KASHMIR’S UNSUNG HEROES: Pandit Raghunath  Vaishnavi  – I

When the house-owner saw an old man planting seedlings in his garden at Rawalpora on a pleasant spring morning, he thought that       his wife had hired a new gardener.

He watched the man keenly for some time.  Suddenly, the gardener got up, and left, without asking for his wages.

This left the owner wondering.

Only later did he come to know that the gardener was a prominent freedom fighter who had struggled for decades for the rights of his people. He was none other than Raghunath Vaishnavi, advocate.

When Mohi-ud-Din Karra joined the Janata Party in 1977, a shocked Vaishnavi quit politics, but his concern for Kashmir remained lodged in his heart till his dying day.

He would often set out early in the morning with his bag of seedlings and plant them in others’ homes.

This would bring him some comfort.

Like most Kashmiris, he resented the occupation of his homeland by alien forces.  When Mohi-ud-Din Karra launched the Political Conference in June 1953, Vaishnavi became its founding vice-president.

The new party, standing for Jammu and Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, held its first rally at Suhyaar, Safa Kadal, and people responded by taking out processions and chanting pro-Pak slogans.

Authorities cracked down on its leadership, including Vaishnavi, and put it behind bars in a Jammu jail.

Shortly afterwards, Jana Sangh leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee was taken into custody by the Jammu and Kashmir government for trying to enter the state in violation of the prevailing permit rules.

On Mookerjee’s death under detention in Kashmir, the Jana Sangh held demonstrations across India, with his Jammu supporters, who had been arrested for turning violent, being sent to the same jail as Vaishnavi.

The superintendent there, Feroz Din, somehow came to know of their plan to liquidate the detained Political Conference leadership inside the prison, and prevailed upon the government to shift it to Udhampur.

Vaishnavi was a dedicated political worker and never complained about his hardships. His family lived from hand to mouth as his party was in no position to support it financially.

While he languished in jails, his wife got no help even from those receiving funds for the welfare of prisoners’ families. But she did not budge from her husband’s political beliefs, and bore her burdens silently.

Syed Rasool, an activist from Sur Teng, Rainawari, is all praise for Vaishnavi and salutes his contribution to the freedom struggle. He saw Vaishnavi for the last time in the late1970s at Justice Rizvi’s house in Sharifabad, Bemina.

Vaishnavi had been deeply disappointed by the u-turn of his leader, Mohi-ud-Din Karra, had made.  He believed in Kashmiriyat and worked tirelessly for the welfare of Kashmiris, going from the pillar to the post for an amicable settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

According to his granddaughter Mona Bhan, a noted academician and writer, his belief in an equitable and a non-violent resolution for Kashmir, and Indo-Pak amity and reconciliation, remained resolute.

He founded and chaired the India-Pakistan Conciliation Group on Kashmir (1965-70), and was also a member of the Steering Committee of All J&K State People’s Convention from 1968-1971.

-to be continued