Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, also known as Sher-e-Kashmir, rose from being an obscure schoolteacher to a leader who ruled the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris till his death in 1982. A charismatic leader and an excellent orator, he emerged as the voice of the Kashmiris in the Valley and led the "Quit Kashmir" movement against Maharaja Hari Singh and the Dogra dynasty in 1931, on the lines of the "Quit India" movement led by Gandhiji.
Against the Dogra rule, he formed the All India Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference to give a voice to the Muslim Kashmiris who had felt neglected under the Dogra rule. Soon, he moved away from the Muslim orientation of his party and opened it to people of all communities, lending it a secular character and aligning it with the national freedom movement being led by the Indian National Congress.
His rapport with the Central powers and close ties with Nehru, who nursed an animus for Hari Singh, worked to his advantage, though in later years his constantly changing demands for Jammu and Kashmir posed a paramount problem for Nehru who was stunned at his close friend’s change of heart.
After Maharaja Hari Singh signed the accession to India in October 1947, Sheikh Abdullah was appointed emergency administrator and later elected prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1948.
From agreeing to a full accession for India, Sheikh Abdullah soon started advocating independence and plebiscite for the state along with a hardliner in the National Conference, Mirza Afzal Beg, who was also fonder of the Plebiscite Front. His campaign triggered large-scale violence in the state, which led to his arrest in 1953.
In between, Nehru had also received reports from then intelligence chief BN Mullick that Abdullah had colluded with the British to spread unrest in the region.
Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad replaced him as the Prime Minister. The state was thrown in turmoil once again when the holy relic from Hazratbal, Prophet Mohammad’s hair, was stolen. Efforts by the Centre and the Sadr-e-Riyasat, Karan Singh, brought in normalcy. But public opinion had turned against Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad.
Then, GM Sadiq was made the prime minister. Under him the nomenclature of president and prime minister was changed to governor and chief minister respectively.
With Abdullah’s bete noire Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad away from the scene, Nehru was keen to get the former back. He believed that Abdullah could act as a bridge between India and Pakistan.
Abudullah was released in 1958 only to be rearrested for plotting treason against the state.
Nehru, not very happy with his incarceration, had him released in 1964 and urged him to initiate talks with Pakistan. But Nehru’s calculation proved wrong. Abdullah, as belligerent as ever, did not accept the accession to India, and together with Mirza Afzal Beg, not only called for plebiscite but also advocated that an agreement on Kashmir acceptable to India, Pakistan and Kashmir should be found.
Nehru was saddened at the turn of affairs, which affected his failing health. Abdullah went to meet him and after a very emotional meeting with Nehru, decided to give Sheikh Abdullah another chance to bridge the Indo-Pak barrier.
From self-determination, Sheikh Abdullah now changed his tone and spoke of an Indo-Pak reconciliation. Nehru passed away in 1964 and with him his dream of Kashmir.
From 1965 to 1972, Sheikh Abdullah was put under arrest for his stand that fanned violence in the valley.
In between, important developments changed the situation in Jammu and Kashmir greatly. The 1965 Indo-Pak war was fought, after which Indira Gandhi and ZA Bhutto signed the Simla Accord. Another war was fought in 1971, which led to Pakistan’s division. By the time Abdullah stepped out of jail, he was facing an altered South-Asian scenario.
In 1974, Abdullah signed the Kashmir accord with Indira Gandhi under which Kashmir was put down as a constituent of India. Later, he was made the chief minister of the state.
His failing health, soon led him to appoint his son Farooq Abdullah, a newcomer in the political arena, as chief minister of the state.
In 1977, the Congress withdrew support to the Farrow Abdullah government and the Assembly was dissolved. In the subsequent elections, the National Conference won and he was re-elected chief minister.