Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah: Tragic Hero of Kashmir is the first comprehensive, well-documented account of the life of the charismatic leader, the Lion of Kashmir, who contributed crucially to the making of modern India in terms of territory and more importantly to its founding ideology of secularism.
Kashmir was the scene of a distinctive political transformation in the late 1930s. In contrast to the rise of the Muslim League in much of the subcontinent –which was to lead to Partition – the most popular party in the Valley turned away from communal politics and embraced secularism. On 11 June 1939, Sheikh Abdullah was successful in changing the name of the party he was leading from Kashmir Muslim Conference to National conference.
The author traces the historic developments that followed this unique commitment to secularism inspired by Sheikh Abdullah. It also paved the way for Jammu and Kashmir to accede to India and resist aggression from Pakistan.
Backed by Nehru’s friendship, Abdullah rose to become the first popular prime minister of the state, but also the target of conservative and communal forces in India. His demand that the pledge of special status for the state in the accession documents by honoured was described as anti-national, even pro-Pakistan.
The intrigue that led to Abdullah’s downfall and arrest on 8 August 1953, is well-documented as is the role of the Home Ministry’s Intelligence Bureau. The elaborate conspiracy case it built up was belatedly rejected by Nehru himself. Drawing upon a wide range of sources, the author takes us through Abdullah’s long, tragic periods of detention until he was persuaded to return to Jammu and Kashmir as chief minister. He demonstrated his continuing popularity by winning an election before his death in 1982.
A veteran journalist and former editor of the Hindustan Times and the Indian Express, Ajit Bhattacharjea has covered Kashmir since 1947. He has authored several books including Dateline Bangladesh; Kashmir: The Wounded Valley; Countdown to Partition; and, Unfinished Revolution: A Political Biography of Jayaprakash Narayan.
Unforgettable recollections of Srinagar as an island of amity in a sea of religious bloodshed in the Indian subcontinent inspire the writing of this book. The contrast between the cordial atmosphere of Srinagar and the foetid communal fear still stalking Delhi in October 1947, from where I had flown, exceeded even the first enchanting impression of the beauty of the Valley. It provided a ray of hope that secularism could survive in India.
In the capital of India, as in much of the north of India, Muslims were under attack in reprisal for the bloody eviction of Hindus and Sikhs from the newly-born Islamic state of Pakistan. Yet in the capital of Kashmir there was no sign of religious tension: its Muslim inhabitants were helping newly-arrived elements of the Indian Army, Hindu and Sikh, to defend the city against advancing Pathan lashkars. The invaders came from the tribal area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and had been armed by Pakistan. Though portrayed as fellow-Muslims intending to free Kashmiris from the oppressive rule of a Hindu maharaja, they plundered all who crossed their path ...
The man whose charismatic leadership strengthened this unique delinking of nationalism from religious intolerance-an inflammable mixture still haunting India and 'he world-was Sheikh Abdullah. His commitment to secularism, socialism, and campaign for azaadi (freedom from oppression) motivated his people to rebuff the appeal of religious politics sweeping the subcontinent. The foundations of the transformation were laid by changing the name of the party he led in the struggle for popular rule against the maharaja from Muslim Conference to Kashmir National Conference, open to all communities. The historic date was II June 1939. The stirring manifesto of the new party was no less revolutionary. Echoing the socialist thinking of the I930s, it promised, among other reforms, land to the tiller without compensation, a commitment that laid the foundations of the party's popularity among the vast majority of Kashmiris. Abdullah came to be known as Sher-e- Kashmir, Lion of Kashmir.
Secularism was further strengthened and history made on 26 October 1947 when, with Abdullah's support, the predominantly Muslim princely state of Jammu and Kashmir joined the Indian Union rather than the adjoining Islamic state of Pakistan. In the rest of India, the accession helped Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to douse Hindu communal reactions to Partition. Gandhi was moved to tell a prayer meeting on 29 December 1947, two months after the state joined the Indian Union:
It must be evident to the outsider, as it is to me, that Kashmir must be lost to the invaders, otherwise called the raiders, if Sheikh Abdullah Saheb's effort to hold together the Muslims and the minority [in the valley] fails ... My sole hope and prayer is that Kashmir become a beacon of light in this benighted subcontinent.
