Those 4 Days

After Pandit Nehru withdrew the Kashmir Conspiracy Case against him on April 8, 1964, Sheikh Abdullah was his personal guest in Delhi’s Teen Murti House. Later, Sheikh flew to Pakistan to negotiate a summit-level meeting between India and Pakistan but cut short his visit on the fourth day when Nehru died. On Nehru’s 51st death anniversary, R S Gull revisits the era to unravel the failure of Delhi’s first and perhaps the last initiative to negotiate Kashmir settlement


Meeting his mentor and tormentor for the first time on April 29, 1964, twenty days after walking free from Jammu jail, Sheikh Abdullah found Pandit Nehru visibly weak with a wrinkled face and hunched back. Hosting him at his Teen Murti House, Nehru had sent Indira and a minister to receive him at Palam. His biography Aatish-e-Chinar mentions Nehru felt sorry for the incidents of the past and expressed his sorrow over it.

In Delhi, Nehru would take utmost care of his guest, visiting him twice and even thrice a day. Far away from the media glare, they would discuss Kashmir behind the curtains. The ‘talks’ involving a just-released ‘conspirator’ who wanted to carve out sovereign Kashmir state and the Prime Minister, at latter’s residence, got the global media hype.

It panicked Rawalpindi. As the tango was still on, a cable landed at Teen Murti House conveying Delhi’s “bilateral talks” (with Sheikh and Delhi) would not be a “binding on Pakistan”. In the follow up to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, a demoralized Indian diplomacy was so keen to have good neighbourly relations with non-Chinese states around.

Sheikh’s biography (pp 771-789) says Nehru wanted to fly to Pakistan but his frail health did not permit. “It was decided that I should fly to Rawalpindi and convince General Ayub Khan to come to India,” Aatish-e-Chinar says, “I was supposed to work as a bridge.”

This development added more flap to media coverage. Voices against the idea got shriller. Even Atal Behari Vajpayee, now being credited for his peace efforts, would describe Sheikh as a firm believer in “three-nation theory”.

Delhi started firefighting. Sheikh went to Madras (now Chennai) and met C Rajagopalachari aka Rajaji, erstwhile Nehru associate, statesman and Swatantra Party founder, whom he describes “nation’s conscience keeper” and had a detailed discussion with Gandhian leader Vinoba Bhave in Pune. He later met President Radha Krishnan and his deputy Zakir Hussain, besides Jaiprakash Narayanan whose couple of commentaries in Hindustan Times had triggered an intense debate. This exercise concluded in Bombay (now Mumbai) where Nehru made, perhaps the last speech of his political career, that Kashmir dominated. On May 23, Sheikh had his last handshake with Nehru when the latter flew to Dehradun for rest. The next morning, Sheikh was on board PIA to Pakistan.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah being received in Pakistan when he flew on a brief visit in 1964. The visit was cut short as Nehru passed away forcing Abdullah to fly home. This photograph was taken on May 24, 1964, at Chaklala Air Base in Pakistan.

The visit was of Himalayan importance to Kashmir. Author of Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy 1846-1990 historian Alistair Lamb admits the importance. “Jaiprakash Narainan had termed Kashmir “a moral and a political issue” and not a dispute over legal technicalities,” Lamb writes. “There was a real chance that Sheikh Abdullah’s efforts would lead to the opening of summit talks between president Ayub Khan and Jawahar Lal Nehru in a more promising atmosphere than had prevailed at any time since the Kashmir problem began”.

Lamb sees “much evidence” suggesting Nehru’s realization that “mere reiteration of the moral rightness of the India case was unlikely to bring about any solution to a problem which was draining the economies of both India and Pakistan and pushing the two nations ever nearer the brink of war.”

In the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), historian Ramachandra Guha in his paper Opening a Window in Kashmir says Nehru was “badly shaken” by China’s armed occupation in 1962 of frontier territories claimed by India and the “debacle” had given him “a fresh incentive to seek a final resolution of the Kashmir question”. He had survived a stroke as well. Unwilling to have two hostile fronts, Delhi had a series of talks with Pakistan post-war. But Guha says Kashmir remained unrepresented on the table.

