The Light is Out

Aditya Agarwal
8 min readJul 6, 2020

“Shangri-la beneath the summer moon” — Led Zeppelin

The words above are from a Led Zeppelin song called Kashmir released in 1975. It has absolutely no connection with the place this blog is about but for some reason the lyrics seem to draw the same picture that people who have visited Kashmir have in their minds.

In a hyperconnected world like ours we don’t really need anyone to describe a place. A simple google search will be enough. What I would really like to know is how the people in Kashmir felt about whatever was happening around them. Sadly, history does have a tendency to neglect these questions. If anyone has good sources which answer them, please drop a response. TIA.

There were enough people around the world who would give more than a penny for Sheikh Abdullah’s thoughts. The American ambassador, Loy Henderson seemed to have got a glimpse, in September 1950. Sheikh apparently said-

“In his opinion it (Kashmir) should be independent; that the overwhelming majority of the population desired their independence; that he had reason to believe that some Azad Kashmir leaders desired independence and would be willing to cooperate with leaders of the National Conference if there was a reasonable chance such cooperation would result in independence. Kashmir people could not understand why the UN consistently ignored independence as a possible solution for Kashmir. …..Fact was that the population of Kashmir was homogeneous in spite of the presence of Hindu minority” [ Source: Cable to State Department by Henderson, quoted in Ajit Bhattacharjea’s, Kashmir: The Wounded Valley pp. 196–7 ]

If you recall from the last blog, the state had its own constituent assembly — but what exactly were its powers ? Can it decide to say goodbye to India and join Pakistan ? Apparently yes, at least according to Sheikh, whose opening speech in the assembly was 90 minutes long. He rejected the idea of complete independence and proclaimed that Kashmir would join India but on its own terms which included a state flag and the head of govt. as Prime Minister.

Is this what the Kashmiris really wanted ? I don’t know, but there was good news, at least for some of them. The government had decided to redistribute the land. Of course the bourgeoisie weren’t happy but neither were the proletariat (poor) as they didn’t get too much either.

From L-R: Motabhai, Motabhai

No government has stayed in power without keeping the rich happy. The rich tackled this problem exactly how the government today solves every problem- by giving it communal colours. The rich landlords in Kashmir, whose land would be taken away were predominantly Hindus-generally upper caste.

The communal rift between the Muslim majority valley of Kashmir and the Hindu dominated Jammu region had been increasing anyway. If you are reading this in 2020, you can predict what was going to happen next. This is a tailor-made situation for any politician who wants to make his name. All he need to do is pick a side, claim that he understands the plight of the people as he was “one of them”, scream that he is going to “secure” their rights and then just wait as the masses sway. His name was Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee, founder of the Jana Sangh. Fun fact- Jana Sangh, as part of a coalition (called the Janta Party) would form the first non-congress govt. in 1977. They broke away from Janta Party in 1980 and started calling themselves Bhartiya Janta Party. Small world eh ?

Anyway, the screaming and the speeches worked. He got his meeting with Nehru who wanted him to call off the movement otherwise there would be no conversation. Mukherjee refused. The protesters were getting arrested for shouting slogans outside the parliament house while the mastermind politician was sitting in his office in the the parliament house. #masterstroke

The movement did work. Hindus started believing that their country was in trouble. Parties like the Jana Sangh, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Ram Rajya Parishad (RSS was still banned for killing Gandhi) worked very hard to fuel this hatred. He then decided to continue his so called “satyagraha” in J&K whose govt. had prohibited him from entering the state. He was arrested near the border after refusing to go back and then later died in jail. There are rumours about the cause of his death, Atal Bihari Vajpayee claimed in 2004 that the arrest of Mukherjee was Nehru’s plan. You can read about it here. His death caused more riots in Delhi, in Calcutta (his home) and in Jammu. The crowd wanted blood.

Mukherjee became a shaheed, a martyr. His photo is placed on the walls of BJP offices along with other “martyrs”. Coincidentally, today (July 6) is his birth anniversary. I had to look him up. Why? Look at the screenshot below. This is a guy who not only boycotted the Quit India Movement along with the fellow RSS “martyrs” (who chose not to participate) but even gave the British suggestions on how to defeat the movement in Bengal. He said —

Indians have to trust the British, not for the sake for Britain, not for any advantage that the British might gain, but for the maintenance of the defence and freedom of the province itself. Source1 Page56/57, Source2

“…to further India’s unity….”