Earlier, reacting to continuing fratricidal killings in Delhi and elsewhere, Gandhi had besought his maker on his birthday, 2 October, to take him away; he could not witness them any 10nger.3 Nehru, for his part, announced that he would resign if people did not have faith in his secular leadership, but so long as he was at the helm of affairs, India would not become a Hindu state:
I am at liberty to give up my responsibility if the people of India cease to have faith in the lead that I give. If they do not subscribe to my ideals and are not prepared to cooperate with me then I will have no choice but to resign and continue the fight for the establishment of a State where every citizen enjoys equal rights irrespective of his religion.
On 2 November, a week after the first contingent of Indian troops landed in Srinagar, a revitalized prime minister broadcast to the nation:
It would be well if this lesson was understood by the whole of India which has been poisoned by communal strife. Under the inspiration of a great leader, Sheikh Abdullah, the people of the valley, Muslim and Hindu and Sikh, were together in the defence of their common country against the invader. Our troops could have done little without this popular support and cooperation.
Secularism had become an article of faith for Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's party, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. They formed a volunteer militia to resist the tribal attack and provide transport and guides to the Indian soldiers. It was cruelly tested when Indian troops landed in Srinagar. Sikh soldiers had been flown there directly, still tense from patrolling shoot-at-sight, riot-crazed areas near Delhi. Soon after arrival, while guarding the airfield, they mistakenly fired at a group of National Conference militia who approached to brief them. Seven died. Those gathered to welcome the Indian troops were shocked and enraged. Less than a week had elapsed since Maharaja Hari Singh has signed the Instrument of Accession to India and Indian troops had landed in Srinagar claiming popular support. Now the tragic incident could turn popular opinion against India.
Pran Nath Jalali, then a young communist political commander in the National Conference militia, was there and maintained notes in his diary. The soldiers had buried the victims near the airport road. They had been disinterred by a pro-Pakistan group linked to the Indian Muslim League who saw an opportunity to turn popular opinion against India: The bodies were borne in procession towards the city. They were on the verge of entering the crowded area when the father of one of the victims, Gulam Mohammad Khan, intervened. Holding up the body of his son, Mohammad Ramzan Khan, he proclaimed: 'This is my sacrifice for Hindu-Muslim unity: One of the victims happened to be a Hindu. The agitated crowd melted away. The names of the man whose magnificent gesture averted possible disaster and his son were recorded by Jalali, together with those of the victims of the tragedy. After learning of this crucial but unrecorded incident, I paid my respects at the modest graves of Gulam Mohammad Khan and Mohammad Ramzan Khan in a neglected family graveyard in the heart of Srinagar.
The version of Lt Gen. L.P. (Bogey) Sen, who was commanding the troops in Srinagar at the time, confirms the serious nature of the incident but differs on the number of victims:
On the night of November 5, an unfortunate incident occurred involving a party of National Conference volunteers. Returning to Srinagar from a patrol in the Badgam area, it approached the positions held by I Sikh after darkness had set in. It was challenged, but instead of answering the challenge they started to run. The I Sikh. sentry opened fire at the fleeing personnel, firing more at the sound than any specific target. The next morning the bodies of two men [Sen seems to have been misinformed] were found fifty yards from the I Sikh outpost. The unit could not be held to blame for the incident, as it was impossible to see the enemy in the dark and they well might have been the enemy. Where the unit did err was that the bodies having been recovered were buried in slit trenches in the unit's position, and Brigade Headquarters was not informed.
