He knows where the key of Kashmir’s political fate lies. Tasavur Mushtaq meets the man who enabled Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah to re enter Jammu and Kashmir State Legislative assembly as Chief Minister after being ousted and imprisoned for 22 Years.
The lawn was neat but lifeless. After knocking at the door for few minutes, a not very old, but frail man came out to greet us. He was the one we had come to meet. He was Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, the man who enabled Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah to re-enter into the mainstream politics of Kashmir in 1975, as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
At the outset, 77-year-old Bhat was not willing to talk, “I don’t want to be in limelight or have any sort of publicity,” he told Kashmir Life.
But we urged him and his response was positive. His blend of using Kashmiri and English language to narrate the political history of the State was equally perfect.
Bhat was not ambitious, but it was his desperation to get a job, which landed him in politics. After completing his MA, LLB in 1958 from Aligarh Muslim University, Bhat came back to Kashmir.
After starting his practice in Ganderbal, Bhat was surprised to see how advocates were treated during those days.
“People preferred to give money to clerks than pay an advocate for his services,” he said. Bhat said that people did not even seek free advice from the advocates. This made him look for a job.
Then came 1964 when Rai Shumari (Plebiscite Front) movement led by Sheikh Abdullah was at its peak.
At the same time Congress party was founded in Kashmir and Syed Mir Qasim became its first president. He along with Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq had switched from National Conference and became the founders of Congress in Kashmir.
Young and energetic Bhat had no idea of politics but went to Mir Qasim for seeking a job. Contrary, Qasim persuaded him to join Congress.
“Qasim Sahib told me that by getting a job you will help yourself, come in politics and you will help your society,” said Bhat.
The sentiment of the people was against Congress, thus Bhat resisted the offer for some time. He finally joined Congress in 1965, the same year when there was an invasion from Pakistan.
In 1967 when assembly elections were due, Bhat was given the mandate to contest elections on Congress ticket from the Ganderbal constituency.
He defeated Peer Muhammad Yousuf of NC’s Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad group. In February 1967, he became a member of the Jammu and Kashmir State Legislative assembly.
No one from Rai Shumari group could fight as Jammu and Kashmir Representative Peoples Act was amended and the group was barred to fight, says Bhat.
Though he acknowledges that the pulse of the people was anti congress, he tried to work for the welfare of the people.
What sounds different is that Bhat as MLA used to attest Xerox copies of certificates, which otherwise were rejected by the officers as they considered it a job below their dignity.
“I had experienced how we had to travel to Srinagar for attestation, so I started to attest certificates whosoever was in need,” Bhat says with a sense of satisfaction.
For any employment opportunity of youth, Bhat used to write applications and process the formalities, ensuring that nobody spends a penny. He managed to survive with an honorarium of Rs 400 given to MLA.
“You cannot find a single soul who will accuse me of taking money,” he said.
The focus of Bhat always remained on employment and the overall development of the constituency. But he was never satisfied as there was no cooperation from the people. “People always raised suspicion on our doings.”
Bhat says that he successfully involved educated people in mainstream politics for sake of the development of the region.
With age, his inquest to know things has not faded. He is well versed in the happenings around the world.
His view about the politics of Kashmir is that a famous saying of Niccolo Machiavelli, ‘a blind man searching black cat in the black room during the night, and the thing is that there is no cat in the room.”
During his tenure as MLA, a writ petition was filed against his candidature. He lost and then came another round of elections in 1972.
Bhat won for the second time.
In between the state witnessed change as it lost its special status in terms of having its own Prime Minister, Chief Election Commission and permit system to enter into the jurisdiction of Jammu and Kashmir.
Before his second term, there were signals that Sheikh Abdullah may take part in elections as in 1971 Mahaz Rai Shumari participated in panchayat elections.
In February 1972 as the assembly started its session in Jammu, in his address Governor said that ‘our own people, who are angry, should come back.’
On behalf of the government, senior legislators including Bhat started discussions with Sheikh Abdullah. Bhat says that it was a tough situation to deal with during those days as Sheikh Abdullah was like a present-day separatist. “Opposition accused us of double standards, ‘kal tak aap kehte the Sheikh Abdullah baagi hai, gadar hai.’ We had to face music.”
This was followed by the negotiation between Mirza Afzal Beg and G Parthasarthy. This resulted in the Indra – Abdullah accord, which came into effect from February 1975. This paved way for Sheikh Abdullah to enter into mainstream politics again after being ousted and imprisoned.
Bhat says that after the accord, signals came from New Delhi that Sheikh has to run the government. But technically Sheikh was not in capacity to do so as Congress was in majority. In fact, Sheikh had no party backing or any elected representative, not even himself.
Bhat terms the signal as ‘His Masters Voice’. To execute the draft, Mir Qasim suggested that Sheikh Abdullah should be elected as leader of the house. The move was supported by Girdhari Lal Dogra and anonymously Sheikh Abdullah was elected as leader of the house.
The next day Sheikh Abdullah was invited by Governor to take an oath and thus he became leader of the house represented by Congress legislators. According to Bhat, this was just a constitutional formality; otherwise, the draft was written in New Delhi.
“You know what, this was like a love marriage, where everything is decided beforehand, only execution is done later.”
