Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah: A Fraught Relationship




Having been raised in Kashmir in the 1970s and the 1980s, I instinctively knew my parents would protect me from the shackles of restrictive traditions and from the pigeonholes of modernity. My own wariness of statism, perhaps, stems from my mother’s experience of a fraught childhood and youth. Her father, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, was the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) from 1948 -1953. I have attempted to historicise the strained relationship between the two elected PMs, Sheikh Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru, which ended up deepening the trust deficit between the people of Kashmir and the rest of India. Sheikh Abdullah, to friends as well as foes, symbolised Kashmiri nationalism, and his long incarceration was a clear indication that Nehru’s government would not allow a powerful regional leader to blossom.

When the pledge to hold a referendum in J&K was not kept by the governments of India and Pakistan, his advocacy of the right to self-determination of the state led to his imprisonment. He was shifted from one jail to another until 1972 and remained out of power till 1975. Despite tremendous changes in the world order, Sheikh Abdullah did not lose faith in the international system premised on Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination. The Sheikh sought self-determination for J&K as a territorial unit, not as a Muslim nation. He looked at the evolution of Kashmiri nationalism in global terms not just as a domestic and local issue. He wanted Kashmir to grow into an international polity.

Nyla Ali Khan | Granddaughter of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah is an Oklahoma-based academic

After the rumblings and subsequent explosion of armed insurgency and counter insurgency in Kashmir during 1989, the organisations which advocated armed resistance to secure the right to self-determination of Kashmir, in accordance with the United Nations’ resolutions of 21 April and 3 June 1948, of 14 March 1950 and 30 March 1951, blamed the nationalist leader, Sheikh Abdullah, for having, purportedly, succumbed to the pressures of the Indian government in 1975. He had given the clarion call for Kashmiri nationalism. After 1975, it was alleged that the Sheikh had purportedly capitulated to the insistence of the Indian government to relinquish the struggle for autonomy and right to self-determination . It was a heart-rending period for my mother to see reductive readings of her father’s ideology and the attempted erasure of its political and sociocultural edifice. In one of those few and far between moments of unburdening herself, mother recalled how the Sheikh always had clarity about his political ideology during his time in prison and even until he breathed his last.