The news that two of his volunteers had been killed reached Sheikh Abdullah first thing the next morning, and he asked me to meet him. I had fortunately been informed by Major Kak of the reason for the meeting. I arrived at Sheikh Abdullah's house to be greeted by an infuriated individual. I offered him my deepest sympathies that such an unfortunate incident should have cost two lives, but impressed on him that it was the result of a genuine mistake ... He was very upset and it took time for him to accept that explanation, whereupon he climbed down. Dissident elements, however, decided to make capital out of the incident. I had no option but to move I Sikh out of its position. No sooner had I Sikh evacuated its position... then certain locals dug up the two bodies and carried them in procession through the main roads of the city ...
SEEDS OF DOWNFALL
Sheikh Abdullah rose to become prime minister of the state, but also became the target of communal forces let loose by the decision to partition British India. Against this background, the bold attempt to reinforce secularism through Kashmir's example required exceptional unity of direction and purpose in New Delhi. Instead, the rise of Abdullah evoked contrary reactions. While India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, backed him for his secular and socialist commitment, his powerful home minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, disttusted his demand for autonomy and represented forces that doubted the loyalty of Muslims to India after Partition. Some Congress leaders sided with Patel, together with Hindu communal leaders.P Differences on Kashmir with Nehru led Patel to offer to resign but were papered over," Within the state, the last maharani, Tara Devi, took revenge for the eviction of the last maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, Hari Singh, by fomenting Hindu reaction.
In May 1951, Abdullah delivered a historic address to the inaugural session of the Kashmir Constituent Assembly, describing the choices before the state. While regarding the option of independence as attractive, he described it as impractical and stressed the advantages of an autonomous link with India, notwithstanding the status of Muslims as a minority in the country. He rejected joining Pakistan outright. (Appendix Two) The inspirational address was prefaced by recalling the lasting impress of Kashmir's traditions of tolerance, later known as kashmiryat.
After centuries, we have reached the harbour of our freedom ...Once again in the history of this State, our people have reached a peak of achievement through what I might call the classical Kashmiri genius for synthesis, born of toleration and mutual respect. Throughout the long tale of our history, the highest pinnacles of our achievement have been scaled when religious bigotry and intolerance ceased to cramp us and we have breathed the wider air of brotherhood and mutual understanding.
However, kashmiryat also meant resisting too close an integration with India. It was Nehru's recognition of Kashmir's desire for self- determination that had persuaded Abdullah to link its fate with India's. This was reiterated in one of Nehru's great liberal pronouncements in the Indian parliament on 7 August 1952. Speaking on the relationship between Kashmir and India in the context of proposals for plebiscite, he said:
So while the accession was complete in law and in fact, the other fact that has nothing to do with the law remains, our pledge to the people of Kashmir-if you like to the people of the world-that this matter could be affirmed or cancelled by the people of Kashmir according to their wishes. We do not wish to win people against their will with the help of armed force; and if the people of Kashmir wish to part company with us, they may go their way and we shall go ours. We want no forced marriages, no forced unions.
Yet when Abdullah demanded the special autonomous status promised when the state acceded (Appendix One), the campaign to label him anti- national gathered strength. He had countered Muslim communalism in the Valley but was falling victim to Hindu revivalism in India. Doubts about him were voiced in the Indian parliament. Patel assigned the director of the Intelligence Bureau, B.N. Mullick, to spy on him.
UN Security Council debates on Kashmir and preparations for a plebiscite in the state, revived communal tensions. A letter from Abdullah to Nehru dated 10 July 1950, expressed the predicament in which he was placed:
It is clear that there are powerful influences at work in India who do not see eye to eye with you regarding your ideal of making the Union a truly secular state and your Kashmir policy. Their constant endeavour is to weaken you and in order to achieve this purpose they think it necessary to bring down all those who are loyal and attached to you ... While I can willingly go down and sacrifice myself for you, I am afraid as the guardian of 40 lacs of Kashmiris, I cannot barter away their cherished rights and privileges. I have several times stated that we acceded to India because we saw there two bright stars of hope and aspiration, namely Gandhiji and yourself, and despite our having so many affinities with Pakistan we did not join it because we thought our programme will not fit their policy. If, however, we are driven to the conclusion that we cannot build our State on our own lines, suited to our genius, what answer can I give to our people?
