ABDULLAH, SHEIKH MUHAMMAD (1905–1982). Called the Lion of Kashmir, he identified closely with the people of Kashmir
and had a charismatic appeal for them. Born near Srinagar into a family of shawl merchants, Abdullah was educated in Lahore and at Aligarh Muslim University where he took a master’s degree in science in 1930. As a high school teacher in Srinagar he organized Kashmiri Muslims to campaign for better representation in the Dogra Maharaja’s (see Glossary) government
but was subsequently dismissed. At this formative time of his life he was influenced by the ideas of Muhammad Iqbal, but he was not attracted to Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Abdullah’s long political career began with a protest against police firing in 1931 and continued through the remainder of his life, through intermittent periods of imprisonment and house arrest (totaling more than 15 years, mostly after independence) as well as during his tenures as prime minister/
chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (1948–1953, 1975–1982). He was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, and the
mutual affection between the two men remained despite their political differences after 1953.
Abdullah was the molder and near-lifetime president of the National Conference, a political party formed in 1939 as representative of the Kashmiri people. He mobilized popular resistance in Kashmir, first against the maharajah and then against the tribal invaders from Pakistan in 1947. He supported accession of the state to India, and
his leadership was an important factor in the decisions made by Nehru at the time regarding Kashmir, including his offer of a
plebiscite made in good faith and with confidence that a popular vote would favor accession to India. Sheikh Abdullah was also a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. He won the first elections
based on adult franchise in Jammu and Kashmir in 1952, and the
newly elected legislature led by him confirmed accession to India
while retaining a special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
36 • ABDULLAH, SHEIKH MUHAMMAD
In August 1953, following communal and political problems in
Jammu and Kashmir and difficulties with New Delhi, Abdullah was
dismissed and arrested on charges (never proven) of plotting with
foreign powers for Kashmiri independence. He was released in April
1964 and briefly assumed the role of negotiator between Nehru and
President Ayub Khan of Pakistan before the former’s death ended that
effort. Abdullah’s strong pronouncements on Kashmiri identity, Islamic
unity, India, democracy, culture, and secularism often sounded
inconsistent and created confusion among his followers and mistrust
in New Delhi, but his commanding personality could never be ignored.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi reached accord with him in
1975 when he was once again elected chief minister and remained so
to the time of his death. His son, Farouq Abdullah, then assumed
leadership of the National Conference, with its varying fortunes and
declining influence, in the last decade of the 20th century.
Abdullah Shaikh Muhammad
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