Loved or loathed, late Sheikh still relevant

Srinagar : Even as the state government organised many functions to remember legendary leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah on his 106th birth anniversary Monday, the man who galvanised Kashmiris against autocratic rule, giving them a sense of pride, is little remembered by the younger generations today.

The magic and charisma of the man who singlehandedly withstood the tide of communal fires in the subcontinent has remained restricted to the older generations while the youth just remember the late Sheikh as someone who facilitated the state’s accession to India.

Kashmir Valley was the only place in the subcontinent that did not witness a single communal riot in the wake of the country’s partition in 1947 because of the secular vision given by the Sheikh.

The politics of Hindu-Muslim unity was something Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh could not handle except by imprisoning the ‘Lion of Kashmir for extolling his people to freedom from the yoke of slavery and penury’.

Second to none in the secular politics of India, the Sheikh today is a largely betrayed man – sometimes by his own colleagues and sometimes by the inheritors of his legacy, both of whom have miserably failed the vision the man had given to his people.

His most remarkable contribution, besides giving Kashmiris a sense of pride, has been the landmark agrarian reforms which gave the proprietary rights of land to peasants. Till then, they tilled those lands on behalf of absentee landlords.

Sheikh’s agrarian reforms, the first of their kind in India, brought in 1950, are still to be matched in their sweeping empowerment of landless tillers who became masters of their own destiny.

Little wonder the Sheikh ruled the hearts and minds of his people till the very end of his life in 1982. When he died, more than a million mourners participated in his burial on the banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar adjacent to the Hazratbal shrine.

Much water has flowed down the Jhelum since, and the charisma of the Sheikh is little remembered by the youth today, but a more popular leader is yet to be produced by Kashmir.

He may be eulogised or cursed for acceding to secular India against the rationale of the Two Nation Theory that saw the country divided into two with millions losing life and home, but the Sheikh continues to remain relevant to the politics and ethos of Kashmir.

Despite his detractors, the over six feet tall, Karakul wearing man of Kashmir politics continues to be loved and loathed 29 years after his death.

The party (Regional National Conference) he founded might be a far cry from what it was during his lifetime, the inheritors of his legacy, both son Farooq Abdullah and grandson, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, might have failed the charisma, yet the late Sheikh continues to remain the referral point on Kashmir politics.

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