“As the Hazratbal incidents (theft of holy relic) confirmed, it was scarcely prudent to neglect the sentiments of the people at the centre of the dispute,” Guha wrote. “And who better to take their pulse than Sheikh Abdullah?”

Sheikh was set free on April 8, 1964. After walking out he had a detailed discussion with judge R K Tickoo in whose court the Kashmir Conspiracy Case was tried and eventually rolled back. He later had a dinner meeting with the jail staff with whom he had spent years and soon after Sheikh was out on the street. In the middle of his mass contact programme, Nehru invited him to Delhi. Instead, Sheikh went to Jammu and most of Chenab Valley and then crossed over to Kashmir speaking to huge welcome crowds with insistence, as Guha puts it, on two things: the rise of communal forces and hope that Nehru could settle Kashmir once for all.

Sheikh Abdullah being received by PaK premier K H Khursheed at Chaklala Airport in Rawalpandi outskirts in 1964.
Sheikh Abdullah was received by PaK premier K H Khursheed at Chaklala Airport in Rawalpindi outskirts in 1964.

In Kashmir, Sheikh had detailed consultations with his colleagues and even with Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq. The core of his focus was to stay away from communalism and seek a just solution to Kashmir which will not have any consequences either for 10 million Hindus in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) or for 50 million Muslims living in India. These sermons, Guha quotes Hindustan Times reporting, was an indication suggesting Sheikh had “changed his mind about a plebiscite” fearing it “might cause an upheaval in the subcontinent.”

Then Sheikh flew to Delhi and was Nehru’s guest for five days. But his four-hour long meeting with Rajaji was the major development as the two “evolved” a way out for removing the “cancer” (Kashmir) from the body politic of India and Pakistan. The “honourable” solution, as Guha quotes Sheikh saying, was not giving “a sense of victory either to India or Pakistan” while ensuring “a place of honour” to the people of Kashmir.

Rajaji formula was never made public. Guha, however, has some idea. “This, it appears, was to establish a condominium over Kashmir between India and Pakistan, with defence and external affairs being the joint responsibility of the two governments,” Guha wrote in EPW. “Another possibility was of creating a confederation between India, Pakistan, and Kashmir.”

Formula apart, the more important was that in Delhi, Nehru gave Sheikh three advisers – foreign secretary, YD Gundevia, India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, G Parthasarathi, and VC Aligarh Muslim University, Badruddin Tyabji. Nehru skipped nominating any MP or a minister for the job because his thinking on Sheikh and Pakistan was opposed from within. The Sangh Parivaar was at the forefront of undoing his process.

Guha gives details of the next two days during which Sheikh and Nehru’s committee discussed everything. “All options were discussed: a plebiscite for the entire, undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed before 1947; the maintenance of the status quo; and a fresh division of the state, in which Jammu and Ladakh went to India, Azad Kashmir to Pakistan, with a plebiscite in the Valley to decide its future,” Guha wrote. “Abdullah told the officials that while they could work out the specifics of the solution, he sought one that would: (1) promote Indo-Pakistani friendship; (2) not weaken the secular ideal of the Indian Constitution; (3) not weaken the position of the minorities in either country.” Sheikh had asked them to give him more than one alternative, which he could take with him to Pakistan. His conditions, however, “essentially ruled out a plebiscite”.

With KH Khursheed (right), Sheikh broke down in Muzaffarabad when he heard of Pandit Nehru’s death.
With KH Khursheed (right), Sheikh broke down in Muzaffarabad when he heard of Pandit Nehru’s death.

By May 20, when Sheikh went to Nehru for the final discussions before his visit, Nehru had apparently asked legal experts to explore the implications of a confederation between India, Pakistan, and Kashmir “as a possible solution to our present troubles”, writes Guha. This arrangement would not imply an “annulment” of partition. But “Kashmir would be part of the confederation, with its exact status to be determined by dialogue” amid the possibility of a “customs union of the three units, some form of financial integration, and special provisions for the protection of minorities.”