STRIPPED OF OFFICE
Frustrated and uncertain, Abdullah spoke of self-determination and expressed concern about the advance of Hindu communalism in India. The campaign against him heightened when it became known that he had met American diplomats. It reached crescendo when Syama Prasad Mookerjee, president of the Jana Sangh, a party newly formed to foster Hindutva sentiment, died of heart failure on 23 June 1953, during a visit to Srinagar. Rumours were spread that Abdullah had become communal and was responsible. Six weeks later, framed by Mullick, in August 1953 he was stripped of the prime minister's office and detained on unproven charges of complicity with Pakistan.
Ironically, it was their concern for secularism that separated Nehru and Abdullah, after drawing them together against Pakistan's two-nation theory. Fear of forces pressing for full forcible integration with India impelled Abdullah to push for greater independence. He perceived them as driven by Hindutva parties that threatened the secular base he had shored up to divert the Muslims of the Valley from joining Pakistan. However, when his reaction was interpreted as a move to form another Pakistan, Nehru distanced himself from him, fearing that it would unleash a backlash against Muslims in the rest of India. Muslim leaders were already worried. Among those who turned against Abdullah was Congress president Abul Kalam Azad. Another leading Congress Muslim cabinet minister, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, who had personal differences with Abdullah, supervised the coup.
International trends in the early I950s had made Nehru ultra- sensitive to developments posing a threat to his vision of a non-aligned India capable of countering Cold War intrigues, in which Kashmir was a target. The revival of Abdullah's vision of independence, or a Sikkim or Bhutan type of limited association with India, amplified the threat. Communists, who had helped draft the party's manifesto, abruptly turned against him under Moscow's orders. His meetings with US diplomats made him suspect. They outdid Hindutva spokesmen in portraying him as anti-national, and Nehru reluctantly decided to divest him of office in August 1953. His successor, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, ensured his prolonged detention with the aid of conspiracy charges trumped up by the Home Ministry's Intelligence Bureau.
Nehru realized that he did not have long to live when he insisted on Abdullah's release, and made the gesture of inviting him to stay at the prime minister's house. Abdullah recalled: 'Panditji expressed his deep anguish and sorrow at the past incidents. I also became very emotional and told him that I was very glad to have convinced him that I was not disloyal to him personally or to India: Nehru reiterated confidence in his secular credentials by sending him on a mission to Pakistan. Abdullah cut short his mission on 24 May 1964 to fly back to Delhi to weep at his friend's funeral pyre.
A life replete with struggle for azaadi ended in a compromise. In 1974, while again in detention, a tired, ageing Sheikh made a deal with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Anxious to salvage glimpses of his vision for his Valley, he accepted the finality of accession and regained the limited powers of chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir (he had been prime minister earlier) in the hope of regaining some elements of the autonomy whittled away during his long years of detention. This too was however denied. He was criticized in the Valley, and some young men accepted offers of training in arms in Pakistan-held Kashmir. Yet his commitment to secularism remained undiminished. Among his last acts were to order closure of the network of fundamentalist schools run in Kashmir by the Jamaat-i-Islami funded by Arab money and ban a convention planned by its youth organization. Jamaat-i-Tulba, to be held in Srinagar in I981.
The Lion of Kashmir died in 1982. The crowds that lined the entire route to the lakeside meadow adjoining Hazratbal Mosque where he was interred were so dense that Indira Gandhi was obliged to abandon her car and be ferried by boat to the site. His compromise however cost him dear. Today, the house he and his begum built in Saura, the village where he was born, remains unreconstructed after it was burnt by militants.
