by Tarushi Aswani
Undermining Sheikh’s contribution to the accession of Kashmir to India, removal of Sheikh’s birth anniversary from holiday list, erasing his name, demeaning the significance of his legacy is tantamount to denying him the due credit of Kashmir’s connect with India
When on August 5, 2019, Government of India read down Article 370, subsequently jailing a majority of political leadership in the valley and sending several other Kashmiris to different jails across the country, they did not just wish to eradicate the article alone. Following the abrogation of the articles that granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, a guaranteed condition and a significant prerequisite that freed millions of Kashmiris from the maligns of monarchy, Kashmir saw repressive, regressive measures that have now newly shaped their perspective of India.
Of the many injustices done to contain Kashmiris inside the quietude of their homes, the BJP led government began reshaping and renaming the region after it severed Ladakh from the state, demoting both to UT status.
While the BJP successfully uninstalled and reinstalled persons of interest, laid a piercing blockade overshadowing Kashmiri economy for month’s altogether, it also began its long-awaited project of erasing the legacy of a Kashmiri Muslim politician responsible for democracy in Kashmir.
From the removal of Sheikh Abdullah’s birth anniversary from this year’s list of official holidays to the removal of his name from police gallantry medals. Leaning further on this, SKICC was also amid talks to drop the prefix Sher-i-Kashmir, but then the process was halted for reasons best known to the authorities.
Sher-i-Kashmir is not just a prefix or a titular claim that can be passed on or faded away; it is the first chapter in the democratic political history of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiris from different political leaning and forays may share differences regarding Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s role and rapport but that doesn’t give BJP the authority to saffronize Kashmiri history. The Sher-i-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar, named after National Conference (NC) founder Sheikh Abdullah, was also under consideration to be renamed after Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Kashmir’s Water Supply Department is now called the Jal Skakti Department while the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel is named after the Hindutva ideologue Shyama Prasad Mookerjee.
Does the answer to this name changing spree lie in BJP’s will to Hinduise Kashmiri History?
Undermining Sheikh’s contribution to the accession of Kashmir to India, removal of Sheikh’s birth anniversary from holiday list, erasing his name, demeaning the significance of his legacy is tantamount to denying him the due credit of Kashmir’s connect with India, cropping out Kashmir’s face in Indian history and completely discrediting the instrument of accession that India has held as a proof of Kashmir’s will to join the Indian union.
On similar lines, removal of Martyrs’ Day from the holiday calendar tries to whitewash the atrocities of the monarch Hari Singh. While India’s freedom struggle is well known and well documented, even Kashmir was struggling for democracy just like the rest of India, but by removing Martyrs’ Day, BJP government has yet again tried to undermine Kashmir’s struggle for independence and democracy.
Sheikh Abdullah, who’s decision to align with India only helped India further to materialize its goal of harmony in secularism and diversity, still resonates in Indian Muslims resolve to display their love for their country despite being tainted as ‘Pakistani’ by Hindutva brigades. A patron of secularism in Kashmir, Abdullah’s tenure echoed with the slogan, ‘land to the tiller, wherein he gave every state subject the right to ownership of property. Radical land reforms in Kashmir, which were among the first initiatives of Abdullah’s government, have been read as impactful and intensive in terms of land redistribution, unparalleled to any such activity in the world over.
BJP in all its intents and purposes wishes to push Kashmiri leaders’ struggle for the cause of India into the black hole of oblivion. By trying their best to erase Sheikh Abdullah’s name, demean his contribution, and trying to effortlessly inject into the cognizance of Kashmir, an admiration for the Maharaja, the BJP is tirelessly trying to Hinduise the memory of Kashmir. Martyrs’ Day is a day of commemoration for those who lost their lives striving against the tyrannical Maharaja, a Hindu ruler; he is BJP’s choice to represent Kashmir. While Abdullah contravened the two-nation theory expressing his bent to join a secular India, completely ignoring the idea of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, his Muslim identity has now come in the way of him retaining his legacy under BJP Raj.
Not to forget, the larger narrative of bringing Kashmiri Pandits back to their ‘homeland’, the BJP is trying to establish another Jammu in Kashmir; Hinduising Kashmir is BJP’s way of asserting Hindu sacral claim over Kashmir. When BJP strips Kashmir of Abdullah’s historical contribution to the state, BJP brazenly reflects its effort to discredit each and every Muslim who places the idea of India above their religious inclination.
It is not just Abdullah as a political figure that the BJP is burying deeper than 6 feet, it is Kashmir as the only Muslim majority state in India, it is Kashmir’s special status, it is Kashmir’s own constitution and its own flag that complimented the Indian flag in presence and spirit when raised together, that BJP is trying to mummify in the coffins of Hindutva.
Endorsing Jammu’s monarch at the cost of discrediting Kashmir’s Muslim secularist, BJP is rejecting his entire struggle for the accession of Kashmir and in the same breath acknowledging a monarch who only agreed to lean towards India when the region was met with uncontainable violence in October 1947.
Does BJP’s campaign to erase Sheikh Abdullah’s legacy smell of revenge for Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s death?
As John F Kennedy said, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.” It was Jana Sangh’s Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s idea that led him to his arrest in Srinagar for vociferously opposing Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Mookerjee was arrested by the police while entering the state on May 11, 1953. He died during his detention in June 1953 at a prison in Srinagar.
While many from the same ideology expressed that August 5, 2019, was the materialization of SPM’s dream to scrap Article 370, the aftermath of the abrogation has only seen BJP’s enormous efforts towards the removal of the essence of Sheikh Abdullah from any and every institution that stands in the way of Hinduising Kashmir’s History.
With BJP’s Hindutva rhetoric that has claimed manifold Muslim lives across India in sporadic incidents, its growing desire to paint Kashmir in saffron is manifesting itself in its moves where it disowns the secular Kashmir of Sheikh Abdullah only to endorse the Hindu Kashmir of a monarch who was responsible for killing many Muslims in the same year the Kashmir acceded to India.
(The author is a freelance journalist and a student of Global Studies. Ideas expressed are personal. She tweets at @tarushi_aswani)