Naya Kashmir Debate

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With elections round the corner, Naya Kashmir, the erstwhile political bible of the ruling National Conference (NC) will find increasing references in state’s political space. Historian Ashiq Hussain Bhat offers an account of the evolution of the document in last 70 years

Sheikh-Mohammad-Abdullah-coming-out-of-Jammu-jail-before-returning-to-power.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah

On July 31, 1944 when  Maharaja Hari Singh was on a visit to Srinagar city, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, while welcoming him in front of Mujahid Manzil (Strugglers’ House) the NC Headquarters, presented him a copy of the proposed Constitution of the State titled Naya Kashmir (p 300 Aatashi-Chinar  Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah;  p 209 The History of Freedom Struggle in Kashmir by Prem Nath Bazaz).

The salient features of Naya Kashmir were:

The State would be an independent sovereign secular constitutional monarchy with His Highness the Maharaja Bahadur as the Ruler of the State;

The State would have a Council of Ministers answerable to a National Assembly of People’s Deputies who would be elected by universal franchise; every 40,000 people would constitute an electoral district and return one Deputy;

The State would administer justice through an independent judiciary which would comprise of a High Court, District Courts and elected Village Panchayats;

The State would guarantee, to every citizen , equality of rights irrespective of their religion, race, birth, or gender;

The State would guarantee to every citizen freedom of conscience, worship, speech, assembly, education, property, work, rest, organization;

The State would guarantee to womenfolk equal rights available to men;

The State would ensure compulsory military service for every citizen for the defense of the State for which purpose every citizen, whatever his religion, race, birth, would be allowed to keep firearms;

The State would grant right of asylum to foreign citizens persecuted in their States for defending the interests of the masses.

Viewed in isolation Naya Kashmir Constitution would appear to be a revolutionary  programme, the product of revolutionary mind. But it could not be viewed in isolation because Kashmir was not an independent State. It was part of Indian political system imposed by the  British. Yes,  Kashmir was a Princely State but then there were hundreds of such States, big and small in the Indian political system.

Maharaja Hari Singh

Maharaja Hari Singh

Kashmir State was, in fact, part and parcel of that system which included both Princely States and British Indian Provinces. Viewed in that context it was a subtle rejection of British Indian Muslim League’s Two-Nations Theory and of the idea of a separate Muslim Homeland to be called Pakistan.

Naya Kashmir was in effect a public announcement to the effect that Muslim majority of Kashmir State would have no truck with communal politics as enunciated in Two Nations Theory; nor would it be part of Pakistan. This would have appeased Maharaja Hari Singh and his cohorts who favoured Congress Party.

Moreover, the recent behaviour of Sheikh Abdullah and his Party would have pleased him already. Sheikh had only previous month disrespected Quaid-i-Azam Ali Mohammad Jinnah in Srinagar, and his activist Maqbool Sheerwani had disgraced Jinnah in the north Kashmir’s   Baramulla town (p 205-206 The History of Freedom Struggle in Kashmir).

However, there were many in Kashmir who knew the truth behind Naya Kashmir. They said that it was the handiwork of Communists especially those from Punjab who were very active in the sub-continent those days especially around Kashmir State for its poverty and lack of education and for its proximity to their Mother of World Revolution, the Soviet Union.  The Punjabi Left considered Kashmir a fertile land for experimenting their ideology but since it was not their constituency, they needed local politicians as a front.

Sheikh Abdullah’s popularity had taken a severe hit in the early 1940s hen NC failed to resist the Darbar especially when Hari Singh passed communally discriminating orders such as the one about the script of State Language and the other about who could keep firearms.

Sheikh Abdullah had set up NC after disbanding Muslim Conference so as to open its doors for non-Muslims. But the non-Muslims had shaken hands with him in order to turn anti-Darbar Muslim Conference into Pro-Congress and Pro-Darbar National Conference (p 167 The History of Freedom Struggle in Kashmir). This done, they now turned their back upon him (p 245, 247, 253, 254 Aatashi-Chinar). Even P N Bazaz, after supporting Arms Act, left NC to be a Royist, a follower of Bengali Radical Communist intellectual M N  Roy / Narendra Nath Batacharya (p 215 Aatashi-Chinar).

Sheikh Abdullah received another blow when his Congress patrons landed up in jails for launching in August 1942 the Quit India Movement against the British.

