An Open Letter To Omar Abdullah

Complete disclosure – Mr. Abdullah, I lived and played volleyball and cricket and worked in Charar-e-Sharief when you worked in Delhi as a minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Omar Abdullah

Partial disclosure – Mr. Abdullah, as we both know, I haven’t thanked you enough. When you led a political coalition as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, you gave me the reins of Jammu police in 2009 without holding a cabinet meeting and despite the spite of the then police chief of the state against me. We both know how you went out of your way to protect me from my power-drunk seniors in the IAS-IPS biradari and their money-bag friends in real estate business in Jammu. Thank you.

On last Wednesday, the administration of Jammu and Kashmir organized a Yoga session at the Charar-e-Sharief shrine in Budgam to celebrate the International Day of Yoga. Venting your objection to the event, you took to Twitter to express your remonstrance, tweeting, “The burial place of one of our most revered saints is used as a venue for a yoga day photo op!”

First things first, Mr. Abdullah. You’re only trying to gain political mileage, and it is sad that you’re using the resting place of a revered saint who was a bulwark of peace, community fellowship and inter-faith harmony. Charar-e-Sharief is one of the oldest and sacrosanct shrines of Muslims in South Asia and beyond. It has religious significance in the cultural heritage of Kashmir and is considered the holiest place of Muslims. Tens of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs also visit the shrine every year. Among other things, the Kashmiri Sufi saint, mystic, poet and Islamic preacher Sheikh ul Alam (spiritual guide of the world) or Alamdar-e-Kashmir (Flag Bearer of Kashmir) or Nund Reshi, as we lovingly call him, was one of the founders of the Rishi order in South Asia. He taught people to strive towards amelioration of self and society; yoga, as we all know, is one of the many means to achieve the same. 

To consider: The similarities between Yoga and what Sheikh ul-Alam taught us: The word 'योग' stems from the root word, 'युज' which means 'union'. It is the union of mind and body so as to attain personal and common good. Further, Shree Krishna says, "योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा..." which means, "Perform your duties equipoised" and follows it with "...समत्वं योग उच्यते" i.e., such equanimity is known as yoga. Nund Reshi, during the course of his life, taught his followers to live a balanced life, i.e., to strive towards spiritual upliftment while being compassionate towards fellow living beings, and mindful towards the planet and its environment. So, the yoga day celebration at his resting place is, in a fundamental way, a tribute to his life’s work. Dear Mr. Abdullah, you should have put two and two together before making such a politically surcharged comment to create a controversy. Sheikh Ul Alam was against exploitation in the guise of faith and religion. 

Alamdar-e-Kashmir renounced the worldly life at the age of 30 and retired to live a life of meditation in a cave in Qaimoh in Kulgam and is about 10 feet deep. He preached and practiced self-control. During his last days, he survived on a cup of milk every day, and later, he used to survive just by drinking water. His life resembles the life of a true yogi. Period. He didn't make any difference between Hindus and Muslims. His biggest spiritual influence was Lalleshwari or Lal Ded ("Mother Lalla"), a Kashmiri mystic of the Kashmir Shaivism school of Hindu philosophy who was the creator of the style of mystic poetry called vatsun or Vakhs, literally "speech" (from Sanskrit vāc). The legend has it that Sheikh ul Alam refused to be breastfed by his mother after birth and it was Lalleshwari who breastfed him. Known as Lal Vakhs, her verses are the earliest compositions in the Kashmiri language and are an important part in the history of modern Kashmiri literature. She was Sheikh ul Alam’s contemporary and had a great impact on his spiritual growth.

As we both know, Mr. Abdullah, Sheikh ul Alam spread his teachings or messages through poems, commonly known as shruks. His poems have four to six lines each and evolve around religious themes, highlight moral principles and often call for peace. He strived for Hindu–Muslim unity. He is also credited with translating the Quran into Kashmiri language. He witnessed several transmissions of Hinduism and Islam in the valley throughout his life, although he was actively involved in philosophical work and in writing Kashmiri poems.

In his poetry, he has explored this facet of human existence. By using his name to secure votes by invoking sentiments, you’ve done a disservice to the mystic saint. It is similar to what Sheikh Ul Alam has said in one of his poems, i.e., "Priests are pleasured with favours and banquets. Sheikhs do amock after wealth and self-indulgence."