An era had ended; an era in which men with the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah made history by trying to understand each other and to reconcile ethnic differences with national concerns without resorting to violence. Abdullah recalled his vital contribution with pride in his memoirs:
One can say without fear of contradiction that the two-nation theory suffered its first severe defeat in Kashmir. Kashmir played a vital part in keeping the torch of secularism lit in India.
September-October 1947 were among the worst months Delhi has known during its long turbulent history as India's capital. The separation of areas with a Muslim majority to form Pakistan out of what had been British India until Independence on IS August 1947, provoked a mass exchange of populations in the divided province of Punjab in the northern half of the subcontinent. Hindus and Sikhs were driven out of the Islamic state of Pakistan; Muslims from the adjoining northern half of the fledgling Indian Union. Barbaric acts of killing and rape were reported from both sides of the new border.
Adjoining Punjab, Delhi could not be isolated from the thirst for revenge amongst Hindu and Sikhs refugees from Pakistan. Most of its Muslim residents were forced out of their homes to take refuge in medieval monuments protected by the army. Those unable to escape were hunted down. Notwithstanding their commitment to secularism, Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru seemed unable to stem the tide of violence. Some of their colleagues, too, were infected by the communal virus.
The only glimmer of hope came from Kashmir, where the people, though over ninety per cent Muslims, continued to resist the two-nation theory-that Hindus and Muslims could not coexist- which was the raison d'etre for the foundation of Pakistan. No communal riots marred the Valley. Kashmiris had been inspired by the politico-secular philosophy of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. He emerged as their leader in the early 1930s, when the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir was still under British protection. When the British withdrew, the state was free to join India or Pakistan or become independent.
On 22 October 1947, Pakistan inducted some 5000 armed Pathan tribals into the Valley to force a decision. They had reached the outskirts of Srinagar when Maharaja Hari Singh reluctantly acceded to India on 26 October to secure armed help. Reiterating his commitment to secularism, Sheikh Abdullah endorsed the accession. Workers of his National Conference party provided local security and the transport required by the first elements of the Indian Army flown in to repel the raiders.
Four days later I was offered an opportunity to fly to Srinagar. Civil aircraft had been requisitioned to fly troops and supplies to the beleaguered capital of Kashmir. Captain J.C. Kathpalia, a pilot and family friend, offered to take me, then a fledgling reporter with the Hindustan Times, along. The seats of his Dakota had been taken out and replaced by fuel tanks; I squeezed into the space between. After passing low over the Banihal Pass, we seemed to enter a different world. The view unfolding before us---green rice fields watered by gushing streams, rows of russet chinars and tall poplar trees, the blue expanse of the Dal Lake, the winding Jhelum river coursing through a valley encircled by high snow-covered mountain ranges--contrasted with the plain, dun-hued landscape over which we had been flying.
On landing at Srinagar's dirt airstrip we found the contrast with Delhi no less striking. The beards and baggy attire of the men unloading the Dakota aircraft lined up beside the airstrip identified them as Muslim, as were the drivers of the trucks and buses waiting to transport men and weapons to counter the tribal raiders. The airborne troops would have been immobilized without their support. By then the tribal raiders had been pushed back from their furthest advance to the outskirts of the airfield. Control of the airfield was crucial; despatching troops by land over narrow roads and the perilous Banihal Pass would have taken too long to save Srinagar and the Valley.
When we got a lift into the town, we saw no police or army checkposts. Nearer Srinagar, however, crossroads and viaducts, and the bridge over the Jhelurn were guarded by the lathi-armed militia, lacking uniforms but bearing the red flag inscribed with a plough of the National Conference, the party Abdullah had pledged to secularism a decade earlier. I When I identified myself as a reporter with the Hindustan Times, we were waved on. The leader of the group on the Jhelurn bridge advised me to tell people in Delhi what I was seeing. Shops were open. In Lal Chowk, the heart of the city, turbaned Sikhs and sari-clad women walked freely on the streets. We returned to Delhi reassured. My photographs of National Conference volunteers in Srinagar appeared in the newspaper.
