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TRIBUTE: Mirza Afzal Beg
Self-effacing achiever of a fateful era
By Mohammad Sayeed Malik
Certain land-mark achievements of Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg's over four-decade long public life continue to remain under-valued in historical stocktaking even 29 years after his death on June 11, 1982. To count a few major ones: He authored and propelled revolutionary land reforms (1950), played a key role in formulation of the Delhi Agreement (1952), spearheaded post-1953 Plebiscite movement against heavy odds, co-authored Kashmir Accord (1975) with G Parthasarathy and led his party's victorious election campaign (1977) in Sheikh Abdullah's absence.

That he never allowed his personal ambition to get the better of his political loyalty or moral commitment marks him out almost singularly amongst his stalwart-contemporaries. In the treacherous world of politics Beg's profile symbolised rare harmonious blending of qualities of head and heart. Temperamentally he was far from arrogance, unlike his species.

Yet it is an irony of fate that Beg had to spend the last few years of his life in the heart-breaking agony of an uncommitted sin---'disloyalty'. His long bright trajectory faded out as his pivotal position made him a compelling casualty of the blue-blood dynastic succession. Sad end of a phenomenal story!

However, that does not diminish the value of his multi-faceted achievement as a trustworthy political companion, a thinking administrator, a skilled negotiator and a reliable trouble shooter. Beg's track record testifies to all that-and more-in ample measure. His extra-ordinariness, hidden behind his humble rustic exterior, encompassed Beg's profound faculty studded with rare wit and sense of humour and admirable professional acumen. His admirers as well as critics are divided over whether the restrained ambition of such a gifted person was the result of political stagnation or a conscious submission to moral commitments. It was puzzling to see Beg contented in orbiting around the sun of his choice and, unlike his contemporaries, never ever aspiring himself to be the sun.

Beg emerged on the constellation of Kashmir's rising political stars in late 1930's by which time Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's charismatic leadership had captivated popular imagination; a rare phenomenon that went on to blaze till Sheikh's death in 1982. Beg's extraordinary attributes enabled him to overcome the traditional urban-rural differential. He pioneered the architectural enrichment of Sheikh's largely urban-faceted edifice. From then on and right upto the time when Beg was unfairly dumped for being 'disloyal' in 1978, this 'dehati' became Sheikh's first choice for arduous assignments. Beg was plucked from Aligarh soon after becoming a law graduate from AMU and nominated as one of the party candidates for the Maharaja's Praja Sabha. Later he was the party's choice as one of the two ministers in the (diarchy) Maharaja Hari Singh's government. Beg shortly quit the ministry on the party's advice while the other NC nominee defied and defected.

Again, Beg was the choice for Sheikh's most memorable project-as principal architect of revolutionary land reforms in 1950 that radically transformed the face of the state economy and irreversibly elevated the lives of the exploited masses. He was a key senior member of the first popular government and also a member of India's constituent assembly along with Sheikh and Maulana Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi. Sheikh selected him to hammer out the famous Delhi Accord of 1952 implementation of which is still a coveted aspiration of succeeding generations.

Only a year later, Sheikh, in 1953, found himself left with only Beg following him into political wilderness that lasted till 1975. Beg floated and led the Plebiscite Front in 1955 to propel Sheikh's post-1953 politics braving heavy odds. He came to be recognised as Sheikh's conscience keeper. Prolonged court proceedings of the infamous Kashmir Conspiracy case brought out Beg's legal acumen in its full bloom. His forceful advocacy of the imprisoned leader's case (and his own) used to be punctuated by rare wit and humour duly acknowledged by famous British lawyer, Dingle Foot, who was Sheikh's chief defence counsel.

Beg again became Sheikh's choice to conduct prolonged negotiations with the government of India on his behalf. Over two years long marathon Beg-Parthasarathy dialogue culminated in the 1975 Kashmir Accord, paving the way for Sheikh's return to political power. Beg coined evasive terminology to camouflage Sheikh's inconvenient political turnabout and disbandment of the Plebiscite Front. Beg's typical description of PF's 22-year struggle as 'siyasi awargardi' has become a quotable quote from Kashmir's political lexicon. It stemmed out of an intellectual's forthrightness at the expense of political advisability.

In just over three years' time after Sheikh's return to power, Beg's career graph took a violent downturn as his ageing leader's dynastic ambition got the better of his sense of fair-play. While Beg, as the then deputy chief minister and vice president of the revived NC, was away in Delhi, in September 1978, on Sheikh's errand he was arbitrarily dismissed from the Sheikh ministry behind his back and expelled from the party for, of all the charges, being 'disloyal'.

For someone who was never suspected of even nursing any ambition to become number one and who was commonly taken for granted as his leader's legitimate 'natural successor' this cruel hit turned out to be too much to endure. Beg never really recovered from that unkind cut. Only just a year earlier his relentless election campaigning while Sheikh was bed-ridden (1977) had facilitated their 4-decade old party's maiden legitimate electoral victory on a grand scale. Beg's subsequent revolt against injustice done to him was more of a forced act than his voluntary reaction. Perhaps that is why it was so short lived.

His extraordinary abilities laced with his devotion ensured his steady rise on political horizon and earned him prominence all through his long innings from 1940s to 1970s. His ascendancy in public life, however, did not bloat his ego or tickle his ambition, unlike his contemporaries, notably Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq who parted company with Sheikh at a crucial juncture of latter's turbulent public life. At the end, however, it was Beg who turned out to be the loser. In good faith, he had converted all his earnings into single currency of 'loyalty' which he invested in the bank of his choice-'Sher-e-Kashmir'. However, his blind faith ended up as wasted investment. Beg lost his hard earned political capital at a late stage of his life from where it was not possible to retrieve the loss. But the indelible imprint of his outstanding contribution in enriching Kashmir's public life is already a part of our history; though not yet in its well deserved full measure.

(June 11 is Mirza Afzal Beg's death anniversary. This article was first published in Kashmir Times on June 11, 2011.)
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News Updated at : Monday, June 10, 2013
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