A ‘Different’ Sheikh

He was a Kashmiri rather than an Indian. That is how Sheikh Nazir Ahmad, a NC stalwart who breathed his last on Tuesday, is remembered by people. Tasavur Mushtaq talks to people close to him to sketch a part of his eventful life 

Sheikh-Nazir-AhmadThe  dawn of February 24, 2015 witnessed an end to ‘living history’ of National Conference. Sheikh Nazir Ahmad, oldest stalwart of Kashmir’s oldest political party breathed his last in Jammu’s super specialty hospital. Succumbing to multiple organ failure, he was ailing from last few years.

Seventy-eight-year old Sheikh Nazir, who lived a life of celibacy, was nephew of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Orphaned at the age of six, Sheikh Nazir was later adopted by his uncle.

A lawyer by profession, Sheikh Nazir had his schooling from Nowshehra Srinagar. He also studied forestry.  Senior in the family after Sheikh Abdullah, Nazir handled NC for nearly three decades as its Secretary General. In June 2014 on health grounds he was replaced by incumbent Ali Muhammad Sagar and was elevated as patron of the party.

Custodian of important documents and probably all the communication Sheikh Abdullah had with New Delhi, Sheikh Nazir remained very close to NC founder. Even he sacrificed his belief for the sake of his uncle, says one of his associate.

People who were close to him say that Sheikh Nazir had no likings for New Delhi, which he never visited except in recent years in connection with his ill health. They say he was very hurt with what happened in 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah as Prime Minister was arrested and later not even allowed to attend marriage of his daughter Surraya.

It is reported that Nazir returned with a gift from Sheikh Abdullah for Surraya, vowing never to return to Delhi and since then began his hatred towards India. Sheikh Abdullah was in tears while handing over a pack of gift for Suraya to Nazir.

His close aides even suggest that he was never in favour of accords, be it Indra – Sheikh Accord of 1975 or Rajiv – Farooq accord of 1987. Reportedly he walked out in protest from the working committee meeting of National Conference, which decided in favour of Rajiv – Farooq accord.

He (Sheikh Nazir) repeatedly used to say “New Delhi believes in ‘might is right’ as Delhi has failed to fulfill the promises made to Kashmiris, be it plebiscite by Nehru or restoration of internal autonomy by Indra Gandhi in terms of Indra-Sheikh Accord.”

He is quoted to have said, “We have been under occupation since Mughal period, and the occupation is still continuing till date. We are a colony of India. Our actual struggle is for what Nehru promised to Baba-e-Qoum at Lal Chowk in front of lakhs of people and New Delhi should fulfill those promises.”

About Pakistan he had no different feeling. He held Pakistan responsible for the plight of Kashmir. “As far as Pakistan is concerned, had it not invaded us, our condition would have been different altogether. We would have emerged as an independent country, had Pakistan not mingled with our affairs in 1947,” he said in an interview.

Sheikh Nazir though played important role in formation of NC governments in Jammu and Kashmir, but he never participated in electoral process. He had not voted during his lifetime. His belief was, ‘accession with India signed by Maharaja Hari Singh is conditional and not permanent’.

Sheikh Nazir throughout his life maintained that it was ‘Hari Singh who invited Indian army in Kashmir and not Sheikh Abdullah.’

Kashmiri by conviction, Sheikh Nazir never accepted Indian passport. He had applied only once when he mentioned his nationality as ‘Kashmiri’ and not ‘Indian’. He is quoted to have said, “I don’t have a passport nor am I going to have one till I die. But yes, I’m a Kashmiri and my nationality is Kashmiri not an Indian.”

In 2008, at the peak of former chief minister Omar Abdullah’s blogging period, he wrote about his uncle Sheikh Nazir while attacking separatists for being hypocrites. “I have an uncle, who more often than not I disagree with, but I admire the conviction he has – he disagrees with what happened in 1947 and subsequent events and so refuses to carry a passport. He has never applied for one. For the longest time he never left the state and only travelled by road between Jammu and Srinagar because he refused to travel on ‘Indian Airlines’.”

Cutting across political affiliations and ideologies, everybody has one thing in common to share about the deceased, “man who always stood for the upliftment of weaker sections of the society,” and who “lived up to his ideals and did not compromise till his death.” His uncompromising stand on issues always won him admirers.

