Grand Old Party has shown great suppleness in meeting the challenges of the times
Blaming Sher e Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah for a “unilateral decision” on renaming the Muslim Conference as the National Conference is yet another bizarre falsification and far-fetched perversion. One of the keys to studying and learning history is to establish connection between facts. The best way to do that is to start by developing an understanding of the big picture and then working ones way down to the details.
An avid reader of history cannot afford to overlook this proposition. An unpartisan reading of the history of Kashmir’s political struggle in its formative years will reveal that the name change of Muslim Conference to the National Conference was only nominal. Those who think that the MC was not secular and was intolerant, betray ignorance both about the party and the complex Kashmir’s political history. NC has traditionally been viewed through a secular versus communal lens. This binary betrays ignorance of both the NC and the political history of Kashmir. The perversion that the decision was wholly and solely that of Sheikh is unsubstantiated by the recorded facts. The decision was an overwhelmingly combined one and there wasn’t any schism in MC. A faction named Azad Muslim Conference had already broken off from MC in 1931, way before MC was renamed to NC.
The second perversion that MC was communal is also not substantiated by the facts. It should be noted that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah at the very first session of the Muslim Conference had declared that the organisation was not communal and that its existence would prove beneficial to all the communities of the then princely state. “I assure my non-Muslim brothers that we will remove their sufferings as we have done in case of Muslims,” Sheikh said in the very first session of the Muslim Conference at the Pather Masjid. This makes it amply clear that MC was far from being a communal organisation.
The first annual session of the Muslim Conference was held from 18th October to 19th October 1932 at the Pather Masjid under the presidentship of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The flag hoisting ceremony was conducted by Waliullah Zainul Abideen, who declared: “The flag of the Muslim Conference is the harbinger of love, peace and brotherhood among all the communities in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and is the guarantee of peace, prosperity and happiness of all the subjects of the HH Maharaja.” These remarks further set the record right.
These are very telling accounts that make it amply clear that MC was not communal in its outlook. At the time of inauguration of the Muslim Conference, amessage of the President of the All India Kashmir Committee was read out to the throng that had gathered at the Pather Masjid. The message of the President AIKC read as, “I hope the proceedings of the conference would be conducted with true patriotism, courage, forbearance, and toleration, gratitude and wisdom, so that your country attains progress.” These statements from the high-flying Muslim conference and AIKC leaders including that of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s reveal that the Muslim Conference was not bound by the shackles of bigoted ideology.
Sheikh Abdullah, right from the beginning of his political struggle for the restoration of the people’s rights, was acquainted with the fact that the real fight wasn’t between the two religions but between the haves and have-nots, and between the oppressed and the oppressor.
The secular dimension appearing in the political thinking of the Kashmiris was nothing but the extension of their outlook from the social to the political plane, and within a few years the Muslim Conference only remained in name. National Conference is not the only people’s movement that underwent its evolution from being outwardly exclusive in its formative years to being an out-and-out inclusive and secular in its outlook. The Sri Lankan Sarvodhaya and the Latin American Catholic Church (liberation theology) primarily rose as a moral reaction to the poverty and social injustice in a particular region. Eventually such movements globally transformed into self governance movements espousing universal progressive ideas of secularism and socialism.
Labourers’ processions led by comrades Bakshi and Sadiq in 1937, then young members of the MC, marked the organisation’s nominal transformation into a National Conference, although, as already explained, the party in its new avatar was as secular as liberal as it was in its previous avatar. The name change was nominal and superficial. There is nothing mysterious about the evolution of the spirit of tolerance possessed by the people of Kashmir. It wasn’t a sudden development; it had its roots in Kashmir composite culture, which emerged as religious humanism in 1930s.
Another falsification on the retiling of MC to NC is that the Muslim leaders of Jammu including Choudhary Ghulam Abbas were against the rechristening of MC as NC. The allegation is not borne out by history. On the contrary, Abbas declared, “The garb in the shape of Muslim conference has become worn-out and threadbare; now we are in need of a nationalist guise.” Another Muslim leader from Jammu Allah Rakha Sagar said, “Nationalism is the cry of the time and those who do not heed it will repent in the future.”
Flexibility in politics, it is said, is another name of pragmatism. That is politics should be the art of possible. It should explore as many possibilities as possible instead of being tied down by worn-out formulae or tinkering with them. There are no words like political orthodoxy and inflexibility in political dictionary. Those who are incapable of questioning their holy grail of ideology, their politics are cast in stone, no matter how fast the world around them is changing. NC’s politics and ideology has long been wedded to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The grand old party has reflected this necessary trait with great suppleness in meeting the challenges faced and contemporary needs of the people of J&K in every decade.
—The writer is a PhD scholar at University of Kashmir The views expressed in this Article are the writer’s and not KASHMIR READER’S