Born in 1913, Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi was the son of Ahmad Shah Qureshi of Zaindaar Mohalla, and an early entrant into politics, having joined the Muslim Conference soon after graduating from college.
He had founded the Young Man’s Muslim Association, with Ghulam Rasool Najar of Kursoo Rajbagh as its president, which began work from the Mujahid Manzil, the headquarters of the Muslim Conference.
Though the Association had the support of MC leaders like Maulana Masoodi, Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Hamadani and others, Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi was its soul.
It came into the limelight when the government dismissed Hakim Habibullah, a police officer, who was an active Muslim Conference supporter.
Following strong protests from the Association, demonstrations were held in the city, and a massive agitation ensued.
Taken by surprise, Dogra rulers responded by arresting hundreds of people, including scores of Association members.
The agitation spread to other parts of the state. Mirwaiz Ahmadullah Hamadani was exiled after he delivered a fiery speech at the Khanaqah-e-Mu’alla.
Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad was also arrested for supporting the stir, and Maulana Masoodi, Muhammad Maqbool Baihaqi, Sadr-ud-Din Buch (Mujahid) exiled.
Qureshi formed a War Council to take the agitation forward
Dictators were directed to take out processions from the Khanaqah-e-Mu’alla to Fateh Kadal after addressing people and court arrest along with their supporters.
This continued for quite some time.
But after their turn at the Khanaqah stage, Qureshi and Mohi-ud-Din Karra managed to dodge the police, and reappeared the next day when the Association had scheduled to take the dictators in a boat rally from the Khanaqah shrine.
After delivering their speeches, they vanished from the scene again, and were later seen heading the boat rally.
The government chased them in motorboats.
Several boats in the rally capsized. Qureshi and Karra fell into the river, and kept themselves submerged for some time.
Fearing that they had drowned, watching crowds chanted slogans against Dogra rulers.
When the duo surfaced to breathe, they were arrested.
Both were sentenced to one year in jail.
The agitation spearheaded by the Young Man’s Muslim Association unnerved Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who exercised his influence over the youth and made them abandon it.
Later, he used his good offices to strike a deal between it (the Association) and the government.
Dismayed by the creation of the National Conference in 1939, Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi opposed the Sheikh openly. After consulting Maulana Masoodi and Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, who also opposed the conversion, he decided to remove the NC flag from the Mujahid Manzil.
He got in touch with his associates, and he fixed a date to carry out the plan. Qureshi was sitting in the Mujahid Manzil lawns when the group of youth – Ghulam Ahmad Parra of Zaindaar Mohalla, Hakim Muhammad Maqbool, then the associate editor of the Payaam, Peerzada Ali Shah (who later became the acting president of the Political Conference), Haji Ghulam Muhammad Mir of Reshi Mohalla, Ghulam Nabi Mir, Ghulam Rasool Najar of Kursoo Rajbagh, Ali Muhammad of Rajbagh and Nizam-ud-Din Chisti of Gojwara, arrived on the scene. Parra removed the NC’s colours and replaced it with a green flag sporting a crescent and star.
Sheikh Abdullah’s face fell when he saw the changed environment at the Mujahid Manzil.
Though Qureshi left the historic building for good, never to return, he managed to take along a file holding important records of the Muslim Conference.
Soon after, when the need for reviving the Muslim Conference was felt, Qureshi launched the weeklyPaighaam, running it from a rented room at Shaheed Gunj. Later, the paper was shifted to Zaindaar Mohalla, and the Muslim Conference also began afresh from the same building.
Qureshi then wrote to Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas, expressing his displeasure over converting the Muslim Conference into the National Conference and what he described as the ‘shameless silence of saner elements’ in the organization.
In reply, Abbas suggested reviving the original party. Old contacts were re-activated and some new faces brought in. Qureshi was fortunate enough to have a whole group of young and energetic students who infused new life in the organization. By 1944, when Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Kashmir, the Muslim Conference had become a vibrant party once again.
During a conversation some time before his passing away in Srinagar, Muhammad Yusuf Khan, a committed Muslim Conference worker till his last breath, described the rousing reception Muhammad Ali Jinnah received in Kashmir:
“Even in Varmul, people greeted him with Pakistan Zindabad slogans. But at Boniyar, Maqbool Sherwani and a couple of goons pelted stones on his motorcade. The incident was blown out of proportion by the Indian press.” The next year, when Jawaharlal Nehru and other Congress leaders visited the Valley, the National Conference took them in a boat rally up the Jhelum from Chattabal Weir to Lal Chowk.