He never spent a single night in jail nor did he ever resorted to satyagraha. On the other hand according to his biographer he thought that ‘legislatures were the only forum for giving vent to diverse viewpoints on Government policies’. Typical BJP “martyr”.

Anyway, back in Kashmir the riots grew stronger. I understand that it is unfair to make generic statements without any evidence but it would have been easy for any muslim to get radicalised and want independence. Even the ruling party was divided among itself. Some wanted accession, others complete independence. There were rumours that Sheikh was going to declare independence on August 21, during Eid. He would then ask the United Nations for protection. FYI Sheikh had met Adlai Stevenson, a US politician in the summer. Their conversation was not recorded and Stevenson denied offering Sheikh money and protection. Even if Sheikh thought about independence he knew that Jammu was gone, as the Hindu sentiments their were running strong. The only part which would still follow him to independence was the beautiful valley of Kashmir. But the man as it turned out was daydreaming. He was arrested in the middle of the night and dismissed as Prime Minister by the sadr-i-riyasat Karan Singh. On what charge was he arrested ? Who had the audacity to arrest the Lion of Kashmir? Did Nehru give this order ? No one knows, but one thing that is very clear is that he did not do anything about the arrest. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, once Sheikh’s right hand man was sworn in as Prime Minister.

L-R: Abdullah arrested, Bakshi being sworn in by Karan Singh

Bakshi declared that the ties between India and Kashmir were irrevocable. He made school education free, opened up new medical & engineering colleges and abolished the taxes on trade between India and J&K. Sheikh was once the poster boy of India’s secular ideology. Now in the eyes of the world along with him the ideology itself seemed to be imprisoned. He was arrested in August 1953, released in January 1958 and then jailed again in April. Next year, he was released a couple of weeks before Eid (April 23) and was given an invitation to meet Nehru. For what ? The Kashmir issue was, in the eyes of many politician officially “closed”. Of course the Hindu parties had a problem with reopening the issue but even the left wasn’t very happy.

Left-Wing and Right-Wing comes from the seating arrangement of the legislative assembly during the French Revolution. People on the left (leftist) wanted to abolish monarchy and promote secularisation. How could they call themselves leftist and still refuse to give the people of Kashmir what they wanted. Whatever it is — plebiscite, accession. Honestly, I don’t understand what left and right in Indian politics mean. If you could point me to some sources I’d be happy to read.

Sheikh agreed to meet Nehru. Meanwhile, he got another invitation. This one was from President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan. Sheikh met Nehru and along with a few others discussed all possible solutions from scratch- plebiscite, dividing the state, giving away northern part of Kashmir while keeping Jammu and Ladakh and all other permutations. Both Sheikh and Nehru considered their friendship as the last ray of hope for a peaceful solution. On 11 May the Sheikh told reporters that

‘I do not want to plead for Nehru but he is the symbol of India in spite of his weakness. You cannot find another man like him.’ He added that ‘after Nehru he did not see anyone else tackling [the problems] with the same breadth of vision’.

Nehru also left no doubts that he had complete trust in Sheikh’s intentions when in an All India Congress Committee meeting he said

‘it would be possible for India, holding on to her principles, to live in peace and friendship with Pakistan and thus incidentally to put an end to the question of Kashmir’. ‘I cannot say if we will succeed in this’, said the prime minister, ‘but it is clear that unless we succeed India will carry the burden of conflict with Pakistan with all that this implies.’

Most of the politicians in the Congress party and the Jana Sangh were against the idea of any conversation whose result could be concession of land to Pakistan. On May 24, Abdullah landed in Rawalpindi and had long meetings with Ayub Khan on 25th and 26th. He came out and told the world that Ayub Khan was ready to meet Nehru in June. Finally, the countries were ready to talk. Beaming, Sheikh told the reporters —

‘Of all the irritants that cause tension between India and Pakistan’, said the Sheikh, ‘Kashmir is the most important. Once this great irritant is removed, the solution of other problems would not present much difficulty.’

I have been thinking about where to end this series of blogs for quite some time. More importantly at what point in time do facts and rumours become indistinguishable. In the first blog I wrote about how using any source which has not stood the test of time is a bad idea. This in my opinion is the right place to stop otherwise it would start looking like propaganda.

On 27th May 1964, India’s first prime minister slept for the last time. Abdullah was broken and cried like a man who had lost all hope. He had been jailed by Nehru’s government multiple times but their friendship had remained intact. Maybe all hope was lost.

Nehru’s death was announced in the same way as he had announced the death of Gandhi- “The light is out”.