A Different Politician

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Since the fifties, Peer Hafizullah Makhdoomi had a conspicuous presence in Kashmir politics till 1990s. A confidante of the then leading politician Mohiuddin Karra, he later joined Abdul Gani Lone to float Peoples’ Conference. He is perhaps the only politician of Kashmir who died in rented accommodation and without any child or property. In an interview to Saima Bhat in September 2017, his last before his death last week, Makhdoomi sheds light on the politics and politicians of his time

Pir Hafizullah Mukhdoomi

Indisposed and struggling with his ailments, 85-years-old Peer Hafizullah Makhdoomi finally lost his battle on April 9 2020. He was one among the few survivors of the breed of politicians who were active in the sixties and seventies. Born in 1934 Makhdoomi was witness to the Quit Kashmir movement started by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Karra against the autocratic rule of Hari Singh.

Once a member of an affluent family, Makhdoomi along with wife lived at a rented accommodation and managed the living on freedom fighters’ remuneration released by Government of India.

Born in the old city’s Nawakadal area, Makhdoomi remembered everything. Hard of hearing which was a barrier while communicating with him, Makhdoomi recalled vividly all dates and events, important to the history of Kashmir.

His wife, who does not know her age and her looks suggested she must be in the early forties helped him in narrating the sequence of events to me, when I met him months before his death.

After his birth, Makhdoomi started living with his maternal grandparents in the old city’s Khankah-e-Maula. An epi-centre of freedom movement against Maharaja in thirties and forties, it had an impression on the young boy.

“The gatherings and speeches, that started every day at 4 pm, against the then Maharaja, shaped my ideology,” he remembered.

His childhood caretaker was his maternal uncle, a manager at Khidmat Press. Every evening his uncle would get newspapers home and Makhdoomi said he used to read every single line, which helped him understand things better years later.

He went to several schools like Rangteng High School, then shifted to Government middle school Namchebal and later to SP School before joining the Amar Singh College.

Still, in college, Makhdoomi was selected as an inspector in state police but his guardian didn’t allow him to join. He wished his nephew to study more and he followed his uncle’s wish.

The childhood impression had its impact, which got him close to Ghulam Mohiuddin Karra who differed with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah over the future of Kashmir in wake of the division of India.

The journey started in 1951 when Karra was jailed along with Makhdoomi, then an undergraduate student. In jail, Karra cared for him like a father, said Makhdoomi.

Two years later when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested and sent to central jail, Makhdoomi too was jailed. The reasons were different. Makhdoomi was jailed for being “Pakistani, anti-India and anti-government.” This was for the first time his name was mentioned in police records as bada inquilabi (political activist). Afterwards, his frequent arrests made him well known.

Makhdoomi remembered 1953 as a year when everything went wrong for Kashmir and as a result, he believed Kashmiris were still suffering. He accused Sheikh Abdullah of committing a ‘blunder’. He alleged Sheikh was arrested for his difference with Jawaharlal Nehru actually, but he made a compromise for his release. He went to jail as the Prime Minister of the state.

Sheikh returned with a new narrative which suited his needs, believed Makhdoomi. Quoting Sheikh, Makhdoomi said, “Sheikh told people that I was betrayed by Nehru. I was helpless.” People, however, trusted him and supported him again. Makhdoomi sees sort of “treason” in Sheikh’s acceptance of becoming Chief Minister, while he had been dethroned and arrested as “Prime Minister”.

At the same time, however, the octogenarian felt that it was only Sheikh Abdullah who could have done something for Kashmir.  “If Sheikh had remained steadfast on just one pursuit even then things would have been better. He shouldn’t have changed his mind frequently. If he said we are for autonomy then he shouldn’t have changed it. Only he could have done anything for Kashmir because he had the support of masses.”

Once on same page, Ghulam Mohiuddin Karra plied an alternative political line.

Karra presented Pakistan as a “golden hen” to Kashmiris but when Sheikh returned, Karra was unable to retain the public support. This disheartened Karra and he formed his political party, Political Conference in 1954 but his politics would keep him away from the system of governance.

Makhdoomi, then a student of final year, also joined Karra’s party as a student activist. He along with four other students started campaigning for the party visiting different colleges and students to strengthen the political base. On his visit to Degree College Sopore, Makhdoomi found College principal was his former teacher. Known to each other, Principal Prof Saif-ud-din helped him in identifying eleven ‘vocal’ students and the list included Abdul Gani Lone.