The saving of Srinagar proved to be a turning point in the history of the subcontinent. Had it fallen, Kashmir could not have been held by India, but more important than the battle for territory was the battle in the minds of men. After the shock of the Partition killings, the prospect of newly-independent India growing into the pluralistic, secular state envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Congress party during the freedom struggle seemed slender. The forces of Hindu fundamentalism had been strengthened, but when Srinagar demonstrated that a Muslim people could fight for the secular ideal and resist the two-nation theory on which Pakistan was based, Gandhi and Nehru were revitalized. The difference between their pronouncements before and after the defence of Srinagar testified to the crucial nature of the change.
Sheikh Abdullah became the symbol and guardian of secularism. His unique achievement of transforming the Muslim Conference, a party based on appealing to the religious sentiment of the vast majority of Kashrniris, into the National Conference that reached out to all religions in the struggle for azaadi, was recalled. He was able partly to lessen the resentment, bred by discrimination against Muslims by the Dogra rulers, against the miniscule Hindu Pandit community. The National Conference organized the defence of Srinagar even before the Indian Army arrived; Maharaja Hari Singh and his administration had fled the capital.
The National Conference had committed itself to secularism a decade earlier. It had also adopted the wide-ranging 'Naya Kashmir' (New Kashmir) programme promising revolutionary political and socio-economic change. Jawaharlal Nehru had similar socialist views and had known Abdullah since 1938. He supported his movement against Dogra rule and was detained in June 1946 trying to enter Kashmir to defend Abdullah who was under arrest. Even after Nehru became prime minister, Hari Singh resisted his entry into his domain. However, the series of events that followed changed the course of history.
Up to 22 October 1947, Hari Singh was hoping to become independent after British rule ended by playing India and Pakistan, both neighbours of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, against each other. That day, Pakistan initiated 'Operation Gulmarg', the truck-borne invasion by Pathan tribals into Kashmir territory at Muzaffarabad. The planners had been encouraged by uprisings in Poonch and other distant districts bordering Pakistan that had suffered heavily from the brutal exactions of the maharaja's forces. Disaffected elements from these areas manning the Kashmir army garrison mutinied and let the lashkars across the bridge over the Jhelum river, the border with Pakistan. They were not expected to take long to reach Srinagar, 135 miles away by motorable road.
The planners of the tribal operation had calculated that Srinagar would fall in a day, integrating Kashmir with Pakistan. They had, however, miscalculated that the Muslim population of the Valley would welcome fellow-Muslims in their struggle against Dogra oppression. Kashmiris had unhappy memories of fifty years of Afghan rule just over a century earlier and had little in common with the Pathans in appearance, ethnicity, culture, even religious rituals. Besides, Abdullah's National Conference had given them a secular political ideology. Their worst fears were realized when the raiders spared none in their lust for women and loot.
The temptation to loot and rape upset the planners' timetable. The march on Srinagar had to wait until the raiders took time to loot Muzaffarabad bazar. This provided breathing space for the chief of the Kashmir state forces, Brigadier Rajinder Singh, to gather a mixed force of some 200 men in Srinagar and rush to Uri, where they blew up the bridge before he was killed and his men were forced to withdraw. That however gained two days. On 24 October, the lashkars reached the power station at Mahura, fifty miles from Srinagar. When the lights went out in his palace in Srinagar, Hari Singh had no alternative other than to appeal to New Delhi for military help.
The lashkars could still have reached Srinagar within hours had they not been tempted to sack the fair-sized town of Bararnulla, thirty-five miles away. Here they killed, raped, and looted many of its 14,000 inhabitants, including English nuns serving the local hospital. Muslims were among their victims. A National Conference worker, Maqbool Sherwani, who had rushed back from Srinagar, was publicly crucified. His statue was later erected in the town.