On the international front, the British considered Communists as their foremost enemies till Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Since then Communists and the British became great allies. The British opened their coffers and passed huge amounts of money to Communists,

Royists including, for launching propaganda campaigns against Germany and other Axis Powers (p 215 Aatashi Chinar). Sheikh Abdullah whose ship was tossing in politically rough waters thought of turning, for the time being, a fellow traveller. The Punjabi Left had had their eyes always on poverty-stricken Kashmir. Hence this marriage of convenience.

Yet another event had been disturbing Sheikh’s peace of mind. His one-time friend, then political adversary, Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas had set up in 1941 a new Muslim Conference (MC) which gained ground, especially in Jammu Province.

Sheikh Abdullah wished to counter the rising influence of Muslim Conference. So he thought of exploiting his chances with Muslim League leader whose policy it was not to interfere in the politics of Princely States. He broke this policy for once when both NC and MC leadership invited him to Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah went in person to Delhi in April 1944 to invite the League Leader to arbitrate between NC and MC (p 307  Aatashi-Chinar).

In May 1944, Jinnah came to Srinagar. Here he carefully studied the political situation for over a month and then issued his verdict on June  17 before a large gathering of people at Jama Masjid. The verdict was unfavorable to Sheikh and his NC (p 315 Aatashi-Chinar; p 202-207 The History of Freedom Struggle in Kashmir).

Jinnah’s verdict bored a hole into the side of Sheikh’s ship. At this point of time, the Punjabi Left found its chance. Dr Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, his wife Freda (parents of Bollywood actor Kabir Bedi), Mohammad Din Taseer (father of former slain Governor of Pakistani Punjab Salman Taseer),  KM Ashraf, Daniyak Latifi, and Ahsaan Danish, handed over to him the Constitutional document entitled Naya Kashmir.

At page 300 of his autobiography, Sheikh Abdullah acknowledges that it was drafted and even typed by them. With Naya Kashmir in his hands, he gathered NC and got it adopted as NC’s future manifesto.

His Highness the Maharaja Bahadur, as he was referred to as in Naya Kashmir, must have been pleased with the turn of events inside Kashmir. Naya Kashmir rejected Two-Nations Theory and Pakistan. Sheikh Abdullah and Party were in anti-Jinnah mode. What else would the Darbar wish!

Hari Singh reciprocated on October 2, with his own programme which he called an experiment in Diarchy – dual government. He wished to associate his subjects with the administration of the State and called upon the Praja Sabha to nominate a panel of six members, three Muslims, so as to enable him to select one Muslim and one non-Muslim as his Ministers.

This measure paved the way for Wazir Ganga Ram and Mirza Afzal Beg to get appointed as Ministers (p 61 Sheikh Abdullah kay Naqoosh by Mohammad Farooq Rehmani).

NC had been on excellent terms with the Darbar especially with pro-Congress Gopalaswami Ayyenger, Dewan of Maharaja Hari Singh from 1936 to March 1943 and also with his pro-Congress successors Kailash Narain Haksar, July 1943 to January 1944; and  Benegal Narsingh Rao, 1944 to 1945 (p 192-200 The History of Freedom Struggle in Kashmir; p 329 Aatashi-Chinar). But when Hari Singh appointed in June 1945 Pandit R C Kak as Dewan, Sheikh Abdullah so resented it that he ordered Mirza Afzal Beg to resign from Works Ministry (p 325-329 Aatashi-Chinar). Kak was neither pro-Congress nor pro-Muslim League.

Three days after British Cabinet Mission issued on May 12, 1946, the States Memorandum which stated that the Princely States would be free on British withdrawal from the sub-continent. Sheikh launched Quit Kashmir Movement against His Highness the Maharaja Bahadur (p 359 Aatashi-Chinar).

Post-Partition of British India, the Dominion of India captured Kashmir with the support of Sheikh and his NC. In return for this great service they jailed them in 1953 and forced them to spend twenty-two years in political wilderness.

After  Beg-Parthasarthy (Indira-Abdullah) – 1975 Kashmir Accord, Sheikh and NC became rulers of the State a second time and a new version of Naya Kashmir appeared in the public domain – no mention of the monarchy, no mention of independence, no mention of sovereignty, no mention of National Assembly of People’s Deputies. What to speak of according asylum to foreigners to save them from persecution NC persecuted own people whenever they came to power.

It was new wine in a new bottle!

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