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|Maqbool Sherwani ‘s role in 1947 and politics behind National Conference narrative |
By Dr Ramesh Tamiri
During Chief Ministership of GM Sadiq school textbooks in J&K carried a chapter on Maqbool Sherwani of Baramulla,Master Abdul Aziz of Muzaffarabad and Pushkar Nath Zadu of Srinagar. It extolled contribution of three heroes during 1947 Pakistani invasion.
Sherwani-The Communist view
Who was this Sherwani and what made him a national hero? In 1974 I happened to meet a professor, who had joined Communist movement somewhere in 1944.I asked him how did Sherwani become a national hero from just a ground-level National Conference worker of a moffusil town.The comments of the learned professor left me stunned.Not that professor was way off the mark but because Kashmir’s complex politics had many layers which the professor failed to fathom.
The professor disregarded Sherwani as a super hero.He said Sherwani was a bully whose sole politics revolved round his strong personal loyalty to the person of Sheikh Abdullah.The professor was partly correct and partly not right.He was correct. Sherwani indeed was a brave man who would go to any lengths to counter his political rivals even physically.This he had done on a couple of occasions.He was pure at heart and quite emotional.The professor was wrong. Sherwani did have fierce loyalty towards the person of Sheikh Abdullah but to say that he had no politics beyond that loyalty was outlandish.
Shaping of Sherwani’s Political Views
Sherwani joined National Conference in 1939 when he was 32.A right age to decide political issues clealy.1939 was the time when British support to Sheikh Abdullah had cooled off post- 1935 lease of Gilgat Agency to the British by J&K Govt. Jinnah was unwilling to crown him as a regional Muslim satrap.In Jinnah’s politics regional Muslim satraps had to agree to total surrender.
The absence of support from the British and Jinnah left only the Congress door open for Sheikh Abdullah.Sherwani’s politics was shaped by this particular context.Sheikh Abdullah’s distrust of Jinnah became political ideology for Sherwani at personal level.This when Sheikh Abdullah’s opposition to Jinnah was neither ideological nor strategic but purely tactical.In 1940s Sheikh Abdullah tried to build bridges with Jinnah at least on four occasions but Jinnah spurned the offers of rapproachment every time. Sherwani ‘s opposition to Jinnah was ideological as well as political.Sherwani was personally secular.Sheikh Abdullah was not.
Humiliation of Jinnah
In July 1944 Jinnah addresssed Baramulla people in the Post Office grounds, the present Higher Secondary School.Sherwani,who was listening nearby, tried to put a garland of shoes around his neck.Muslim Conference workers in the audience ran after him but he jumped into the flowing Jehlum.One worker took hold of a boat to chase him but Sherwani managed to evade him. Pro-Pakistani elements in the majority community in Baramulla were annoyed with him over the humiliating treatment he meted out to Jinnah in 1944.This episode symbolized Sherwani’s brave persona as well as ideological opposition to Jinnah.
Ironically,initiative for inviting Jinnah to Kashmir was taken by the local communist group.It was in line with CPI’s Adhikari thesis which justified creation of Pakistan and accorded legitimacy to religious sub-nationalism as basis for formation of new states. Adhikari thesis called for break-up of India in to 16 states.The following year the local communist group at Sopore session called for ‘self-determination’ for Kashmir to carry forward the Adhikari line.Pt. Nehru was alarmed over this approach of local left group and Sheikh Abdullah’s tacit support to the left position.He began building closer relations with DP Dhar.
Attempt to Revive National Conference
Soon after Jinnah left Kashmir National Conference proposed to reconvert National Conference in to Muslim Conference.This was dropped after Raja Akbar Khan of Mirpur voiced strong opposition to the move.Veteran communist leader KD Sethi has recalled this episode in his memoir titled Yaad-e-Rafta.
Communist approach on Sherwani
Why did the learned professor make such observations about Sherwani?There was major discord between Sheikh Abdullah and local Communists.Not on Adhikari thesis but simple organizational rivalry.Sheikh Abdullah wanted to use communists for furthering his agenda but was unwilling to tolerate their supremacy. Sherwani’s role was seen by the professor through Abdullah-Communist discord.Possibly,Sherwani was also not well-disposed towards communists.At no point of time Sherwani ever praised communist role or supported their political agenda.
Sherwani’s actual role
What really was Sherwani’s role that made him a national hero:
1.One,no one else among Kashmir’s political leaders stood up against Jinnah and Pakistan ideology as strongly and as clearly as Sherwani did,not even his leader Sheikh Abdullah.
2. Sherwani ‘s sacrifice and refusal to bow to the Pakistani invaders. Neither the local communists nor Sheikh Abdullah were consistent in their opposition to Pakistan and two-nation theory.Sherwani was not only clear about sinister politics of two-nation theory but also laid down his life in contestation against this.Circumstances around his death and his steadfastness in not bowing even when subjected to worse torture make him a super-hero.
Sherwani had learnt motorbike driving some days before the Pakistani attack.Shiv Jee Koul had lent him his bike.On 29 October 1947 Sherwani and NC chief of Sopore Sofi Mohammad Akbar had left Sopore on the motorbike and reached Srinagar,taking the Sumbal route.After dropping Sofi Akbar at Srinagar Sherwani was returning to Sumbal.At Duderhama the local National Conference leaders- Mohan Lal Tikoo Shahpoori and Sheikh Ghulam Qadir Baboosa forcefully pleaded that he should not go back as Sumbal and Vaskoora were under the control of the Pakistani invaders. A brave man Sherwani did not fear bullets. He was taken captive by the raiders at Satkreri near Zazzunbadampora, 2 kms. from Vaskoora and was reportedly kept in the house of a Pandit family in Sumbal before being taken to Baramulla.
