Although the state of Jammu & Kashmir also has other two regions — Jammu and Ladakh — the Nehru government could never look beyond Kashmir and Sheikh Abdullah. The Kashmir-centric inclination of the Nehru government was a major cause of concern for the people of other regions. After passing over the reins of J&K power to Sheikh Abdullah by Maharaja Hari Singh under pressure from Jawaharlal Nehru, the state had gone into a disarray.
Slogans like Aek Rehnama, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Aek Tanzeem National Conference, Aek Jhanda, Halwala’ were reverberating in the Valley much to the chagrin of the people of Jammu.
Praja Parishad enters scene
Pandit Prem Nath Dogra and his nationalist colleagues foresaw the writing on the wall. To give voice to the nationalistic sentiments and aspirations, they decided to float an alternative political party. Praja Parishad was born in November 1947 and Hari Wazir was elected as its first president and Hans Raj Pangotra was its General Secretary. Hari Wazir joined the Indian Army as a commissioned officer and died in Kashmir. Thereafter, Pt. Dogra took the charge of Praja Parishad. The party had the stated objectives of full integration of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of India like any other princely state acceded to India; establishment of political, social and economic order wherein no one is discriminated on the basis of caste, colour, and faith and; all the citizens would have equal opportunity for progress. The membership of the organization was available to all the residents of the state provided he should be 18 years and above and endorses the aims and objectives of the party.
Abdullah feels the heat
Incensed by the threat posed by the Parishad, Abdullah launched a crackdown on its activities. He put Pt. Prem Nath Dogra and his colleagues behind the bars in February 1949. Section 3 of Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), which is known as ‘Daffa Tun’ i.e. put in lockup without any trial, was slapped on Dogra. By 1949 Sheikh imprisoned as many as 294 Parishad workers. In May 1949, Praja Parishad started Satyagraha for ensuring the release of Pt. Dogra. Though Abdullah wanted to crush this movement, he could not do so. Pt. Dogra was released from the jail on October 8, 1949. Brute force was used by the administration on Satyagrahis.
The National Conference did everything to ensure that all its members enter the J&K Constituent Assembly. Praja Parishad decided to contest the 1951 election to the Constituent Assembly but Abdullah managed to scuttle it. Upset Parishad leaders decided to boycott the election. Abdullah dubbed the members of the Parishad as communal, though many Muslims were also contesting on Parishad tickets. Soon the Parishad turned into a mass movement and it played a key role in opposing separatist and communal politics in the state. The Parishad always favoured the complete and total integration of Jammu & Kashmir with India.
The Parishad opposed the Article 370. In Indo-Pak war, it was against unilateral ceasefire unless the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir is regained. It could have been possible as Pakistani invaders had no option but to flee. It was even against taking the issue to the United Nations.
Sheikh tried to belittle Maharaja Hari Singh and started hoisting National Conference flag in official functions and atop government buildings. It adopted resolutions for autonomy and started advocating independence of Kashmir. Abdullah biased against Dogras and his focus was the Valley Muslims. But he could not strangulate the democratic voice in Jammu and Kashmir and had to face the opposition of people.
On January 15, 1952, Sheikh delivered a speech at Gandhi Memorial College and hoisted National Conference Flag and asked the students to salute it. But the students were not game for it. Infuriated Abdullah saw to it that the students were penalized. Angry students launched a hunger strike that lasted for 38 days. On February 8, 1952 people in Jammu came out in solidarity with the protesting students that further infuriated Abdullah and he imposed curfew and arrested Pt. Dogra. As the situation worsened, New Delhi had to intervene. Nehru asked Abdullah to release Dogra. Upset Abdullah started taking a more strident separatist line.
The anger against the despotic anti-India rule of Abdullah assumed a national dimension. National parties also joined the struggle. Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) observed J&K Day all over the country and it received tremendous response. Earlier, the BJS had captured three of the four seats to the Delhi Assembly to which by-elections had been held on the strength of its Kashmir campaign. Nehru first imposed a ban on public meetings. But gauging the public mood he lifted the ban just before the March 5 meeting in Delhi where it was decided that Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, NC Chatterjee and Nand Lal Shastri would lead a procession the next day from the railway station carrying the ashes of victims of Abdullah’s atrocities.
Imprisoned by the government, Dr. Mookerjee died under mysterious circumstances on June 23, 1953.
(This article was first published in jammukashmirnow.com)