The Norman Transcript

Opinion

February 24, 2014

Idealist who loved Kashmir: Revisited

NORMAN — Despite the diatribe, “quiet diplomacy,” negotiations, has the political landscape of Kashmir, the nuclear flashpoint in South Asia, changed at all since 1953? How seriously do the governments of India and Pakistan take current regional political actors, state and non-state, in Kashmir?

So, I thought I’d revisit a long forgotten chapter of history, which, at the time, garnered tremendous international attention and condemnation of the arrogance of nation-states.

The irony of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the first Muslim prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir in post-Partition India, an “Indian Muslim,” being put behind bars for voicing and advocating the right of self-determination “by the very Indians who won admiration and sympathy in the world in attaining their own” (Extracts from Commentary by Edward R. Murrow, 1 May 1958), wasn’t lost on the world community.

The rearrest of the Sheikh created a constituency for his and his spouse, Akbar Jehan’s, politics in those parts of the world that had lent moral support to India’s glorious struggle for freedom in 1947.

An acclaimed American commentator profoundly noted, “It is ironic that the Lion of Kashmir who fought so long for freedom has been jailed again by a freedom-loving state. The Lion exemplifies the spirit of Thoreau, who said, ‘I was not born to be forced.’ And Norman Corwin once wrote, ‘Freedom isn’t something to be won and then forgotten. It must be renewed like soil after yielding good crops’” (Murrow, in broadcast over CBS Radio Network, May 1, 1958).

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s release in January 1958, after an ignoble incarceration of four and a half years, was welcomed by the populace of Kashmir with an unbounded ebullience, which was marvelously delineated in the Time on Jan. 20, 1958:

At week’s end, Sheikh Abdullah, wearing a long black funeral-black achkan (coat) over loose, white pajamas, held on to the windshield of his jeep and waved to crowds lining the road and jamming the towns along the way as he rode to the capital at the head of a 30-car caravan. Srinagar welcomed him with a frightening din. When the Sheikh appeared on the balcony of a Moslem shrine, people prostrated themselves in a heap below, crying vows that they would lay down their lives for him.

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