Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah

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Sheikh Abdullah was born in 1905 at Sorah, a small town in the suburbs of Sirinagar. His father, who died two weeks before his birth, was a Pashmina dealer. Inspite of the poor financial conditions of the family, emphasis was given on Sheikh Abdullah’s education. To begin with he was educated at the local institutions. Later Sheikh Abdullah was sent to Aligarh University, from where he did his Masters in Science. After completing his education, he came back to Kashmir with the hope of getting some good job. However, biases of the Maharaja against the Muslims in the valley became a big hurdle in his way of securing a gazetted post in the State Government Service. He had to start as schoolmaster with a nominal pay of just Rs. 60/- per month.

His personal failure, inspite of his good academic record and intellectual strengths, compelled Sheikh Abdullah to do something for the Muslim youth of Jammu and Kashmir. He, along with some friends, established Fateh Kadal Reading Room, a meeting place where young likeminded men could gather to discuss their problems without running foul of the Mharaja’s ordinance against public assemblies. His activities and his orthodox Hanifite approach brought him close to Mirwaiz Muhammad Yousaf. The combination of the religious prestige of Mirwaiz and the charismatic personality of Sheikh Abdullah provided a good hope to the otherwise deprived Muslim community of Jammu and Kashmir.

When the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir allowed for the establishment of political parties in the State, Sheikh Abdullah and Mirwaiz in association with few other Muslims of the State, established All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference in 1934. The party became the major medium for opposition to the Maharaja. Gradually, Sheikh Abdullah started dominating the party and started giving it a secular look. He also established contacts with Congress leadership, specially Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1939, he formally dissolved Muslim Conference and replaced it with Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. The newly established party was also joined by many Hindus of the State and it started acting like the mouthpiece of Congress in the Valley. Most of the Muslim leaders of Jammu and Kashmir including Mirwaiz and Chaudhri Ghulam Abbas could not coup up with these developments and in 1941 revived the old Muslim Conference. Muslim Conference opposed Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference and started promoting the cause of Muslim League in Jammu and Kashmir. During his visit to Jammu and Kashmir in 1944, Quaid-i-Azam criticized Sheikh Abdullah in his address at the Jamia Masjid in Sirinager and asked him to wind up his National Conference, which the latter was not ready for.

Pandit Kak, the Prime Minister of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decided to detain Sheikh Abdullah before August 1947 and thus Sheikh Abdullah was behind the bars at the time of the independence of Pakistan and India. It was only when pro-Congress, Mehr Chand Mahajan, became Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in September 1947 that Sheikh Abdullah was released from detention. In October he visited Delhi and stayed with Nehru at his residence and discussed with him the issue of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. On October 26, 1947 when Mahajan requested Nehru for immediate acceptance of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India, Sheikh Abdullah was also present. Nehru accepted Mahajan’s request on the condition that Sheikh Abdullah would be asked to play a major role in the administration of Jammu and Kashmir.

Through a Maharaja’s proclamation, Sheikh Abdullah’s Emergency Government was established by the end of October. However, Mahajan remained Prime Minister but almost all the powers were in the hands of Sheikh Abdullah, who was Chief Emergency Officer of the State. Mahajan told Patel in December that the State government, under Sheikh Abdullah, reminded him of Nazi Germany, run by gangsters without benefit of rule of law; and he wished to be in no way associated with it. On March 5, Mahajan ceased to work as Prime Minister and by the Maharaja’s proclamation Sheikh Abdullah was appointed as head of an Interim Government. The Interim Government was to operate till constitutional provisions were made for the establishment of an administrative set-up. He remained Prime Minister the State till August 9, 1953 when he was dismissed by Sadar-i-Riyasat, Karan Singh and was imprisoned. He remained behind the bars till 1968, except for brief spells of liberty between 1954 and 1956, few months in 1958 and during 1964 and 1965. In 1977 Abdullah regained power in Jammu and Kashmir and remained Chief Minister of the State till his death on September 8, 1982. He was succeeded by his son, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, as the Chief Minister of the State as well as leader of his party.

This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 01, 2007