Setting the 'Facts' Right: Sheikh Abdullah Brought Indira Gandhi's Emergency to J&K
Sheikh Abdullah with Indira Gandhi
SRINAGAR: It was amazing to read veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar’s take on Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as one who had opposed imposition of the emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1975. In his article in The Citizen on February 7, Nayar wrote “I recall when I was released from the Tihar Jail my co-prisoners asked me to visit Srinagar and request the Sheikh to speak against the emergency because he was respected all over the country. When I met him at Srinagar, the Sheikh saw the point and issued a statement, criticizing the emergency in unequivocal language”.
Nayar is the senior-most surviving journalist who is witness to a number of political developments that changed India over the decades. He must have his own assessment, understanding and experience of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. But as Abdullah that Kashmir knows, Nayar seems to have failed on facts.
Emergency in India was declared on June 25, 1975. Initially, it was not extended to Jammu and Kashmir. It was after 10 days (on the intervening night of July 5 and 6) that the state of emergency was imposed on Jammu and Kashmir. Syed Ali Geelani , in his autobiography—Wullar Kinare (On the banks of Wullar)—says that Indira Gandhi was not in favor of imposing emergency in J&K but Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah persuaded her to do so. Geelani says that Abdullah took the alibi of the emergency to crush his political opponents, mainly the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Mohammad Sayeed Malik, senior journalist no less of Nayar’s stature and then Director of Information and Public Relations, argues that the delay was because the imposition of emergency needed state government’s concurrence. He, however, agrees that Abdullah and Indira Gandhi were on the same page on the issue of emergency. “Most probably I as the state publicity advisor would have known if my boss (S M Abdullah) had at any time come out in opposition to Mrs Gandhi's Emergency”, he says.
No official or unofficial evidence could be cited from any record (newspapers reports, public statement or assembly proceedings) in Jammu and Kashmir that would suggest Abdullah being on the opposite side of the fence on the issue of emergency. There are rather scores of Abdullah’s public speeches and statements on the floor of the assembly hailing one or the other aspect of Emergency.
Abdullah had joined the New Delhi political mainstream in February that year and had been made the Chief Minister—replacing the Congress chief minister Syed Mir Qasim—under an agreement with PM Indira Gandhi. The Congress party had also asked two of its assembly members—Mohammad Maqbool Bhat from Ganderbal and Ghulam Hasan Rather from Devsar—to vacate seats for Abdullah and his deputy Mirza Afzal Beg. Abdullah was seeking a mandate from Ganderbal and Beg from Devsar.
Jamaat-e-Islami, besides National Conference (NC) and Congress, was the only political formation on the Kashmir scene then. Jamaat had five members including Syed Ali Geelani in the state assembly. With NC and Congress being in alliance, Jamaat was left with no choice but take the opposition’s role. Jamaat fielded one of its senior stalwarts and fiery speaker Ashraf Sahrai (now general secretary of Geelani’s Tehreek Hurriyat) against Abdullah in Ganderbal. Another senior leader and party general secretary Hakim Ghulam Nabi (late) took on Beg in Devsar.
Though the Jamaat candidate was seen as weak, Abdullah used all the state power to ensure his defeat.
I was a college student having appeared in the B A examination then. In the meantime I had joined Urdu daily “Azan”, official organ of Jamaat-e-Islami, as assistant editor. Sheikh Tajamul Islam was the editor. I had the chance of visiting and campaigning in both the constituencies. It was hooliganism, bullying and vandalism at its worst. The NC brought its leaders and activists from all corners of the Valley, and attacked the Jamaat supporters wherever they found them. Dozens of Jamaat activists and leaders were injured in assaults by NC supporters.
The role of the media, which comprised of some Urdu newspapers—Aaina, Aftab and Srinagar Times to quote a few—besides state-controlled Doordarshan and Radio, was quite partisan and one-sided.
Polling, with massive participation of voters but not without rigging and booth capturing by NC supporters, was held on July 4. In the evening Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer (chief) Moulana Saduddin held a press conference at a local hotel in Srinagar giving details of rigging by NC cadres during polling. The press conference was blacked out by all the newspapers. I vividly remember Srinagar Times carrying a single column news— Sharab Khanay Mein Jamaat-e-Islami Ki Press Conference.
The NC supporters and cadres knew that victory of their leaders was a forgone conclusion but they were incensed over Jamaat’s ‘nerve’ to challenge the political authority of Abdullah.
Votes were counted on July 5 and Abdullah and Beg won by huge margins. Within hours of the election results the state government declared the imposition of emergency in Jammu and Kashmir. With this we saw a massive crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami. A blanket-ban was put on the party. All its offices were sealed and scores of its leaders and activists arrested.
It was around 11pm. We were giving final touches to the copy of “Azan” before sending it to the press. Tajamul Islam (editor) had left a while ago. A police posse suddenly barged into our office. They seized all the records and copies of the newspaper. I, along with half a dozen other office-bearers of the newspaper, was arrested and the office sealed. We were lodged in Kothi Bagh Police Station. Qari Saifuddin (who was group leader of Jamaat-e-Islami in the state assembly) had already been brought there.
The arrest of Jamaat leaders and activists continued for the entire night. Syed Ali Geelani was arrested from Sopore and brought to the police station at around 2am. Ashraf Sahrai (the man who had challenged Abdullah in Ganderbal), Tajamul Islam, Ghulam Nabi Nowshehri (MLA), Ashiq Kashmiri, Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai (now head of US-based Kashmir American Council) and several other Jamaat functionaries were arrested and lodged in the police station. The crackdown on Jamaat-e-Islami was carried out in other parts as well.
Next day I, along with Fai and some office-bearers of Azan were segregated and lodged in a separate room. Others were packed in police vehicles and lodged in jails outside the valley. We were however released after a few days.
Jamaat-e-Islami was running a chain of schools under a registered Trust—Falah-e-Aam Trust. All the schools, which were 120 in total with around 30,000 students, were closed down. The students and the staff were absorbed in government schools. The ban on the Jamaat continued till the end of emergency in 1977.
Mohammad Sayeed Malik insists that the ban on JI in the state was a corollary to action across the rest of India where certain parties including Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the RSS were proscribed. “Then GOI exhorted the state to go after it. SMA (Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah) was too willing to oblige”, he says. .
Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir had never been part of JI Hind. It always maintained a separate identity. It was a registered political organization—in fact, then the only opposition party—no less mainstream than NC or Congress. Malik agrees that the motivation to go after Jamaat was political.
Whatever the truth, it, however, is an established fact that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah never opposed the emergency.
(Rashid Ahmad is a senior journalist based in Srinagar)