the accord and ratified it on February 15. A few members opposed it. Sofi Muhammad Akbar and Advocate GN Hagroo were two of them.
Justifying the accord, Sheikh writes on page 837 of his autobiography: “It was not a deviation from the basic stand. It was a change of strategy. We shifted our struggle from the streets to the table.”