June 23 is an important date in Kashmir history. On this day in 1953, Jana Sangh leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee died in a prison in Jammu and Kashmir. He had been arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir police for entering the state illegally.
Those days, all outsiders needed a special permit to enter the state. Mookerjee had defied the rules and crossed over at Lakhanpur on May 11. He was immediately taken into custody and detained. The Sher-e-Kashmir adopted a tough stand and did not release him despite appeals from various quarters.
Mookerjee was suffering from dry pleurisy and coronary problems, and was taken to hospital one-and-a-half months after his arrest due to complications from his ailments. He is said to have been administered penicillin despite the doctor in charge having been informed of his allergy to the drug. He died on June 23, 1953.
Mookerjee’s death caused a stir across, India but the Sher-e-Kashmir did not flinch. He did not want to compromise the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. He even rejected appeals for probing the Jana Sangh leader’s death.
Mookerjee had been dead set against the special status conferred on Jammu and Kashmir by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Initially a minister in Nehru’s cabinet, he had parted ways with him when the government of India decided to allow the state to have its own flag, constitution and Prime Minister. According to him, this amounted to Jammu and Kashmir being a state within a state.
The government of India took advantage of the situation and started interfering in matters which till Mookerjee’s death were strictly out of New Delhi’s control. The incident also triggered off a massive agitation in Jammu. But Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah did not budge.
The Permit System was a creation of Maharaja Hari Singh. During his rule, it was mandatory for non-state subjects to obtain special permission from the state government in order to enter Jammu and Kashmir. The Maharaja’s administration took measures to prevent sale of land to non-state subjects, enforced the rule in letter and spirit. He The Maharaja had even gone to the extent of detaining Jawaharlal Nehru when he tried to enter the state to defend Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah who had been arrested in connection with the Quit Kashmir Movement of 1946. Though Hari Singh released Nehru immediately, his move to detain the future Prime Minister of India reflected his resolve to resist acts of aggression against his state.
Mookerjee’s death triggered off a chain of events. Sheikh Abdullah was arrested on August 9, 1953, and his deputy, Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, took over the reins of the state. He ratified Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to the Indian Union, and later abolished the permit system as well.
The Sher-e-Kashmir remained under detention for quite some time. The prolonged incarceration, according to historians, gradually broke his determination. After his release in 1964, the Sheikh was sent to Pakistan for negotiations, but had to cut short his visit when Nehru passed away, returning to attend the funeral of his ‘friend.’ Nehru’s successor did not need the Sheikh’s services, and the leader from Kashmir was left to graze in commons.
The Sher-e-Kahsmir took keen interest in the Beg-Parthasarthy talks which lasted several years, passing on tips and advice to his deputy. According to the late GN Hagroo, Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg tried his best to get the most out of the negotiations, but Sheikh Abdullah was growing impatient. One day he is said to have barged on to the negotiators, called Beg out, and given him a tongue-lashing.
“Why are you delaying the talks? Come to the point immediately. I am not interested in delaying the talks further,” he is reported to have said.
The demand for restoring autonomy was rejected, and the Sher-e-Kashmir, once the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, agreed to be Chief Minister. Ironically, the restoration of autonomy finds a mention at the bottom of the Accord (document). It was remitted to the principals who have not met till this day.
Neither Sheikh Abdullah nor his son, Dr Farooq Abdullah, has sought a meeting of the principals. And what is more, senior NC workers believe that Omar Abdullah does not know about the principals.
The Sher-e-Kashmir had changed completely in those 22 years. The individual who had unflinchingly withstood the fallout of Mookerjee’s death went on to bury the special status constitutionally granted to the state he aimed to rule.
Decades down the line, Dr Farooq Abdullah passed a resolution in the legislature for getting the state’s autonomy, but this too New Delhi rejected. Political experts say that Dr. Abdullah should have asked for a meeting of the principals instead.
The government of India is bound to uphold the Accord (of 1975) in its totality. If nobody asks for a meeting of the Principals, New Delhi cannot be blamed. And, if New Delhi does not allow a meeting of the Principals, it would be a violation of the Accord. In that eventuality, the NC would be free to explore other options. But can the party afford it? The Sher-e-Kashmir’s cubs have to show some courage. Will they?