The fight for total mainstreaming of J&K with the rest of India began with the birth of the All Jammu & Kashmir Praja Parishad in 1947
The political movement headed by Sheikh Abdullah, that originated in Kashmir in 1931, to some extent remained unsuccessful in gaining the support of Jammu, especially the Hindu- dominated areas. Its genesis, growth and ideological moorings made it suspect in the eyes of Dogra nationalists who viewed it as something alien and unacceptable. Pandit Prem Nath Dogra led the All Jammu and Kashmir Rajya Hindu Sabha as the main opposition party. It merged with Praja Parishad which was formed in Jammu immediately after the tribal invasion in November 1947.
The struggle for total integration of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) with India began with the birth of the All Jammu & Kashmir Praja Parishad, popularly known as Praja Parishad. It opposed Abdullah’s major policy planks such as abolition of landlords, anti-Dogra drive, attempts at framing a separate constitution for J&K, a separate flag and so on.
Sheikh Abdullah became the Prime Minister of J&K in March 1948. He abhorred opposition and wanted to become de facto ruler of the state. As an advocate of a one-party State, he forced the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to introduce Article 370 in the Constitution of India to ensure Kashmiri Muslim domination. After, that he began annihilation of the opposition. His cronies chanted slogans like, “ek rehnuma (mentor), Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, ek tanzeem (organisation) National Conference, ek jhanda (flag), Halwala, ek manshoor (manifesto) Naya Kashmir, which alarmed the pro-integration Dogras of Jammu. Prem Nath Dogra and his colleagues felt this was dangerous for democracy and would fulfill Abdullah’s totalitarian ambitions.
Moreover, Abdullah’s policies were exclusively confined to the welfare of Kashmiri Muslims and ignored the sentiments and interests of the people of Jammu and Ladakh. His animosity towards the Maharaja transformed into hatred for the Dogras of Jammu. Unfortunately, he had clout with the ruling party at the Centre which had a Kashmir-centric inclination. This was a major cause of concern for the people of Jammu. Praja Parishad was committed to full integration of J&K with the Indian union and safeguarding the legitimate democratic rights of the people of Jammu. Consequently, it became popular in Jammu, including among Muslims there. Its growing popularity irked Abdullah who resorted to suppressing its growth. Several activists, including the author’s grandfather, Bishan Das Mahajan, were expelled from the state. Praja Parishad leaders were also put behind bars in February 1949 and by mid-1949, Abdullah imprisoned as many as 294 of its workers. In May 1949, the Parishad began a protest for the release of Prem Nath Dogra.
Abdullah finally yielded to the combined pressure and intervention of some nationalist leaders in Delhi and released him from jail in October 1949. However, the persecution did not end there and Abdullah’s hatred for the nationalists was further aggravated by the fact that the Parishad’s demand for full integration clashed directly with the National Conference (NC) demand for complete autonomy for J&K. As many as 15 youths were shot and some others injured at various places for hoisting the Tricolour. The agitationists even included the demand for abolishing the permit system for entering or leaving J&K.
Many may argue about the relevance of this article under the changed circumstances but it is imperative for the present generation to be aware of the struggles and sacrifices made by their predecessors which acted as the enabler of the present landmark achievement.
The Parishad tirelessly tried to unite the people of Jammu with a view to foil the attempts of those who either favoured autonomy or tried to separate the state from the Indian Union. It also opposed the setting up of a separate Constituent Assembly and favoured the application of the Indian Constitution.
Despite being opposed to a separate constitution for the state, a special session of the party held on May 8, 1951, decided to contest the elections to the Constituent Assembly. Because of large-scale rejection of nomination papers of its candidates and nefarious manipulation of the elections by Abdullah, the party decided to boycott the elections. In spite of its strong support base, it did not have a single member in the Constituent Assembly, which under Abdullah’s leadership, framed a constitution that promoted the concept of “State within a State.”
The NC and Abdullah did everything to ensure that all party members were part of the J&K Assembly. Abdullah dubbed the Parishad as communal, ignoring the fact that many Muslims were also contesting on its tickets. Slowly, the Parishad turned into a mass movement and played a key role in opposing separatist and communal politics in J&K.
Emboldened by the support he enjoyed from Nehru and after signing of the Delhi Agreement, Abdullah began hoisting the NC flag at official functions and atop government buildings. However, in keeping with his habit of double-speak, he implemented the agreement only in part to further his agenda of autonomy. On January 15, 1952, he delivered a speech at an official function at Gandhi Memorial College, Jammu and hoisted the NC’s flag alongside the Tricolour, asking the students to salute it but they objected. This infuriated Abdullah and he ensured that they were penalised.
This was followed by a 38-day hunger strike by students in 1952. On February 8, 1952, the people of Jammu came out in solidarity with them that led Abdullah to impose curfew and get PN Dogra arrested. The intense public pressure that followed this forced Delhi to act and ensure the release of Dogra and others. It soon turned into a public movement against Abdullah’s despotism and his anti-national activities. The movement found support nationally in the form of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which was formed in 1951.
Another mass movement was launched by the Parishad in November 1952 against the separatist and communal politics of Abdullah. In December 1952, Jan Sangh president Syama Prasad Mookerjee announced the launch of a nation-wide agitation for the abolition of Article 370. On May 8, 1953 he decided to enter J&K, thus violating the prevalent permit system and was arrested by Abdullah as soon as he set foot in the state. He was jailed and tortured at Srinagar, which led to his mysterious death on June 23, 1953. An estimated 10,000 activists were imprisoned in Jammu, Punjab and Delhi, including Members of Parliament, leading to an uproar in India.
Blinded by his ambition, Abdullah indulged in competitive communalism and worked towards the establishment of an independent Muslim majority-state claiming that India was not secular enough. The Parishad opposed it tooth and nail and accused Abdullah of not being Indian enough. Abdullah was finally arrested in August 1953 after he made secessionist speeches at RS Pura on April 10 and on July 13.
After this, the Praja Parishad movement largely subsided and it finally merged with the Jana Sangh in 1963. Ever since then, Jana Sangh and later its successor, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had been struggling and agitating for ending J&K’s special status, which not only promoted separatism, religious militancy but was the major cause of rampant corruption and poor development. The re-entry of Sheikh Abdullah in state politics in 1975 under an agreement with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the subsequent Rajiv-Farooq accord and Rahul-Omar bonhomie gave a new fillip to the demand for autonomy and saw the rise of jihadi and radical forces in Kashmir.
The historic decision of August 5, 2019 is the result of the struggle and sacrifices of three generations of Praja Parishad, Jana Sangh and BJP workers. The BJP, as a successor of the Jana Sangh, remained focussed and committed to abolition of Article 370 and J&K’s full integration with India. Many accused the party of using it only as an election plank to woo voters in the Hindi heartland but all of them have been proved wrong.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator and columnist)
Writer: Anil Gupta
Courtesy: The Pioneer