Praja Parishad Andolan : Defending Integrity
The Praja Parishad satyagrah proved instrumental in foiling the Nehru-Sheikh game plans to block complete integration of Jammu & Kashmir with the Indian Union
Three movements find special mention in the contemporary history of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). First is the movement launched by the Muslim Conference in 1931 in which Hindus were killed for the first time after the defeat inflicted on foreign Afghan State by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Kashmir was liberated from the foreign rule of Afghans by Ranjit Singh in 1818. So, after a gap of 113 years, Hindus were again made a target in Kashmir. What primarily led to it was a call given by a Pathan Abdul Qadeer Khan to the Muslims of Hazratbal to uproot the rule of the Hindu king. But this time, it was not any love for Afghanistan but allegiance to the British that led this Pathan to instigate Muslims against the king of Kashmir. Those who supported Abdul Qadeer were not Pathans or Gujjars but Sheikh Abdullah-led Kashmiri-knowing Sunni Muslims whose ancestors had embraced Islam after abdicating their traditional religion and heritage. This movement claimed the lives of 21 people on whose graves obeisance is still paid by some people even today on July 13. Since 1950, the state government has even declared this day as a government holiday. But this movement had given rise to hushed tones and murmurs of foreign conspirators in the Kashmir Valley for the first time after the end of the state’s enslavement under Afghans.
The second movement in the Kashmir Valley was started by the National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah. The main and only demand of this movement was for annulment of the treaty of 1946. The strategy of this movement was deeply detrimental to the whole of India. God forbid if this movement had succeeded, the whole of J&K would have become part of Pakistan. The annulment of the 1846 Amritsar Treaty would have meant that the state of J&K would have lost its status of a princely state to become a part of British India since it had become a part of Indian states only because of this treaty. The government of London could have segregated British India under its occupation but it had no right to divide any of Indian states. If this state had become a part of British India, the London government would have made it a part of Pakistan in June 1946 on the basis of being a Muslim majority state. The British imperialist mindset was somewhere at work behind this movement. It was baffling that Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru had lent his support to this anti-India movement launched by National Conference of Sheikh Abdullah, whereas the declared policy of Congress was not to interfere in the internal affairs of princely states within India.
The Muslim Conference that had launched the movement in 1931 had taken on the garb of National Conference by 1946. This transformation had made it logically convenient for the Hindu communists of the Valley to be a part of National Conference as they had been supporting the Two-Nation Theory and had accepted the Muslims to be a part of the proletariat under their class struggle concept. It goes to the credit of the then ruler of Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh that he kept on fighting against this anti-India agitation and notwithstanding the pressure from the British government and the clout of Nehru, he was instrumental in court proceedings against Sheikh Abdullah that resulted in his chastisement. This is a separate matter that he had to pay a heavy price for it after the departure of the British and taking over of Nehru as Prime Minister of India.
The problems being faced by J&K today are primarily born out of these two agitations. Indian National Congress had accepted the theory of holding a plebiscite in princely states, according to which after the departure of the English from British India, people of the states will be allowed to exercise their right to seek democracy or monarchy. Several states had seen agitations against monarchy. But after Nehru extended his support to the agitation waged against the annulment of Amritsar Treaty, Lord Mountbatten had given a clever interpretation of it in the case of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. He had advocated the idea of ascertaining the opinion of the people with regard to becoming a part of India or Pakistan. Pandit Nehru not only accepted this interpretation but also started harping on the unseemly idea of ascertaining people’s opinion on this issue in the United Nations.
The first division of India had been presided over by the British government and now Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah joined hands to orchestrate the second division of the country. Lord Mountbatten had firmly positioned himself akin to the proverbial clever monkey in this affair. The agitations of 1931 and 1946 and the new interpretation of ascertaining the will of the people created an atmosphere of fear, misgivings and mistrust in the whole of Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan had already mounted an attack on the state. Pandit Nehru and Lord Mountbatten were not so much interested in flushing out the aggressor as fanning the debate that it remains to be decided whether the state would go to Pakistan or India.
Mahatma Gandhi had departed for his heavenly abode. Sardar Patel too had died in 1950. Otherwise, he could have prevented Nehru from going ahead on this course of dismembering India. Sheikh Abdullah too had found the time to take an opportunistic stance that the state will form its own Constitution in the matters of defence, communication and external affairs. It would have nothing to do with the federal Constitution. The state would also have a separate flag, which he used to term as the national flag. The state will be headed by a Prime Minister, not a Chief Minister. Sheikh Abdullah first brainwashed Nehru into believing that it was at his behest that the Muslims of the state had embraced India instead of co-religious Pakistan. When Nehru had started believing in this baseless assumption, Sheikh too started extracting his pound of flesh. Nehru kept on paying price after price.