Bararnulla was sacked on 26 October, the day before Indian troops landed in Srinagar. Their first sortie was towards Bararnulla, where they found the raiders in greater strength and better equipped than anticipated. Their commander, Lt Col. Ranjit Rai, was killed and the handful of soldiers forced to withdraw. This delaying action provided time for troops to man the defence of the airfield.
In Srinagar, news of Bararnulla's fate increased popular support for the National Conference and the need for help from India. Sheikh Abdullah inspired the defence of the city after the maharaja and his entourage had left overnight for his winter palace in Jammu. From there, Hari Singh reluctantly signed the Instrument of Accession to the Union of India. Even so, he did not cede his entire authority. The agreement stipulated that the transfer of authority to the Government of India would extend only to three subjects, defence, foreign affairs, and communications; the precise items to which its jurisdiction would be limited were spelt out in a schedule.
Before flying in troops, the Indian government stated on record that the accession would be confirmed by 'a reference to the people' after peace was restored. The uncertainty created by the assurance would haunt New Delhi. The language of the reply to the maharaja's letter of accession was intended to counter the possible charge that India had used the opportunity to takeover a state with a Muslim majority that should have gone to Pakistan.
As the raiders approached, Abdullah addressed public meetings in Srinagar to urge citizens to unite and resist. In his memoirs, he recalls the training and emphasizes the non-communal character of the people's militia formed hurriedly by the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. 'Girls also joined with the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh boys: he stated, 'and they were strictly ordered to guard the non-Muslim [pandit] households'.
Details of Baramulla's fate that emerged after the tribal raiders were pushed back increased support for the National Conference. The New York Times carried a despatch from its correspondent Robert Trumbull on 10 November 1947, describing the terror visited on the inhabitants of the city, irrespective of their religion:
The city has been stripped of its wealth and young women before the tribesmen fled in terror, at midnight [on] Friday, before the advancing Indian Army. Surviving residents estimate that 3,000 of their fellow townsmen, including four Europeans and a retired British army officer, known only as Colonel Dykes, and his pregnant wife, were slain. When the raiders rushed into the town on October 26th, witnesses said one party of Masud tribesmen inunediately scaled the walls of St Joseph Franciscan Hospital compound and stormed the convent hospital and the little church. Four nuns and Colonel Dykes were shot immediately...
Murder, rape, arson, loot and the bestial murder of a local National Conference worker, Maqbool Sherwani, who had rallied local sentiment against the invaders, provided further evidence that they had not come to liberate their fellow- Muslims. He was crucified before being shot, to be remembered a hero.
Before Srinagar was saved, Jawaharlal Nehru had sounded increasingly defensive and isolated, as had Mahatma Gandhi. For weeks before and after Partition on IS August every day brought reports of men, women, and children being slaughtered in the name of religion; of long columns of refugees fleeing their ancestral homes. They brought with them horrifying tales of wholesale killings, mass rape, skewered infants; concerted attacks on trains and roads even as they fled.
With revengeful refugees pouring in from Punjab, riots erupted in Delhi in September. The office of the Hindustan Times was located in the central shopping area of Connaught Place. One morning, we found the doors and shop-windows of all Muslim-owned shops broken. Passers-by looted the contents; police were nowhere to be seen. However, a furious Nehru arrived on the scene and chased the looters through the corridors with his lone security guard struggling to keep pace. He insisted on visiting refugee camps near Delhi, telling the inmates to avoid revenge. At one meeting, I saw his lone security guard hold him by the waist to prevent him jumping from the dais into the heckling crowd.
The prime minister suspected that the police and local administration were influenced by Hindu communal forces and had been infiltrated by members of the Hindu militant organization, the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS). Differences between him and Sardar Patel, who oversaw law and order as home minister, on handling the disturbances were widely rumoured. Patel was known to doubt the loyalty of Muslims after Partition, and it became evident that he did not share Nehru's desire to facilitate the resettlement of those who had fled their homes in Delhi but wished to return.
Art & Culture (777)
Emperor & Queen (488)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend