Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah commanded respect from most Kashmiris who considered him their leader, though not undisputed. But he was as helpless as the others, especially when dealing with the army.
When Indian troops landed in Srinagar on October 27, 1947, National Conference workers headed by Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad provided them vehicles and vital information about the tribesmen. Brigadier LP Sen, who commanded the troops, has acknowledged their contribution in his book, Slender Was The Thread. But on November 4, when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad called on him at his headquarters, he scolded them and ordered them out. The Lion of Kashmir left hurriedly without offering any resistance, and Bakhshi, who played the NC hit man to suppress dissidents and the general public, also gave in meekly.
Sardar Patel and Sardar Baldev Singh (the Indian defence minister) had arrived in the Valley on November 4, 1947, for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation and rushed to Brigadier Sen’s headquarters to inquire about the military operation launched in the wee hours on October 27. The Brigadier apprised them of the situation and sought additional troops and artillery, which was promised and sent within a couple of days.
Abdullah, who was the head of the emergency administration, and Bakhshi, his deputy, had accompanied Patel and Singh to the airport to see them off. On their way back to Srinagar, they decided to visit the Brigade headquarters. They were received by Major Kak, the liaison officer, who took them to the operations room where the officer gave them a briefing. Brigadier Sen was busy on a wireless set, and had no idea of the visitors.
Major Kak had been showing them the brigade deployment on a map when the Brigadier entered.
“When I entered the room and was greeted with the sight of two unknown civilians carefully studying the map, I was furious,” Sen recalls in his book. “I did not ask who they were, but ordered them to leave the room immediately and never to set foot in it again. They left hurriedly. It was only when their vehicle had disappeared into the distance that Major Kak told me who they were.”
In 1980, the Sher-e-Kashmir had to eat humble pie in yet another encounter with the army.
A group of army men in civvies, armed with hockey sticks and iron rods, appeared in Lal Chowk on July 26, and ran amuck, smashing taxis, private cars and government property, and thrashed civilians. They resorted to loot and arson.
It is believed that an army driver had hit a rickshaw at Sonawar, around two kilometers from the city centre, and had been taken into custody. The group had come out of their barracks and gone berserk to free him from police lockup. Reportedly, a senior police officer also received a sound thrashing, and lost some of his teeth. The mayhem lasted several hours.
Actually, several groups were seen beating people, looting shops, and damaging vehicles from Sonawar to Batmaloo.
The violence evoked a severe reaction from the local population. Stone-pelting continued till the late hours, and resumed the next day. Six people, including a Pakistani national, were killed when the police resorted to firing.
The demonstrations continued for several days. An army Jeep was torched near the Budshah Bridge, but the driver managed escape after firing several rounds from his gun. All activity in the city came to a halt, and all educational institutions were closed indefinitely.
Sheikh Abdullah was Chief Minister then and lived at his Maulana Azad Road residence, barely one hundred meters from the city centre where the army men had wreaked havoc. Somebody informed the protesters that the Sher-e-Kashmir had gone to the Badami Bagh cantonment where army officers had urged him to identify the culprits. It was further said that he (the Sher-e-Kashmir) had not been able to identify anyone involved in the violence. While this could not be confirmed immediately, it added fuel to the fire, and the demonstrations intensified.
The government finally ordered a probe under a retired High Court judge. The findings have not been made public to this day.
The Sher-e-Kashmir was not like Dr Farooq Abdullah or Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. People expected a lot from him, notwithstanding the betrayal in 1947 and 1975. But he too sat on a vital probe. Had he been told to behave like a ‘good boy by Madam Gandhi who ran the Indian show then?’ Or, did he hush the probe up in ‘national’ interest?
People have reason to believe that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, whom Kashmiris loved and respected, was no different.
He was as helpless as anybody else.