Kashmir's Historical Political Heads

Since 1947, Kashmir has been ruled by 10 Kashmiri politicians, either as prime ministers, when the state enjoyed significant autonomy, or as chief ministers. Kashmir Reader looks at what Kashmir gained and lost during their rule. Introducing Kashmir’s historical political heads, who have held either the post of erstwhile Prime Minister or been the Chief Ministers.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (Nov 1, 1947-Aug 9, 1953)
From Nov 1, 1947 to March 1948, Mahraja Hari Singh appoints Sheikh as Chief Emergency Administrator after the monarch signs a temporary accession with the Government of India (GOI).
The monarch had releases him from jail where he had been serving a term from May 1946 to September 1947 for running Quit Kashmir Movement. Sheikh also changes his given political position by sending a letter to Hari Singh, asking for forgiveness.
In March 1948, the Maharaja, de facto ruler, appoints Sheikh as an interim prime minister. By aligning with Maharaja and GOI, historians say Sheikh got access to power.
During the same period, with Sheikh as the PM, Jammu massacre is carried out by right wing Hindu groups, which dramatically reduces the Muslim population in the region, especially in Jammu city. He would offer armed guards to Muslims residing in Jammu who wanted to leave the place for Pakistan Administered Kashmir.
Some historians suggest Sheikh also played a significant role in sabotaging UN-backed plebiscite in Kashmir. Under UN resolutions on Kashmir, the Maharaja had to give plebiscite administrator with administrative powers before the plebiscite, but he instead appointed Sheikh. Thus the plebiscite administrator never got the requisite power and the promised plebiscite was relegated to the backburner.
In 1949, Indian Constituent Assembly changes the relation of Kashmir from one defined by Instrument of Accession to the one defined by Article 370 and then implements it in 1950.
The article laid down that GOI would extend its powers other than those listed in the Accession like defence, foreign affairs and communication. It also stated that GOI would extend these powers with the help of JK government and JK Constituent Assembly which would be convened later. Historian Ashiq Hussain believes that by agreeing to a relation defined by Article 370, Sheikh already sowed seeds for erosion of the autonomy.
In October 1950, the first election for the Constituent Assembly is held. Nobody is allowed to contest against National Conference candidates headed by Sheikh. NC wins a majority of the 75 seats. Sheikh continues to be the prime minister of Kashmir.
Sheikh’s biggest achievement was distribution of land among tillers in August 1950, one of the most radical land reform movements in the sub-continent, which added to his mass popularity. He is said to have conceived the idea of reviving the Mughal Road and founded the University of Jammu and Kashmir.
In April 1952, the government of India suggested that it would extend powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Supreme Court of India to Kashmir. It started confrontation between New Delhi and Sheikh who began to have second thoughts about the Accession. He started become assertive to protect whatever little sovereignty had remained.
In 1953, the government of India dismissed him on charges of conspiring against Indian state. He would spend most of his life till 1974 in and out of jails.

Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad (1953-1962)
Bakshi took over the reins of the state after Sheikh’s dismissal. Reviled and praised for “treachery” and “benevolence” at the same, Bakshi’s rule was an era of infrastructure development. He built medical colleges, secretariats, government buildings, stadiums, roads and popularized cheap education. He led an equitable infrastructural development in both Kashmir and Jammu region.
But his rule was mired in corruption and many believe New Delhi killed the spirit of rebellion among Kashmiris by patronizing this corruption. He also opened the doors for New Delhi’s bulldozing of the state’s special status.
In February 1954, the Bakshi-led constituent assembly passed a resolution which endorsed the temporary accession, which meant that there was no need for plebiscite in Kashmir. He also revoked the state’s law of issuing permits (visas) to anybody who wanted to visit Kashmir.
In Nov 17 1956, Bakshi replaced Jammu Kashmir constitutional act of 1939 with Jammu Kashmir constitution. This changed the nomenclature of JK Constituent Assembly to JK Legislative Assembly.
In 1957, elections for the new assembly were held which were won by the ruling party. In 1958, Bakshi allowed administrative officers from GOI to serve and head the state departments.
Hailing from a poor family, he ended up enriching his relatives. He remained politically relevant only up to 1963 and became one of the richest politicians by the time he relinquished the throne.