A party man and sensitive to the needs of people, Sheikh Nazir will always be remembered for his organizational skills. Even his political opponents acknowledge this quality of the deceased. “In Sheikh Nazir Sahib J&K has lost a seasoned politician. The deceased will be always remembered for his political acumen, organizational skills, and services he rendered for the needy, during his decades long political career,” PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and president Mehbooba Mufti said in their statement while condoling the death.

Politics apart, the lesser known part of Sheikh Nazir’s life is that how he helped and tirelessly worked for artisans of Kashmir.  Saleem Beg, former bureaucrat and Kashmir head of INTACH told Kashmir Life that ‘Sheikh Nazir was Secretary General of non-governmental organization Kashmir Dastkaar Anjum, local movement of artisans for around 15 years and worked tirelessly for benefit of the artisan community.”

While talking about Sheikh, Beg says that he was a ‘different kind of a human being, a different kind and crop of politician.’  Beg  sees 1975 as defining moment in Sheikh’s life when he declined to have any position in government despite being a very senior leader. “He did not accept any ministerial berth and his juniors were made ministers. A very selfless man he was,” recalls Beg.

“I don’t know people are saying many things about his politics, but he was a different. He would work for the party. Somebody, who never aspired for any position,” says Beg.

Eyewitness to every political development of  Kashmir in contemporary times, Sheikh Nazir was reportedly soft towards ‘freedom movement’.  Though in his lifetime, he is quoted to have said, ‘Maqbool Bhat is our worker.’  After his death a local news gathering agency quoted separatist leader Azam Inquilabi saying that, “Maqbool Bhat had a firm trust in Sheikh Nazir. When Jammu Kashmir Police was hunting for Bhat and his space in Kashmir was shrinking, Sheikh Nazir helped him to cross the border. Sheikh Nazir not only guided Maqbool but also provided the names of persons living across border and informed him to approach them for any help.”

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq while expressing his condolence over his demise said that “in spite of political differences with his later political stand, his personal qualities and his contribution during plebiscite movement cannot be ignored.”

People who worked closely with Sheikh Nazir told Kashmir Life that his ‘only love was his party and workers.’  “Sheikh Nazir always addressed the real workers of party and was always in line with them,” they said.

Not happy with Omar Abdullah’s decision to handover party affairs to Nasir Aslam Wani and Devender Singh Rana, people in know of things told Kashmir Life that “when Omar Abdullah organized a function to felicitate new Provincial President Nasir Aslam Wani on January 20, 2013, Sheikh Nazir, though being Secretary General was absent.”

Many in political circles believe that Omar Abdullah’s November 2012 tweet was targeted at his two uncles: Sheikh Nazir and Mustafa Kamal in which he said, “I don’t need anyone to make things difficult for me when I have relatives. They say never work with animals and children. I think it is safe to add relatives to that list”.

A party worker who was with Sheikh Nazir for a long time said that he was the binding force for party workers and helped NC to have offices across the state. “Nazir sahib with the help of donations, made it possible for NC to have own offices in Srinagar, Ganderbal, Budgam, Pulwama and Sheri Kashmir Bawan Jammu.”

Ahmad Ullah Sofi, a resident of old city and strong NC loyalist told Kashmir Life that if compared,  Sheikh Nazir’s slate is cleaner than that of Syed Ali Geelani. “He never took oath, never voted and did not ever mention his identity as Indian, unlike Geelani,” Sofi said.

In later years considered to be spent up force within NC, Sheikh Nazir was mostly confined to home. His aides told Kashmir Life that one of the regrets of Sheikh Nazir was ‘he was not consulted in 2008 at the time of government formation.”

Ailing Sheikh finally lost battle of life. And with his nephew’s tweet, “My uncle & NC stalwart Sheikh Nazir Ahmed passed away in the early hours of this morning in Jammu after a brief hospitalization,” it was official that NC stalwart and party manager for many decades is no more.

With last journey of 300 Kilometers from Jammu to Srinagar, Sheikh Nazir’s coffin draped in party flag was brought to his Moulana Azad Road residence. Later ‘as per his wish’ the body was laid to rest in his ancestral graveyard at Soura.

Amid rainfall, with modest gathering, Sheikh was buried. A party loyalist with tearful eyes said, “Today we buried NC.”

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