The salient features of Naya Kashmir were: The state would be an independent, sovereign, secular, constitutional monarchy with His Highness the Maharaja Bahadur as the ruler of the state; the state would have a council of ministers answerable to a national Assembly of people’s deputies who would be elected by universal franchise; every 40,000 people would constitute an electoral district and return one deputy; the state would administer justice through an independent judiciary which would comprise of a High Court, district Courts and elected Village Panchayats; the state would guarantee, to every citizen, equality of rights irrespective of their religion, race, birth, or gender; the state would guarantee to every citizen freedom of conscience, worship, speech, assembly, education, property, work, rest, organisation; the state would guarantee to womenfolk equal rights available to men; the state would ensure compulsory military service for every citizen for the defence of the state for which purpose every citizen, whatever his religion, race, birth, would be allowed to keep firearms; the state would grant right of asylum to foreign citizens persecuted in their states for defending the interests of the masses.
On July 31, 1944, when Maharaja Hari Singh was on a visit to Srinagar city, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, while welcoming him in front of the National Conference headquarters at Mujahid Manzil presented him a copy of the proposed constitution of the state titled Naya Kashmir.
Viewed in isolation, Naya Kashmir constitution would appear to be a revolutionary programme, the product of a revolutionary mind. But it could not be viewed as such because Kashmir was not an independent state. It was part of the Indian political system imposed by the British. Yes, Kashmir was a princely state but then there were hundreds of such states, big and small in the Indian political system.
Kashmir state was in fact, part and parcel of that system which included both princely states and British Indian provinces. Viewed in that context it was a subtle rejection of Muslim League’s Two-Nation theory and the idea of a separate Muslim homeland to be called Pakistan. Naya Kashmir was in effect a public announcement that the Muslim majority of Kashmir state would have no truck with religion-based politics as enunciated in the Two Nation theory; nor would it be a part of Pakistan. This would have appleased Maharaja Hari Singh and his cohorts who favoured the Congress party.
Moreover, the recent behaviour of Sheikh and his party would have pleased the Maharaja already. Sheikh had only the previous month disrespected Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Srinagar; and his activist Maqbool Sheerwani had disgraced Jinnah in north Kashmir’s Baramulla town. However, there were many in Kashmir who knew the truth behind Naya Kashmir. They said that it was the handiwork of Communists especially those from Punjab who were very active in the sub-continent those days, especially around Kashmir state for its poverty, lack of education and its proximity to their ‘mother’ of ‘World Revolution’, the Soviet Union. The Punjabi Left considered Kashmir a fertile land for experimenting their ideology, but since it was not their constituency, they needed local politicians as a front.
Sheikh’s popularity had taken a severe hit in early 1940s when NC failed to resist the Dogra administration especially when Hari Singh passed communally discriminating orders about the state language script and who could keep fire arms. Sheikh had set up NC after disbanding Muslim Conference so as to open its doors for non-Muslims. But the non-Muslims had shaken hands with him in order to turn anti-Maharaja Muslim Conference into pro-Congress and pro-Maharaja NC. This done, they now turned their back on him. Even PN Bazaz, after supporting the Arms Act, left NC to be a Royist, a follower of Bengali radical Communist intellectual MN Roy. Sheikh received another blow when his Congress patrons landed up in jails for launching the Quit India movement against the British in August 1942.
On the international front the British considered Communists as their foremost enemies until Germany invaded Soviet Union in June 1941. Since then Communists and the British became great allies. The British opened their coffers and passed huge amounts of money to Communists, Royists including, for launching propaganda campaigns against Germany and other Axis powers. Sheikh whose ship was tossing in politically rough waters thought of turning, for the time being, a fellow traveller. The Punjabi Left had had its eyes on poverty stricken Kashmir. Hence this marriage of convenience.
Yet another event had been disturbing Sheikh’s peace of mind. His one-time friend, then political adversary, Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas, had set up in 1941 a new Muslim Conference which gained ground especially in the Jammu province. In order to counter the rising influence of MC, Sheikh thought of exploiting his chances with Jinnah, the latter’s policy was not to interfere in the politics of princely states. He broke this policy for once when both NC and MC leadership invited him to Kashmir. Sheikh went in person to Delhi in April 1944 to invite the League leader to arbitrate between NC and MC.
In May 1944, Jinnah came to Srinagar. Here he carefully studied the political situation for over a month and then issued his verdict on June 17, before a large gathering of people at Jamia Masjid. The verdict was unfavourable to Sheikh and his NC party. It dented Sheikh’s reputation. At this point of time the Punjabi Left found its chance. Dr Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, his wife Freda (parents of Bollywood actor Kabir Bedi), Mohammad Din Taseer (father of former slain governor of Pakistani Punjab Salman Taseer), K M Ashraf, Daniyal Latifi, and Ahsaan Danish, handed over to him the constitutional document entitled Naya Kashmir. On page 300 of his “autobiography”, Aatash-i-Chinar, Sheikh acknowledges that it was drafted and even typed by them. With Naya Kashmir constitutional document in his hands he gathered NC and got it adopted as party’s future manifesto.
“His Highness the Maharaja Bahadur,” as he was referred to in Naya Kashmir, must have been pleased with the turn of events inside Kashmir. Naya Kashmir rejected the Two-Nation theory and Pakistan. Sheikh and NC were in anti-Jinnah mode. What else would the Maharaja wish for? Hari Singh reciprocated on October 2, with his own programme which he called an experiment in diarchy – dual government. He wished to associate his subjects with the administration of the state and called upon the Praja Sabha (Peoples Assembly) to nominate a panel of six members, three to be Muslims, so as to enable him to select one Muslim and one non-Muslim as his ministers. This measure paved way for Wazir Ganga Ram and Mirza Afzal Beg to get appointed as ministers.
NC had been on excellent terms with the Dogra administration especially with pro-Congress Gopalaswami Ayyenger, Dewan of Hari Singh from 1936 to March 1943, and also with his pro-Congress successors Kailash Narain Haksar, July 1943 to January 1944; and Benegal Narsingh Rao, 1944 to 1945. But when in June 1945 Hari Singh appointed Pandit RC Kak as Dewan, Sheikh so resented the move that he ordered Mirza Afzal Beg to resign from the works ministry. Prime Minister Kak was neither a pro-Congress nor pro-Muslim League supporter. Three days after British Cabinet Mission issued, on May 12, 1946, the states memorandum which stated that princely states would be free on British withdrawal from the sub-continent, Sheikh launched ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement against the Maharaja.
Post partition of British India, the dominion of India captured Kashmir with the support of Sheikh and his NC. In return for this great service they jailed him in 1953, and forced him to spend twenty-two years in political wilderness. After Beg-Parthasarthy (Indira-Abdullah) 1975 Kashmir Accord, Sheikh and NC became rulers of the state and a new version of Naya Kashmir appeared in the public domain – no mention of monarchy, no mention of independence, no mention of sovereignty, no mention of national Assembly of people’s deputies. What to speak of according asylum to foreigners to save them from persecution; NC persecuted Kashmiris whenever they came to power. The Naya Kashmir document remained on the shelf while NC enjoyed power in collaboration with India.
—The author is a political historian.