Shamsudin (11 Oct 1963- 28 Feb 1964)
Shamsudin was seen as Bakshi’s proxy, whose tenure was short lived and marred by a major agitation over the theft of the holy relic of the Prophet Muhamamad (SAW) on December 27, 1963.

GM Sadiq (1964-1971)
While Bakshi dealt the first blow to Kashmir’s autonomy, Sadiq decimated it. In 1964, Sadiq government ruled that candidates would be elected for the Indian Parliament instead of nominating them as was done in the past.
On December 4, 1964, he extended article 356 and 357 of Indian constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. It empowered the Indian President to dismiss governments in Kashmir. Kashmir no more had a Prime Minister or Sadr-e-Riyasat now. They became chief minister and governor respectively. It also legally empowered Indian civil servants to serve in the state. Sadiq became the first chief minister.
On January 26, 1965, Sadiq government disbanded the Democratic NC party, which had been formed after a split in the NC following Sheikh’s arrest. The disbanded NC legislators named their new outfit as Congress whose founder was Mir Qasim.
Sheikh started a social boycott movement against Congress. The NC-led Plebiscite Front, demanding implementation of UN resolutions picked momentum.
Sadiq withdrew the Kashmir conspiracy case against Sheikh in April 1964. He died on December 12, 1971, a year before elections were due in the state.

Mir Qasim (1971-1975)
Mir Qasim took over the chief ministership of the state at a time when Bangladesh war was on. The situation in Kashmir was tense and volatile who could not reconcile with the idea that Pakistan was cut into two.
Congress gained power in massively rigged elections in 1972. In fact, most of its members were elected unopposed as the NC boycotted the polls, a fact admitted by Qasim in his book Dastaan-e-Hayat Syed Mir Qasim.
“Congress became the channel through which all the political dirt was conveyed to Kashmir,” Qasim writes in the book.
In 1972, Sheikh signaled his willingness for a rethink on his views about the accession, saying he did not oppose it but held a different view on the quantum of accession.
This led to talks between NC’s Mirza Afzal Beigh and GOI representative G Parthasarthy, which lasted for three years to “iron out” differences.
Qasim writes in his book that he persuaded then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to hold talks with NC which she did.
“I told him Sheikh can manage things,” he writes.
For three years, Sheikh Abdullah fought for the return of the nomenclature of PM and Sadr-e-Riyasat for Kashmir, but GOI did not succumb and NC gave up.
Finally on 13 Nov 1974, Pasthasarthy and Beigh signed the accord which later was approved by Sheikh on 12 February 1975. The accord, which ratified the accession without people’s approval, famously came to be known as Indira-Abdullah accord.

Sheikh Abdullah 1975-1982
On February 25, 1975 Sheikh became the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir with the support of Congress legislators, five Jamaat-e-Islami members and some members from Jammu.
On April 4, 1975, Mirza Afzal Beigh, who had founded the Plebiscite Front called a meeting in Jammu. He termed the 20-year struggle for plebiscite as political “awaragardi” and described the time spent in the Front as a “dark patch of history” which had “come to an end”.
On July 5, 1975 Plebiscite Front was dissolved again and NC was set up. Some historians suggest that NC started the Plebiscite Front movement to remain politically relevant and dumped it soon after it regained power.
On March 1977, Indira Gandhi lost Parliament elections. Then state Congress chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed withdrew support to Sheikh.
In June 1977, Sheikh was bedridden while Mirza Afzal Beig ran the election campaign. Beigh would exhibit (Pakistani) rock salt and a green handkerchief and point towards the west ostensibly to show that it still looked to Pakistan as the final destination for Kashmiris.
NC won the elections with a thumping majority and Sheikh became the CM. However, giving his public appeal, he maintained a confrontational approach towards Delhi. During these years, when New Delhi decided to give domicile status to West Pakistan Refugees, Sheikh fiercely resisted the move and passed a resettlement bill empowering the government to bring back all Kashmiris who had fled to Pakistan and elsewhere in 1947.
Sheikh passed the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) in the assembly in 1978 to curb political dissenters. During his second innings, he is learnt to have okayed the plan for reviving the Mughal Road-link to Muslim-majority areas of Jammu, setting up of SKIMS and consolidated Muslim Auqaf.