Sheikh assumed office and picked D D Takhur, Sonum Narbu and Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg as his cabinet colleagues.
But as the law goes, Chief Minister or any other cabinet minister can remain for six months till he is elected as a member within the next six months to the Upper or lower house for continuing to be in the chair.
In the next six months, they could not manage membership. So again there was a need to elect Sheikh from somewhere along with his cabinet colleagues.
Sheikh according to Bhat pressed for the dissolution of the assembly, which the people in New Delhi did not like. They suggested having two seats vacant in Kashmir for Sheikh and Beg.
To enable Sheikh to fight from his constituency, Bhat put his signatures on blank paper and kept that with Mir Qasim for process whenever required.
Bhat’s motivation was his dissatisfaction as he could not garner the support of people in the name of Congress.
Bhat willingly let Sheikh Abdullah fight from Ganderbal. For Beg, Congressman G H Parray left his seat of Qazigund.
Bhat had a reason to pave way for Sheikh, one he was knowing that the script has been written in Delhi, and then Bhat’s conviction that people should join the mainstream. And popular leader like Sheikh could be of any help.
He says that even if Sheikh would have gone for fresh elections, he would have got absolute majority as he got in 1977 when Congress withdrew support.
Later Bhat joined National Conference in 1984 and remained active till 1990 when his house was blasted. That was the time he decided to shun politics for securing his life. He understood, “it is not advisable to go against the wishes of people always.”
He sees the 1990’s like an eye-opener for people so that there is an understanding that people’s aspirations should not be neglected.
When asked about Sheikh Abdullah, Bhat says that he enjoyed the absolute support of people.
“I have seen him as a leader and his funeral is history in itself. More than 10 lakh people participated,” he said.
Bhat is not happy with the way the people of Kashmir react. He thinks that ‘Kashmiri have destroyed their character.’
“See when Zulfikar Ali Butto gave strike call against the accord, not even a single entity was found on the road. Few days later when Sheikh Abdullah arrived, everything was packed from Qazigund to Lalchowk to greet him and raise slogans ‘leader hamara Sher – i – Kashmir.’
An ardent fan of Sheikh, Bhat says that what Sheikh did by implementing ‘land to tiller’ is something we owe him as thousands of kanals was given to tillers without any compensation. This is what he believes is fetching votes for National Conference even this time.
“Contribution of Sheikh Sahab like Land abolition act, free education and other various measures are what people still remember and vote for,” he said.
But later what Bhat saw, still pains him when Indra Gandhi came to Kashmir and said that,” there are two Sheikh’s in the subcontinent, one is Sheikh from Bangladesh and other is yours. I am afraid neither of the two. And you know, Sheikh Abdullah is a toothless lion, who can roar but cannot bite.”
This, Bhat says was disrespect to the personality who actually made Kashmir part of India.
In 1984 Congress high command again asked Bhat to fight against National Conference, but he refused to say that, ‘my resignation was for a political cause and how can I oppose it now.’
Bhat is of the opinion that the dethronement of Dr Farooq in 1984 was the main reason why people started to get alienated from New Delhi.
To substantiate his point, Bhat refers to the book of B K Nehru, Nice Guys Finish Second, “the seriousness of the damage of the dismissal of Dr Farooq in 1984 has never really been assessed. My own view is that the Kashmiri’s, who had recovered considerably from their anti-Indian feelings when their chosen representatives, the Sher-i-Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, and his son Dr Farooq Abdullah ruled over them were convinced now at the second dethronement of their elected ruler that India would never permit them to rule themselves.”
He further quotes from the book, “It is my belief that it was this disastrous dismissal which was the last straw that broke the camels back and to which the intifada which has lasted six years can be traced.”
B K Nehru was the uncle of Indra Gandhi who opposed the move but was forcibly removed from the post of Governor and shifted to Maharashtra. Later Jagmohan was brought in and Dr Farooq was dethroned.
Bhat firmly believes that there was no ‘rigging’ in the elections of 1987 in Ganderbal. But he adds that it was because of Kuka Parrey that the 1996 elections happened.
Bhat’s family was not happy with his decision of leaving politics. Though he was again offered to contest elections when militancy was at its peak, assuring him of his success, but he rejected. He is convinced that leaving was better than staying.
A close observer of politics in Kashmir, Bhat feels that no matter who runs the state, but ultimately their wicket is taken out by LBW.
“Ultimately they are taken away by LBW, when though wickets are not present,” he said while laughing.
Bhat believes that the key of politics does not lie in Kashmir but in New Delhi.
“There would be deliberations going on right now who will form the next government,” he said.
Quoting an instance Bhat says that when Late Abdul Gani Lone asked senior lawyer Ram Jeth Malani that, ‘why India does not allow free and fair elections in Kashmir, the response he got was that, ‘do you want we should handover Kashmir on the ballot paper to Pakistan. As every Kashmiri is Pakistani.”
Regarding the Kashmir issue, he says that the problem world knows is that the ‘Kashmir Problem’, Jammu or Ladakh has nothing to do with it. He reiterates that finding a solution to Kashmir would be, ‘searching of the black cat by a blind man during the night in the black room, and the thing is that there is no cat.”