Due to the wrong policies pursued by the duo of Nehru and Sheikh, Gilgit, Baltistan, some parts of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjabi-knowing Muzzafarabad had gone under the occupation of Pakistan. Instead of wresting them back from Pakistan, Nehru started shedding cowardly tears in the Security Council. Subsequently, there were mounting apprehensions in the minds of people living in Jammu & Ladakh, Hindu Sikhs of Kashmir Valley, Gujjars and Shias that this deadly pair might force them to embrace Pakistan. It gave way to a popular saying in Jammu – Aap to dube brahmana, jajman bhi dobe (These Brahmins, on a losing course, will be detrimental to the cause of their clients – people too. It is pertinent to point out that Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah both were Kashmiri Pandits. Nehru’s ancestors had left Kashmir and those of Sheikh had embraced Islam long back. People wondered how to counter the divisive activities of Nehru-Sheikh. Nehru-Sheikh had their own organisation in the Kashmir Valley – National Conference, but the people of Jammu-Ladakh and Gujjars had no such organisation.
In this context, the onus of saving the country from a second Partition had fallen on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Prof Balraj Madhok, a professor of history at Srinagar’s DAV College, had been instrumental in the expansion of Sangh in the Valley. Pt Premnath Dogra, who was the state Sanghachalak, had played a crucial role in establishment and consolidation of the Sangh in Jammu. Jagdish Abrol and Kedarnath Sahni were the Sangh Pracharaks there. In th hour of crisis, the RSS mobilised the people and formed Praja Parishad.
Praja Parishad conducted a historic movement from 1949 to 1952 in which 15 people sacrificed their lives, while exposing the whole conspiracy. Its demand transformed into a resounding slogan on the lips of children “Down with two flags, two laws and two heads in one nation!” Sheikh Abdullah tried to buy over the man behind the nationalistic movement, Pandit Premnath Dogra, through the lure of power. Sheikh had proposed that Premnath Dogra be content wielding power in Jammu and not interfere with his hegemony in Kashmir. Premnath Dogra spurned this offer. His answer was: “I am fighting, not for attaining power for myself, but for defending the integrity and identity of the nation.” At the behest of Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah implicated Premnath Dogra in false cases ranging from rape to murder and got him imprisoned. But bowing to the collective might of the people’s will, he had to set him free. People had to pay custom duty for taking goods in Jammu & Kashmir and obtain a passport-like permit for entry into the state. Praja Parishad vehemently opposed it. In those days, the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir was designated as Sadar-e-Riyasat at par with the President. The workers of Praja Parishad used to shout slogans by placing the photo of the then President Rajendra Prasad over their chests – “Down with two heads in one nation.”
The police under Sheikh Abdullah used to lathicharge and even fire at those shouting such slogans. The satyagrahis of Praja Parishad used to struggle for unfurling the national flag at government offices and the police of Nehru-Sheikh used to deploy all its force for removing them. While Praja Parishad was braving bullets to defeat the destructive strategy of Nehru-Sheikh in Jammu & Kashmir, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee established Bharatiya Jana Sangh, with the help of RSS. Gradually, the whole country was reverberated with the resonant cries of this national movement and satyagrah. Bharatiya Jana Sangh decided to support this movement of Praja Parishad with the help of other parties. Jana Sagh disseminated the knowledge about this agitation by celebrating Jammu & Kashmir Day throughout the country. The Satyagrahis from across the country started entering Jammu & Kashmir without passport-permit. The police used to arrest and subject them to inhuman torture in jails. Premnath Dogra tried many times to meet Nehru in Delhi along with the delegation of Praja Parishad to brief him about the stance of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. But Nehru, who used to swear by his democratic credentials, did not grant him audience. He was not prepared to meet any one other than Sheikh Abdullah to know about the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. On the other hand, the government of Sheikh Abdullah in Jammu was not prepared to deal with Satyagrahis other than in the language of bullets. As many as 15 saytagrahis fell to the police bullets, while they were unfurling tiranga at government offices and saying ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai.’ In Delhi, Nehru was unrelenting and hell-bent on crushing this people’s movement at any cost. And in Jammu, Sheikh was sending out threats that he would not let the Indian Constitution run in Jammu & Kashmir; and anyone attempting to hoist the national flag would pay a price for it.
Dr SP Mookerjee decided to meet Sheikh in Srinagar on this issue. But the whole country was abuzz with the talk that Nehru would not allow Mookerjee to go to Jammu as he wanted to go there without permit. But God knows what deal was struck between Nehru and Sheikh that the Congress government allowed him to proceed for the state but Dr Mookerjee was arrested the moment he entered Jammu & Kashmir. If the Congress government of Punjab had arrested him, he would have come under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India. But it was not the case as he was arrested in Jammu & Kashmir, which was not under the jurisdiction of the apex court, as per an agreement between Abdullah and Nehru. A few months after his arrest, Dr Mookerjee died in mysterious circumstances in jail. The curtains came down on the Praja Parishad movement. Only after this, Nehru grew suspicious that Sheikh wanted to set Kashmir free with the help of America. Sadly, Dr Mookerjee had to lay down his life to drive home this truth to Nehru.
(The writer is Vice Chancellor of Central University of