Here, one of his poems:

Khuda chu akuy naav ches lacha 

Zikri ros akh kacha moUmar vanduen akuy pacha 

Rizki ros kah macha mo

God’s names are many, but God is One:

No blade of grass not remembering God is!

Think of a life fourteen

days in the sun

Without help of that One not even a fly, is!

Here, another: 

Nafsiy morus ti vay

Khatith rudum gatei

Athei yiyihem ta kay Kartal tshanahas hatei

Alas! I have been done for my ego,

Concealing himself in darkness,

Could I but catch hold of Him,

With a scimitar would I slash his throat. 

Here, another:

Nafas ditith oray minith

Gatshakhai tsinith karakh na fot 

Dam diu haqas Lal ikh zenith 

Nata chhiy kuli nafsa zayaqatul mot.

Our breaths are measured out to us,

Realize that and thou shalt not die.

Dive into the Truth, the Pearl will be thine:

Otherwise, all smack of death.

Mr. Abdullah, we both know Kashmir’s syncretic, pluralistic religious tradition does not admit of any such boundaries as Hindu versus Muslim, Shia versus Sunni, Brahmins versus non-Brahmins, and polytheism versus monotheism. Those who want to force radical thought process on inclusive Kashmiri tradition to create divisions and to play to the gallery must remember that the history of Hinduism and Islam in Kashmir is a history of plural thoughts and practices.


Dear Mr. Abdullah, Saints don’t need humans or human interventions to defend their honour. Saints might not need Twitter campaigns to question or justify the utility of their ‘Aangan’. I mean, imagine for a moment how fun that conversation would go, where some lesser mortal meets the higher beings and expects a pat on the back for saving the sanctity of their holy space on earth. By the virtue of being a pretty petty human form, we might exploit a juggernaut of feelings. Because it fits perfectly in a political jigsaw puzzle, the one that has been calibrated, executed and transmitted across generations to gather votes, collect crowds and latch on to political power. Now when the puzzle barely exists, this is a desperate attempt at making a house of cards out of the cards that can be picked up from the ground. The ground surrounding the holy place or holy places. The cards are being virtually glued together by few Twitter warriors and few citizens, first or second or third or fourth, I don’t know. But the beauty of the house of cards is, it can be brought down by anyone. By an act of omission or an act of commission.


Mr. Abdullah, why should an ‘outsider’ be allowed to appropriate the cultural heritage of Kashmir valley? Why should an Odia speak about Kashmir? Why should I be allowed to ‘poke’ my nose into things Kashmiri? Because I didn’t read the divine political memo which said I was being banished permanently from speaking on issues because I was not born in Kashmir. And this is not even an issue, this is colossal creativity of human imagery, personification, imagination and aspiration. Political, that is. I get to speak because many moons ago, I met my creator in the streets and alleys of Charar-i-Sharief in the first snowfall of my life in 2003. I was lost and I was found, in the same Dargah and my pieces were fixed. My Aukaat to comment or speak up and my Rishta to my saint is beyond the scrutiny of dear Twitter trolls. When people call me psychologically sick, they should factor in the fact that my sources of asceticism in terms of work ethic are the same as their sources of political fodder. My mother never taught me to denigrate myself to pick political scuffles based on religious sentiments. I’m not here to let her down.


I get to speak because on a cold winter morning, I was hugged by death and someone held my hand and woke me up. I am indebted. My life is a loan that I was given with zero interest rates and I am answerable for every moment of my little life here. My teeny tiny battle with all my adversaries, real and hypothetical, have a genuineness and purity of saints. I said it. I didn’t claim to be a saint, my conviction and my commitment to it is pretty close to being a saint. Since I know a little bit about saints, I can say few things for sure. Saints don’t need human interventions or humans for that matter to defend their honour.


Pick your poison, my dear Mr. Abdullah. You once worked in Delhi as a minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition. We both know that you and your party will be more than willing and able to stitch a political alliance with the same party again as and when the stars show up on the Srinagar sky. Politics and ways of politicians, you know. By definition, our commitment to a cause should not depend on our convenience, mood or affect. As leaders of women and men, we should have the decency and wisdom to pick our battles. 

All the best. And thank you once again for your magnanimity in 2009-2011.


Complete disclosure – Mr. Abdullah, I lived and played volleyball and cricket and worked in Charar-e-Sharief when you worked in Delhi as a minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Basant Rath is a 2000 batch IPS officer working in Jammu and Kashmir since December 2001.

(Views expressed are personal.)