Interestingly, Inder Malhotra wrote in Indian Express (March 5, 2012) that Delhi had to put its foot down to Sheikh’s idea of visiting Pakistan using the ceasefire line (later LoC). Nehru supported the idea initially but opposed it at the behest of Mirdula Sarabhai, Sheikh’s erstwhile staunch supporter.

When Sheikh went to see his mentor Nehru after his release from jail, he went with a lot many gifts: almonds, honey, saffron and fresh Kashmir flowers. How could he go empty-handed to see Ayub Khan? Among other things, he took a gift of a rare 100-string Santoor, a musical instrument.

But the visit was exceptional. On May 24, when he landed at Chaklala airbase, 13 km from Rawalpindi, the reception was “tumultuous”. Guha quotes Hindustan Times reportage that the welcome “surpassed in intensity and depth that was given to Mr Chouen-Lai in February.” Offering his firsthand account, Sheikh in his biography says he was driven in a closed car but after seeing people on both sides of the road, “I stopped the car and got on top of an escort jeep”.  Khan, he told his biographer Yusuf Taing later, wanted to receive him personally but there were issues of protocol. He had sent his foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to receive him.

On May 25, Sheikh spoke to an impressive gathering in the erstwhile Company Bagh, later renamed Liaqat  Ali Khan Bagh following his assassination there. Sheikh recited verses from Quran and started his speech with the famous couplet: Kisi Kay Aagay Khum Na Hou Saki Meri Gharden – Kisi Jagah Meri Aawaz Aj Tak Na Dabi. Sheikh clearly batted for bilateralism insisting no other power can broker peace between the two neighbours. Third parties, he said, change their stands to suit their national interests. He asked both countries to stay away from communalism and protect the interests of minorities. Prior to his speech he had a closed-door meeting with Ayub Khan for three hours.

In the subsequent discussions on May 26 when Sheikh met Khan for four hours, he managed to convince him to fly to Delhi by the middle of June. It was reported as the success of his ‘diplomacy’ as it was officially conveyed by the two countries that as the two heads of the state would meet, Sheikh will be around. This was, perhaps, for the first and the last time, when Kashmir was apparently taken seriously by the two countries.

Sheikh faced bad press too. Guha quotes Dawn commenting that Sheikh has “taken up the role of an apostle of peace and friendship between Pakistan and India, rather than that of the leader of Kashmir, whose prime objective should be to seek their freedom from Indian bondage.”

Sheikh offers scanty details of his visit. Aatish-e-Chinar quotes him saying that the Pakistani president talked “suspiciously” about Molvi Masoodi and that Molvi Yusuf Shah was “unhappy with Pakistan”. While Sheikh says Muslim League offered him Rs 1 lakh bank cheque which he suggested must go for the welfare of the Kashmiri refugees, he skipped any reference to another Rs 1 lakh bank cheque that JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat presented to him, as Shabnam Qayoom mentions in his Kashmir Ka Siyasi Inquilab (pp 172). Sheikh has merely mentioned his embrace at the airport with Choudhary Ghulam Abbas but C Bilquis Taseer in her From the Kashmir of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah says Abbas had “separate four-five hours discussions with him late at night, away from the Pakistan intelligence people, by whom Sheikh Abdullah was surrounded…” (pp 186).

In his biography Friends, Not Masters Ayub Khan revealed that Sheikh had come with “the absurd proposal” for a confederation between India, Pakistan and Kashmir. “It is curious that whereas we were seeking the salvation of Kashmiris, they had been forced to mention an idea which, if pursued, would lead to our enslavement,” Ayub Khan wrote. “It was clear that this was what Mr Nehru had told them to say to us.” Later in 1967 when the book was shown to Sheikh, then in jail at Kodaikanal, he refused to say so. “As we were talking, he (Khan) said confederation was not a way out, I said I did not suggest so,” reads Aatish-e-Chinar. “Later, he wrote the same in his book and I wrote a letter to him saying the suggestion was not there either from me or from Nehru, I only wanted to get the two countries talk.”