Farooq Abdullah 1983 to 1984
Farooq ended one of the longest running political feuds in Kashmir between Shers and Bakras by signing the “Double Farooq” accord with late Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq in 1983. But New Delhi, emboldened by the passing away of Sheikh, soon engineered a split in the NC. Farooq’s brother-in-law GM Shah walks away with 13 NC legislators who form government with the help of Congress’ outside support. Governor Jagmohan and then PCC chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had engineered the split.

GM Shah (1984-1986)
GM Shah or Gul Shah became synonymous with curfew he imposed to quell the unrest triggered by the takeover. He tried to play Muslim card to gain constituency, but Congress withdrew support to him in 1986 paving way for Jagmohan’s brief rule. In the same year, a mellowed-down Farooq extends a reconciliatory hand to New Delhi.
On Nov 7, 1986 Farooq signs an accord with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi known as “Rajiv-Farooq accord” and his government is re-installed. This agreement, though, became unpopular among the public who would prefer a confrontational approach towards Delhi.
The dissenting individuals came together under the umbrella of Muslim United Front or MUF on 2 Sept 1986.
The growing popularity of the MUF unnerved Farooq and he called for a fresh election in March 1987. The rigged elections were won by NC-Congress alliance.
Persecution of MUF supporters was one of the triggers for the resistance movement the start of which was signaled by a bomb blast near Telegraph Office on July 31, 1988.
On 19 Jan 1990, governor’s rule returned to Kashmir after Farooq resigned from his chief ministerial post. In 1990, Jagmohan dissolved the assembly.

Farooq Abdullah 1996 to 2002
Farooq’s second stint becomes synonymous with state repression. He did nothing to stop the extra-judicial counterinsurgency force, STF (later SOG) from committing human rights abuses.
In 2000, the NC passed autonomy resolution seeking return of pre-1953 position in the assembly, but New Delhi trashed it.
In 2000, the Farooq-led government passed Shri Amarnath Shrine Board Act, which gave the status of “body corporate” to the Board. It also empowered the Board to, among other things, acquire movable and immovable property, in the State in its own name.
In July 2000, Hizbul Mujahideen announced unilateral ceasefire, but it bore no fruit as the outfit could not strike the deal with the BJP-led NDA government of which NC was a part.
The NC government okayed the takeover of state land by the army in Gulmarg.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and GN Azad (2002 to 2008)
Militancy was at its lowest ebb when Mufti’s fledgling party, believed to be the creation of India’s intelligence agencies, formed a government in alliance with Congress. Human rights abuses reduce drastically and cross-LoC trade and bus services begin amid growing improvement in Indo-Pak relations.
Among the lows of this government was killing of top Hizb commanders, passage of J&K Women’s Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill, sanction of residential quarters for army and paramilitary forces.
According to the power sharing agreement, GN Azad took over as the CM in 2005. His stint saw some development work. At the fag end of the coalition’s term, in 2008, the government transferred land to Amarnath Shrine Board that triggered a massive agitation, sanction of residential quarters for army and paramilitary forces. PDP quit the government.

Omar Abdullah (2008 to 2014)
A year into the government, the youngest chief minister of the state faced first major crisis when the Valley erupted over the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian in 2009. This was followed by the cold-blooded murder of three men by the army in Machhil sector, which triggered protests in Srinagar. During one such protest a boy, Tufail Matoo, was shot in the head. His death led to a massive anti-India uprising in 2010, which was put down with massive force.
About 128 people, mostly boys, were shot dead during protests by the police and CRPF. Hundreds were arrested and booked under Public Safety Act. While he ordered an inquiry into the killings, the policemen were awarded and no one was ever punished.
To pacify Kashmiris, New Delhi appointed interlocutors who suggested some measures which were never implemented.
For the first time, Panchayati Raj elections were conducted in the state in 2012 and 659 new administrative units were created in 2014. But none of these measures could save the NC from its worst ever defeat.
While Omar had promised the AFSPA will be revoked during his tenure, the draconian law remains in force.

The article appeared on Kashmir Reader earlier.