The process of rechristening the Muslim Conference (MC) started in 1933. The annual session of the organization was held at Mirpur (now in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir) on September 15-17. Several resolutions were passed on the concluding day. One of the resolutions sought participation of non-Muslims in the freedom struggle. The resolution was, by and large, welcomed by the members. But some members described it as a conspiracy against Muslim unity. The resolution also evoked reaction from Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal. In his letter (dated October 12, 1933), the great poet urged Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah to ensure the unity of Muslims without fail.
The conversion process was formally launched during the sixth annual session of the MC held on March 25-27, 1938 at Jammu. In his presidential address, Sheikh Abdullah stressed the need for `responsible government.’ Several resolutions were passed. It was decided to change the name of the organization to ensure the participation of non-Muslims in the struggle.
Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was greatly influenced by Congress leaders, and to appease them he went ahead with the idea of rechristening the Muslim Conference. In 1938, he demanded Responsible Government. A special issue of the Hamdard was published from Punjab in colour. The issue, however, was proscribed before it could be circulated. It showed a coloured picture of a procession led by Sheikh Abdullah carrying a flag. The combination of colours in the flag reveals the Sheikh’s mind. It is the same combination that we see in the Indian National Congress flag. The Sheikh could have used other colours for the flag, but Congress penant had gone to his head and it was amply reflected in the campaign for responsible government. (The author is in possession of the special issue of the Hamdard).
However, contrary to Sheikh Abdullah’s expectations, the newly-formed National Conference (NC) received a lukewarm response from non-Muslims. Attempts to revive the Muslim Conference (MC) started immediately.
The idea was discussed in detail by senior NC workers, including Ghulam Muhammad Bakhshi. Munshi Naseer-ud-Din (editorAlbarq) discussed it with the Sheikh as well. It is believed that the Sheikh agreed in principle with the members. He is believed to have told Munshi Naseer: “You go ahead. I will work as an ordinary member of the MC. I will not accept its leadership.” One such meeting was held in the lawns of the erstwhile Teachers’ Training School at Magarmal Bagh.
In 1944 when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Kashmir, the NC hosted a reception in his honour. Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Zahra Hamadani posed three questions to the Quaid. The Quaid answered the questions politely.
Question No 1: Is the creation of Pakistan possible in presence of the overwhelming majority of the Hindus of India? The Quaid replied: “If De Veer can separate Ireland from Britain, why should not 10 crore Muslims succeed in creating a state of their own?”
Question No 2: “If Pakistan comes into existence, will it not be a poor country?” The Quaid replied: “No. Not at all. It is better to live in a shabby hut than live in a mansion in insecure India.”
Question No 3: “Keeping the Muslim majority population of the state in view, which party can serve the interests of Muslims better. The NC or the MC?” The Quaid replied: “Apparently NC. But can you tell me how many non-Muslims are members of the party?”
This stunned the NC workers. Hamadani had to eat humble pie. Someone from the crowd cried, “Budh Singh, Kashap Bandhu.” This was greeted with laughter by the people present, much to the discomfort of the NC workers.
The Quaid said: “Had non-Muslims joined the NC, the Maharaja’s government would have succumbed in seven days.”
With time, non-Muslims in the NC started giving Sheikh Abdullah sleepless nights. He had to shave off his beard. Soon after, his `trusted friend’ Kashap Bandhu wrote an editorial in the Martand and criticized him for taking out Milaad processions. A frightened Sheikh succumbed. In 1943, the Sheikh decided not to take out the procession. This gave the newly-formed MC a chance to prove its mettle. A Milaad procession sponsored by the MC evoked an overwhelming response.
Raghunath Vaishnavi, the general secretary of the National Congress, an organization that later merged with the NC, also deserted him. In 1953 he joined the Political Conference, an organization that stood for total merger of Jammu and Kashmir into Pakistan.
Another friend, Prem Nath Bazaz, also parted ways. He jointly owned the daily Hamdard with Sheikh Abdullah. The partnership was broken and Bazaz became his `worst enemy.’ On June 10, 1947, Bazaz wrote an editorial: “The Hindus do not like the NC. However, some Hindus have joined it not because they love it but for the hatred it has exhibited against the Muslims of India. The inclusion of a handful of Hindus in the NC does not make it a representative of the minorities. The Hindus and Sikhs praise the NC in public because they believe that it is working against the interests of Muslims…”
In 1975, when Sheikh Abdullah signed the infamous Indira-Abdullah accord, his `friend’ Kashap Bandhu refused to join his government. The only non-Muslim who remained with him was Budh Singh.