Lone convinced Makhdoomi and influenced eight more students to join. Lone became Makhdoomi’s priority. Their first meeting was held in an orchard in Sopore where they discussed their future roadmap.

In the subsequent years, Lone grew stronger and Makhdoomi lost touch with him. A few years later, Lone became so famous that he won elections and became Education Minister. “Lone later told me he always desired to meet me but I have never used anybody for personal benefits so I avoided meeting him,” Makhdoomi said.

Makhdoomi continued his passion and for all those years worked vigorously for his party as a foot-solider. He was again arrested in 1958 Hazratbal murder case, which became a headline for various international newspapers. He was sent to jail for three years. And in the 1960s when he returned, he went to Pakistan for a tour. In the following few years, he went to Pakistan again. He said he was offered a job as an “advocate for Kashmir cause” but he turned the offer down.

Makhdoomi’s father who had abandoned him in his childhood after his mother’s death had requested him to return home in Gojwara, Nowhatta. Initially, he refused to go but after the intervention of many elders of his maternal family, he had to go. Father and son had a reunion for ten days only as his father, who was in handicrafts business, passed away.

On his death bed, he requested Makhdoomi to take care of his younger siblings, three brothers and three sisters.

All his siblings settled down later but Makhdoomi decided to remain single. One of his brothers retired as a teacher, another retired from the health department and third who has also passed away now was an employee in PDD. The eldest sister is dead now,  two others are living with their families. After his siblings, Makhdoomi had to look after two nieces from his elder sister, for whom he then decided not to marry.

When responsibility took the front seat, Makhdoomi had to leave politics for at least 15 years as he had to travel frequently from Srinagar to Delhi for his family business. He says he had to work hard because his siblings were school goers then. In 1963 Karra quit his politics. Makhdoomi continued for few more years before he decided to be a student again. He got himself admitted in the University of Kashmir for LLB degree, which he completed in 1980.

Makhdoomi continued to be close to Karra. He visited him frequently and his love for Karra still moistened his eyes. While thinking about Karra’s ‘incomplete mission’, Makhdoomi cried his heart out.

“Karra Sahab was a noble soul,” he said, weeping.“If he would have been alive then I wouldn’t have faced any problem at all.”

Makhdoomi had spent nine years in jail with Karra. “It was this love that till his death bed, Karra used to tell me his secrets.”

While dying Karra had told him “I am defeated. People blindly follow Sheikh. No matter whether he does good or bad to them but people will support only him.”

After his mentor’s death, Makhdoomi started practising law in the district and high courts. He said he was a good orator so used to get a good number of cases. But his love for politics tempted him to stay in touch with it till he met Lone again, when he too had left politics.

“He questioned me why I got him into politics and myself was practising law. That moment I returned formally to politics and we formed Peoples Conference. Lone was the president of the party and I became general secretary.”

Makhdoomi did not marry for all these years. He had spent 26 years in jail but finally, in 2002, he married a young lady in Kupwara. Few month’s after his marriage,  Lone was killed in Eidgah on May 21.

Makhdoomi continued to be Peoples’ Conference’s general secretary till Lone’s son Sajad Lone joined mainstream politics.

He said he had seen many leaders who used to work for their personal gains but claimed his ideology was different and that is why even he was not able to buy a house for himself and continued to live in rented accommodation at Sanat Nagar with his wife, whom he refers more a friend than a wife. “I don’t own any property neither I have any child,” he said.

Makhdoomi’s wife is illiterate. Not exactly knowing even her date of birth, she remembers her marriage year as “when Lone was assassinated, we were married for a few months then,” says Makhdoomi’s wife. A resident of Kupwara, she sees her husband as her idol.

During G M Sadiq’s rule, various freedom fighters of Kashmir met him and asked if Indira Gandhi government could start a pension for India’s freedom fighters who were old, then why they can’t be provided same benefits. “They believed in a way they too contributed by blocking then Maharaja, who was a British stooge.”

Makhdoomi said he didn’t apply but once he was sitting in court and somebody whom he vaguely remembered as Ghulam Mohammad Shah filled up a form for him. The form was approved. That is the only income Makhdoomi had in his last days.

Confined to his home due to ill health along with his wife, Makhdoomi was a keen watcher of Kashmir situation.

“Kashmiris are suffering because they are leaderless. Leader means who unites people but here we have many so-called leaders and they divide people. We need a leader who is liked by all. That quality was with Sheikh only, he was liked by all,” said Makhdoomi.

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