In the border area of Uri in north Kashmir, during a rally early this week, the Apni Party condemned Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the National Conference, and even the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, holding them responsible for the 1948 ceasefire.
Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have been conducting such rallies since 2021, presuming that the Election Commission of India would soon announce the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. However, this "soon" seems a distant dream now. Since the fall of the BJP-PDP government in 2018, the ECI has shown no urgency in conducting the elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Despite multiple appeals by regional political parties and the Congress, the poll body has not set a date for the polls.
The last Assembly Elections in J&K were held in 2014. However, it is interesting to observe the narratives these political parties weave during the rallies. The political parties put forward their viewpoint and talk about the past “blunders” of the rival parties. But they overlook their own and move on to another rally.
Hope is something everyone in J&K is clinging to. Hope is in Sufi saying, "This too shall pass," that one day the ECI will hold the polls, and so on.
During the Uri rally, Zafar Iqbal Manhas, a leader of the Apni Party, said that whenever he visited the "present border regions" of Poonch, Rajouri, or Uri, it brought tears to his eyes. He questioned what wrong these regions did and what sins they committed that led the Kashmiri leadership in 1947 to punish them. "As long as you fail to grasp this reality, you won't understand. Those of you living in the borders have never punished those who inflicted such atrocities upon it,” Manhas said, naming two personalities—Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Manhas, while avoiding a debate about whether the accession was right or wrong, said that much water has flowed down the Jhelum since then but he didn’t spare Sheikh, whom he accused of commencing the movement under Quit Kashmir to get rid of Dogra Maharaja’s autocratic role and later opting to work as Prime Minister with Karan Singh as Sadri Riyasat. Sheikh, according to Manhas, was solely accountable for creating a rift between Dogras and Kashmiris.
Despite this, he went on to say when Sheikh got an opportunity to govern, he embraced it. In 1948, the ceasefire was orchestrated at Sheikh's behest, as the Paharis, irrespective of their residence on either side of the LoC, wouldn't have accepted Sheikh as the Sultan of Kashmir. He said while civilised nations ask for hospitals, colleges, universities, and development, what do these border area residents seek? A bunker.
Manhas had been previously praising Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference in his columns in Chattan, a weekly Urdu daily, which was widely read in Kashmir in the 1990s. He acknowledged it was his blunder, which he realised late. Perhaps after joining the Apni Party.
Last week, Union Home Minister Amit Shah remarked that Jammu and Kashmir had to suffer for years due to two big mistakes made by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru during his tenure as Prime Minister. “Pandit Nehru's first mistake was that when our army was winning, a ceasefire was called as soon as it reached Punjab and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was born. If the ceasefire had been delayed by three days, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir would have been a part of India today. The second big mistake was when they took our issue to the United Nations.”
The Home Minister further said that even when the matter was sent to the UN, the decision was taken very hastily. “Despite advice given by several people on record, the matter was taken to the UN under Article 35. Former Prime Minister late Jawaharlal Nehru had written that it was his mistake, but it was not just a mistake but a blunder. The country lost a big chunk of land; it was a blunder.”
India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir in late 1947. During the war, it was India that first took the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations on 1 January 1948. The war ended on 1 January 1949 with a ceasefire arranged by the United Nations, and in October 1949, Article 370 was added to the Indian constitution, as a 'temporary provision', which allowed Jammu & Kashmir, to draft its own Constitution and restricted the Indian Parliament's legislative powers in the state. Article 370 was abrogated on August 5, 2019, amid a communication blackout, arrest of thousands of people and siege of J&K.
In Jammu and Kashmir, political parties, especially the National Conference, were hopeful that the Supreme Court would restore Article 370. The National Conference and other parties had argued legal arguments forwarded by their lawyers in support of the restoration of Article 370 were strong enough.
During the hearing of the case in July this year, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud referred to Sheikh Abdullah's speech and termed him a visionary. "Interestingly, see how Sheikh Abdullah puts it. He says the most powerful argument which can be advanced in her (Pakistan) favour is that Pakistan is a Muslim state and a big majority of our people being Muslim, the state must accede to Pakistan," Justice Chandrachud had read from Sheikh's speech which the latter gave addressing the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.
"This claim of being a Muslim state is only a camouflage- it's a screen to dupe the common man so that he cannot see clearly that Pakistan is a feudal state in which a clique is trying by these methods to maintain itself in power," read the CJI from Sheikh's speech.
The CJI brought Sheikh's speech when senior lawyer Kapil Sibal left some portions of Abdullah’s speech in the constituent assembly unread, during the hearing against abrogation of Article 370 in the Supreme Court. Praising Sheikh, the CJI asked Kapil Sibal to look at the foresight of the speaker (Sheikh Abdullah). “He had a vision in 1951 when he was speaking about economic interests, which the world is talking about today.”
We are likely to hear more about Article 370, Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru and 1948 in the coming days.
As the top court delivers its verdict, the debate around Article 370 in the political rallies will now be more intense. Earlier, the National Conference had put all its eggs in the Apex Court’s basket. However, as days had passed, pessimism had also taken over. National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah had said his party will continue with the political pushback to the move regardless of legal interventions and decisions. Omar had said his party was first to move the Supreme Court challenging the revocation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir. “Irrespective of what the Supreme Court will decide, our political fight will continue," he had said addressing a rally in the Kulgam area of South Kashmir.
No matter what the judgement, political rallies will continue in Jammu and Kashmir since they're only proof of politics in the absence of the elections and elected government.
In Jammu and Kashmir, political rallies show that politics is very much alive. But during these gatherings, leaders mostly talk about Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru, 1947, accession, and Article 370 to justify their views. How they talk about these people and events just tells you where they stand politically. But it seems once you are in Kashmir, or you are talking about Kashmir, you cannot avoid any of these personalities, and 1947 and 1948.