“We were very angry over the Boniyar incident, and were geared to take revenge,” Khan went on. “We raised black flags on both banks of the Jhelum, and when Nehru came, people shouted ‘Nehru, Go Back.’ The National Conference leadership was embarrassed.” “I was waiting along with my associates at the Sheikh Musa Ghat in Zaina Kadal. When the boats carrying Nehru and others passed by, we pulled down our trousers. “We had also collected night soil from nearby latrines, and threw it at them.” Rampage followed. National Conference toughs, led by Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, entered the Gadyar Masjid and killed one Salam Sheikh. He was a Mirwaiz supporter, but the NC surprisingly owned him, and put the blame of his murder on Abd-us-Salam Dalal, who had to spend one year in jail until released on the orders of the High Court.
Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi strongly disapproved of the trouser-and-night-soil protests of his workers. Boarding a tonga along with Muhammad Ismail Sagar, he rushed to pacify them, but was caught by NC activists near the Siraj Bazaar police post, and stabbed in the chest, abdomen and back. Believing him to be dead, the activists stuffed his body into a sack and threw it into the Jhelum near Zaina Kadal. Luckily, the police spotted the floating bundle shortly afterwards. Found still breathing, Qureshi was rushed to hospital. When Sheikh Abdullah came visiting late in the evening, he was annoyed to see Muslim Conference workers around the patient. “Is he still alive?” he shouted, and left fuming. Qureshi survived the deadly attack. A year prior to Sheikh Abdullah’s Quit Kashmir Movement, Qureshi had, in a speech at Syed Ali Akbar (Fateh Kadal), urged the Maharaja to leave Kashmir. Anyway, when the Movement was launched, the slogan seemed to draw the NC and the MC close, striking strong chords in both. But the Maharaja’s Prime Minister frustrated the efforts through his brother, Amar Nath Kak, who was an advocate, and some journalists. Mirwaiz Molvi Yusuf Shah strongly opposed the movement, causing consternation in the Muslim Conference. Qureshi informed Jinnah of the development through a wire, saying “Save Kashmir from Congress Tactics.”
Taken aback by Mirwaiz Maulana Yusuf Sahib’s unexpected opposition to the Quit Kashmir Movement, Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi resigned as general secretary of the Muslim Conference, in protest.
In his statement to the press, he said, “The Quit Kashmir Movement is basically the movement of the majority community. This movement could unite the Muslims, but some leaders of the Muslim Conference want to frustrate it for their petty political interests. As a matter of principle, supporting such a movement is binding on the Muslim Conference. I, therefore, resign from the post of General Secretary in protest.”
Because of his active support to the movement, Qureshi had to go underground for some time, during which Mohi-ud-Din Karra sent him a messenger asking for a meeting in the interests of the stir.
He readily agreed, notwithstanding advice to the contrary from his worker, Muhammad Yusuf Khan.
When they met, Karra persuaded Qureshi to go to Lahore to muster support for Quit Kashmir. He left for Rawalpindi in April 1946, but was arrested near Shalteng and immediately sent to the Central Jail in Srinagar.
His arrest was the greatest setback to the Muslim Conference.
When released one-and-a-half years later, he plunged into resurrecting the party. The National Conference government tried to persuade him to join the administration, but he refused, and Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq, who was then the acting Chief Administrator, ordered him to be jailed. The ailing Qureshi was first held for twenty days at the Kothi Bagh police station and later shifted to Reasi Jail.
Some time afterwards, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah set him free.
When Qureshi came out of prison, the United Nations had passed its historic resolution of August 13, 1948. The Muslim Conference formed a Plebiscite Board, with him at its head.
Its activities received wide coverage in local, Indian and the international media, and Qureshi was arrested again, this time in Kani Kadal from the house of one Ghulam Hasan Khan. The police party that carried out the arrest was led by one Rampal, a city munsif.
Qureshi was immediately whisked off to Reasi Jail, then shifted to the Central Jail in Jammu, and finally externed.
Across, he resumed political activity with Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas, and also got married while in Rawalpindi.
Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi passed away in 1976.