Accession: Sheikh Abdullah's enduring game-changer

By Mohammad Sayeed Malik. Dated: 12/5/2017 1:41:36 PM

This article is a slightly altered version of an article earlier reproduced on the occasion of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s birth anniversary in December 2011. It's subject and topicality is as relevant today.

Measured by its cascading global geopolitical repercussions, accession of Jammu and Kashmir with the Indian union in 1947, against the run of events in the blood-soaked partition era, is undoubtedly the most visible milestone of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's over half a century long unparalleled stewardship. Sheikh's admirers revere him for his 'momentous achievement' while his critics revile him for his 'monumental blunder'. The crux of Sheikh's deeply embedded imprint, however, lies somewhere between these two conflicting perceptions.
On the 112th birth anniversary of Sheikh today, the festering dispute over the accession stands out as one of the world's most volatile fault lines that divides regions, countries, societies, communities and ethnic groups. Between 1947 (when accession was the elixir of his roaring popularity) to this day in 2017 (when his grave needs armed protection against the threat of vandalism by anti-accession forces), the political landscape in and around Sher-e-Kashmir's motherland has drastically changed.
To be fair to the man, despite harsh turns and twists in his turbulent public life, Sheikh liked to flaunt his vindication in the accession battle. His autobiography acknowledges it in great detail.
However, recalling Sheikh's accession saga which makes him a 'hero' and/or a 'villain' at the same time, inevitably leads to a parallel story from the opposite end. Sheikh Abdullah and Mohammad Ali Jinnah had so much uncommon between them that it is indeed impossible to visualise how the world around us would be today had there been anything common between the two, at all.
During the best part of his public life, Sheikh despised Jinnah's politics and his ideology. Yet the former's behaviour betrayed a hidden yearning for emulating Jinnah's persona: Jinnah was 'Quad-e-Azam' and 'Baba-e-qaum' to his own people, Sheikh adopted both the titles with unabashed relish; Jinnah's trademark western style dress became Sheikh's choicest outdoor attire and even the famous 'Jinnah cap' tantalised him.
This intriguing unacknowledged co-relation between the two inveterate foes begs the question: Did Jinnah's arrogantly 'correct' style evoke some kind of envious admiration in Sheikh's mind and impel an urge to be seen like him? Retrospective profuse admiration for Jinnah in 'Atish-e-chinar' supports such a conclusion.
After over six decades of the 1947-accession its historical discourse remains alive and kicking. One full session of the high-visibility Hindustan Times Leadership Debate in New Delhi six years ago was consumed by this very topic. Farooq Abdullah and Mehboobah Mufti held the floor along with Frontier Gandhi's grandson Asfandyar Wali Khan from Pakistan. The issue continues to be revisited even across the border in Pakistan. Closer scrutiny of Jinnah's role is a notable feature of the emerging narrative.
History's unanswered questions are being revived to find the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. How was it that Jinnah lost Kashmir from, what he used to claim, 'my pocket'? How did Jawahar Lal Nehru manage to turn the (communal) logic of the partition on its head and snatch a Muslim-majority state next door to Pakistan?
Regarding the first, there are two mutually conflicting accounts: (1) Jinnah was kept in the dark while others around him planned and launched the tribal invasion on Kashmir in October 1947 and (2) Jinnah was very much in the loop but his overconfidence proved fatal for his cause mainly because he miscalculated the 'Sheikh Abdullah factor'.
By the time Jinnah realised his blunder it was too late. British Commander-in-chief of Pakistan army refused to obey Jinnah's orders to commit regular troops along the Kashmir front in aid of retreating tribal invaders.
More importantly, the wisdom behind launching of the tribal invasion is now being questioned in Pakistan more openly than before. A significant section of political analysts as well as military strategists argue that the 'equilibrium' that prevailed from August 15 to October 22, 1947, primarily because of Maharaja Hari Singh's indecisiveness, provided crucial space for Pakistan to keep the vacillating ruler engaged and work on the Kashmiri popular leadership.
Sheikh's autobiographical version is that emissaries from Pakistan came with closed mind and were not open to argument. They threatened to use 'other means' to annex Kashmir. Also, Sheikh's emissary, GM Sadiq was still engaged in talks with Pakistani leaders in Lahore when the tribal raiders stormed into Muzaffarabad.
As the course of war changed with the hurried conclusion of the accession and consequent arrival of Indian troops in Kashmir, Jinnah ordered Gen Gracy, commander-in-chief of Pakistan Army, to invade Kashmir but he invoked the rider dictated by London against involvement of British army personnel in any war between newly created dominions of India and Pakistan. The fact of the accession backed by popular support had materially changed the international status of Jammu and Kashmir from an independent Maharaja-ruled entity to technically a part of the Indian union.
The tribal invasion had the immediate effect of Sheikh Abdullah's total disengagement from Pakistan and unreserved alignment with India. Soon after the dust began to settle down, Sheikh encountered unforeseeable 'betrayal' from his rear but in the end he managed to re-emerge with a political profile that was vague enough to allow him to be again seen on the right side of the accession.
Recorded historical evidence brought to light recently reveals that Nehru had been tipped by Lord Mountbatten about preparations in Pakistan for tribal invasion on Kashmir. Military and intelligence agencies in both the countries at that time were effectively controlled by the British. Both Nehru and Sardar Patel had emphatically told Mountbatten that Kashmir was critical to India's security.
Nehru is said to have sensed well in time the need for enlisting Sheikh Abdullah's active participation in future proceedings in order to safeguard India's interests in Kashmir vis-a-vis Pakistan. A beleaguered Maharaja, even with Indian military support, was considered to be no match to the challenge. That is why Nehru remained adamant on securing Sheikh's endorsement to Maharaja's request for military intervention, following the accession formality. Eventually, however, Nehru did not have to exert too hard to secure Sheikh's backing as he found 'Barkis is willing.'
Accession remains the live-wire of Kashmir politics in all its forms and at all levels. It still is the ultimate dividing line in the arena. Long before George Bush voiced his infamous dictum, 'if you are not with us you are against us', the accession politics had given birth to this thumb rule for identification of 'friend' and 'foe' in this part of the world. It survives as an evergreen part of Sheikh's, otherwise, fading legacy.
R.I.P. Sheikh Saheb!



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