After being taken captive and subjected to several days of interrogation & torture he was tied to two pillars near the Regina Cinema in the centre of the town. Nails were driven into his hands , forehead and back. Even while being nailed he continued to shout ‘Sher-e-Kashmir Zindabad.’ Finally, he was shot dead.He was just 40 at the time of his martyrdom.14 bullets were recovered from his body. The invaders called him a ‘traitor.’ It was only after Baramulla was liberated by the army Sherwani’s body was removed from the pillars and burial done.
A verse recalling this sacrifice became popular:
Kujay Sher Sherwani,Dichath Kithkyan Kurbani,Khudaya Vanya Kar Ahsan,Kashir Baniyav Hindustan,Yoti Ayi Pulhor Choor,Korakh Varan Yi Gulistan,Kasheer Banyav Hindustan.
Hail Tiger Sherwani!How he gave supreme sacrifice!God,now have mercy upon us.
Kashmir has become Hindustan.
Looters who invaded this place did not spare even grass-shoes. They ravaged this beautiful garden.
Kashmir has become Hindustan.
A play Shaheed Sheerwani, scripted by PN Pardesi and directed by Ved Lal vakil, was staged to recall Sherwani’s great sacrifice.Artist GR Santosh played the role of Sherwani ,while Nissar Aziz Beg acted as a raider.
Sherwani’s role in Sopore
Another role which has received no attention at all is his role vis-à-vis Kashmiri Hindus.He considered himself as part of Kashmiri Hindu fraternity,even cutting across political barriers.He had close friendship with many RSS activists of Baramulla town.
His role in saving the Pandits of Sopore town will be written in golden letters.Soon after the Pakistani invaders entered Baramulla town Sherwani escaped to Sopore and lashed out at Sopore NC leaders for stopping the Pandits from leaving.He was shocked on the killing of his neighbours –Sudarshan Watt and Balak Ram and was inconsolable.He said,” What I saw today in Baramulla nobody should have the misfortune of seeing it again.”Sherwani must have personally visited 10-15 Pandit families in Sopore and asked them to save their lives.He stayed in Sopore town from evening of 27 October 1947 till morning of 29 October 1947.On 29 October a Pandit family could not make any arrangements to leave.Sherwani reached the family’s mohalla and lashed out at local Muslims, asking them couldn’t they protect a single Pandit family.Sherwani was last seen in Sopore on 29 October when he cautioned a kafila of Sikhs of Hamal region not to take Sangrama-Srinagar national highway for Srinagar.They disregarded his advice and rest is history.Over300 Sikhs were killed in a massacre at Choora-Bulgam and many abducted.
National Conference narrative on Sherwani
Why did National Conference distort the narrative,underplaying his anti-Pakistan and secular role and thrusted the role of savior of Kashmir on him which was untrue.
National Conference narrative claimed:
That Sherwani saved Srinagar by diverting the invaders to Krun ( Tangmarg-Budgam) region and made them wander aimlessly in Sumbal area.
What really is the truth?
Pakistanis already had a plan to take Baramulla-Tangmarg-Budgam route to capture airfield.In fact,Capt Sher Khan left Baramulla on 27 October 1947 itself.Sherwani had left Baramulla soon after the invaders entered the town.So where did Sherwani have a role?Secondly,Pakistanis continued targeting Indian army along Baramulla-Srinagar highway but our jawans stood firm.After tactical withdrawl from Sangrama on the evening of 28 October 1947 our forces defended positions at Pattan till 4 November 1947.Then our army vacated Pattan to force the invaders in to open confrontation at Shalteng. This battle turned the tide against the invaders and saved Kashmir.
Sikhs at Ichhama blocked the raiders for two days to give ample time to army to save airfield. Our army saved Srinagar.Sherwani had no military role in that.
It is also claimed that he along with many others were tasked to work underground behind the enemy lines and delay the advance of the Pakistanis to Srinagar. What NC volunteers did in this regard has never been documented?Had there been some major role it would have been definitely recorded.NC and other volunteers worked as guides and at few places kept track of the invaders.Some of them later joined J&K Militia,which was a regular force.
Sherwani was in Sopore between 27 to 29 October1947.He was seen at a few places in vicinity of Sopore town where he misinformed the invaders to save the Pandits of those places.Then on 29 October 1947 he left for Srinagar.He remained there till 2 November 1947 and thereafter he left for Sumbal possibly on way to Baramulla.So where did he work behind the enemy lines?
Maqbool Sherwani had no military knowledge.He had not allowed the Pandit families of Baramulla town to leave till afternoon of 26 October.He and also most NC leaders believed that the invaders would straightway head for Srinagar and not touch non-Muslims at places which were away from the highway.
Politics behind NC narrative on Sherwani
Sherwani’s political and secular role was underplayed and so-called military role overplayed to:
1.To build a myth that not Indian army but National Conference saved Kashmir for India and NC had sole right to decide Kashmir’s future. NC Propaganda pamphlet writes ‘Sherwani in action.’Where and when is not mentioned.
2.By not highlighting anti-Pakistan and secular role of Sherwani NC kept space open for dabbling in communal-separatist politics when needed.
After Sheikh Abdullah returned to power in 1975 Sherwani was totally ignored.Chapters from school text-books were withdrawn.Even the signboard Sherwani Road (Residency Road) was not seen.
(The writer is a researcher on the history, politics and culture of Kashmir. He has been regularly writing on these subjects in different periodicals. He has worked on oral history of Pakistani invasion of J&K (1947-48) for twenty years. His two books on the theme will be published early next year)
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