During his brief Pakistan tour in 1964, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is seen (from L to R) with Mirwaiz Mohammad Yousuf Shah, Choudhary M Afzal Cheema (the then Deputy Speaker of Pakistan assembly), Choudhary Ghulam Abas and Pakistan President General Ayub Khan.

On May 27, Sheikh left for Muzaffarabad. Preparations for receiving him were underway on a massive scale. In the outskirts of the town, he was informed of Nehru death. Sheikh broke down and the subsequent gathering converted into mourning. With K H Khursheed on his side, Sheikh openly admitted his mission’s failure. They had some lunch and returned to Rawalpindi where on his suggestion Ayub Khan asked Bhutto to represent Pakistan in Nehru’s last rites. As the aircraft flew to Delhi, the two did not talk much.

In Srinagar, Sheikh had said he might have to shuttle between Delhi and Rawalpindi quite often. He had planned his ‘maiden visit’ to be more than a fortnight and it included East Pakistan. But Nehru’s death changed everything, starting from his abortive mission.

At Teen Murti House, when Sheikh saw a motionless Nehru, Guha says, Sheikh “cried like a child”, later placed the wreath on his corpse, accompanied the procession for cremation and was seen weeping unrestrainedly amid throwing flowers onto the flames. Many days later, he flew with part of Nehru’s mortal remains and immersed them in Sindh and Jhelum.

Sheikh had not gone alone. He was accompanied by his son Farooq, his alter ego Afzal Beig, Molvi Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi, Mabarak Shah, Mabarak Shah Naqshbandi and Choudhary Mohammad Shafi Baghseri. Two persons did not accompany him back to Delhi to mourn Nehru’s death – Dr Farooq Abdullah and Sheikh Abdul Rashid.

“Farooq was looking down at the drop of the (Khyber) dam, holding onto the railing, when Ashahi (the Kashmiri engineer who built that dam in NWFP) greeted him and told him he had some very bad news to give him,” Aditya Sinha writes in his Farooq Abdullah, Kashmiri’s Prodigal Son – A Biography (pp 73). “Farooq’s heart sank… The shock of this unexpected tragedy was so severe that Farooq almost lost his balance and fell into the dam.” Initially, Farooq expected his father might have been shot dead by a tribesman in PaK!

As Sheikh with his delegation and more than 40 reporters from across India and the world landed in Pakistan, Badshah Khan had sent his son Wali to invite Sheikh to NWFP. As Sheikh left for Muzaffarabad, he advised his son to pay a return visit and accept the invitation. He was flown to Peshawar and escorted to Charsadda where he met Khan. Later he went sightseeing, started from Daraa-ie-Khyber and then visited Phil Edmonds, the erstwhile Principal of Biscoe School, whom Bakhshi had deported and later went to see the dam where he got information of Nehru’s death.

Back to Rawalpindi, Farooq and his cousin Rashid went to Ayub Khan and desired to stay back and continue their visit. His visit was apparently apolitical. When his father was negotiating with Ayub Khan, Dr Abdullah was playing golf with Pakistan Army Chief General Musa at the Rawalpindi Golf Club. After getting his visit cleared, Dr Abdullah drove to Lahore and stayed in the hotel that Nedous’, his mother’s family, owned before partition. He visited Karachi; spoke to various Kashmir groups, and then went to East Pakistan. On his return from Dacca, he met Ayub Khan, again, and returned home.

Nothing much changed. Leaders in Delhi initially said the flickering hopes of peace would be pursued. Sheikh visited his son in February 1965 and then flew to Algeria where he met visiting Chinese premier Chouen-Lai. Panicked Delhi withdrew his passport. In Saudi Arabia, his passport was formally impounded. Both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had offered him their passport which he refused. Instead, he flew to Delhi where he was arrested and jailed in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. Domestic compulsions in Pakistan forced Khan to go for war which broke out in August 1965 which stopped after three weeks with third-party intervention. The status quo remained in force amid wars in 1972 and later in 1999. Kashmiri leaders shuttled between Delhi and Islamabad, especially after the 1990s, but failed.

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