In Depth

Dr. Farooq Abdullah: The ‘Independent Kashmir’ baiter’s brushes with ‘Azadi’ camp

The mercurial Farooq Abdullah whom Indira Gandhi once feared for ‘second partition of India’ has raked a new controversy by dismissing the idea of Independent Kashmir. But the man—who saw Che Guevara shades in Trehgam’s Maqbool Bhat and vowed to hold sword against his powerful father on question of Kashmir’s Right to Self Determination—is often chided for using independent Kashmir platform as his ‘launching pad’.

The interview took place in 2006 — the year Dr. Farooq Abdullah would be talking about the Double-Umar ittehad akin to the Double-Farooq Accord of eighties. The moment interviewer played devil’s advocate with him, the riled National Conference patron invoked his ‘limited’ powers as the former head of Jammu and Kashmir to justify his actions. But the interviewer was in no mood to spare the man whose utterances often go against his own eventful past.

Have you met with Maqbool Bhat?

Yes I have.

How do you rate him?

I don’t know. I don’t want to say. The man is dead. Let him remain in peace.

Some people say that you were instrumental in getting him hanged.

What do I have to do with his hanging? He killed an innocent bank manager while taking money from the bank. He was later hanged because of Ravinder Mhatre who was killed by the JKLF in the UK.

You agree then that it was a political killing when you say that Maqbool Bhat was killed because JKLF had killed Mhatre in UK?

Why should I agree? He had already killed an innocent bank manager. Why don’t you remember him and his family when he stole money from the bank?

You signed his final hanging order.

I did not sign anything. For God’s sake Farooq Abdullah does not sign anything. It was the government of India who decided things.

But as head of the government you were sent the final warrant by the Supreme Court of India.

So what does that mean? I still do not matter. It was all up to government of India. The Indian government was secretly negotiating with Pakistan to exchange Maqbool Bhat and few other people in Indian jails but the Pakistani authorities washed off their hands saying they had nothing to do with this. Thus Maqbool Bhat’s fate was sealed. Why don’t you say that. Simply because you don’t know anything about that. When JKLF killed Mhatre, the Indians said that they should teach the other side a lesson.

***

A day in 1975

“Tell these bastards to get out,” Farooq Abdullah told ZG Mohammad as the car they were travelling in pulled over near the erstwhile Broadway Cinema. Giving a derisive look to two of his colleagues on the rare seat, the NC’s heir apparent said, “They have insulted a patriot.”

Farooq was on way to Ghulam Rasool Kochak’s residence with Waheed Raina and Sharief-ud-Din. The trio had deserted NC, joined Satantara Party and were now desperate to come back with Farooq’s support.

At a certain point in the journey, ZGM said, “Wahid and Sharif termed Maqbool Bhat a ‘double agent and a fake freedom fighter.’ This angered Farooq so much that he humiliated the men by calling them bastards.”

***

But you could have still saved Bhat from hanging.

For God’s sake we live in a civilised state. If a man was charge-sheeted and convicted, Farooq Abdullah cannot save a man from gallows. The only person who can do that is the president of India.

Let me rephrase it… As Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir you were not free.

In certain matters, nobody is free.

People also say that you have been a member of JKLF.

I have never been a member of JKLF. I have always been a National Conference man.

May be because you had gone to Azad Kashmir.

So what? I have always been to different parts of the world. That does not mean I belong to that place or to any other group. I was never with JKLF.

But people say you also wanted independent Kashmir.

Please don’t put wrong words in my mouth.

***

Circa 1983, the poll-bound Kashmir…

Srinagar had become a literal war-turf of competing political cries. Sheikh Abdullah’s son and his “mummy”, Indira Gandhi, were caught in a big political tussle. “We’re fighting the Congress,” Farooq would address his election meetings. “Its defeat will mean the defeat of the Central power that wants to subjugate Kashmiris.”

The rivalry peaked after Indira accused Farooq of sponsoring an audience during her rally inside Iqbal Park, where some men lifted their pherans and paraded their nakedness to her. The act left India’s “Iron Lady” fuming.

Behind the doors, writes B.K. Nehru, then JK Governor and Indira’s cousin in his book ‘Nice Guys Finish Second’, Farooq’s nemesis—Mufti M Sayeed—was busy scratching his ‘secessionist’ past. “He accused Farooq of being a JKLF member,” Nehru writes. “He printed an old photograph from Farooq’s London days shaking hands with Amanullah Khan and called him a Pakistani agent and an anti-Indian.”

Despite being hounded by his unmasked history, Farooq won the 1983 polls by riding a sympathy wave of his father’s demise. It was a clear majority to him in state assembly.

But Mufti wasn’t done yet. He was acting like a conveyor belt to his “madam” about the mercurial Farooq, Nehru writes. It’s because of those briefs that Indira complained to Nehru one day about Farooq’s anti-Congress and anti-peoples activities. “No such reports have come to me,” Nehru told her. But Indira wasn’t convinced. “Farooq is more dangerous than Jinnah,” she told Nehru. “He (Farooq) has boasted that he would be responsible for the second partition of India.”

After toppling his government in 1984, Delhi accused Farooq of “seeking the assistance from subversives and secessionists”. The White Paper on him was prepared on July 10, 1984 vide govt order No. 1206 GD, which was presented by then deputy chief minister DD Thakur before the state cabinet for consideration on Sep 3, 1984.

“Dr Farooq Abdullah went to United Kingdom, stayed there for about a decade and returned to India only after Kashmir Accord between Mrs Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had been reached,” the 112-page report that Delhi prepared on him says. “He went on a tour to Pakistan on a special invitation extended to him by Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, the leader of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front who had organised a convention in May 1974 in all the major towns of Pakistan, Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi.”

Maqbool Bhat

The report claims to expose the real motive behind Farooq Abdullah’s 1974 Pakistan visit. Quoting Maqbool Bhat’s statement to state authorities after his arrest in 1976, the report said that Farooq was called to dispel the rising sense in Pakistan that “Sheikh Sahib was planning to sell the state to Government of India” in run-up to the 1975 Accord. In that regard, the report says, the ‘rising son’s’ visit was ‘successful’.

“Another fact which is not disputed is that Dr Abdullah had himself taken and administered to others the oath of allegiance and dedication to the cause of so-called liberation of Kashmir,” the report reveals. “The photographs showing Dr Abdullah, Amanullah Khan and Hashim Qureshi administering oath have been published by the press and is not in dispute.”

Then in Srinagar, the “secessionist” forces—dormant under Sheikh Abdullah’s “firm handling”—got an opportunity to nurse themselves under protective umbrella of Dr Farooq Abdullah both during and after the 1983 elections, the report says.

“In fact the Double Farooq Accord was created, as if, the fight against Congress during 1983 assembly elections was a fight against India,” the report notes. “In that process all the anti-national and secessionist organisations in the valley like Mahaz-e-Azadi, People’s League, Jamat-ul -Tulba and Kashmir Liberation Front came to surface in support of Dr Farooq Abdullah considering election as a fight between Kashmiris on the one hand and India as a sovereign country on the other.”

***

But do you agree that the election in Kashmir is not a verdict for the future of Kashmir problem?

Of course not. Elections in Kashmir is not a verdict that Kashmir problem is solved. It is not Rai Shumari (right of self determination). It is not plebiscite. But if you think you will get azadi… you are dreaming.

I still plead the Indian case. Please listen to me that I am not a Pakistani nor do I want Azadi. This is all loose talk. Those people who think they can survive in azadi with such huge borders with China, India and Pakistan must be living in Cuckoo’s world.

***

Flirting with Azadi

After Lal Chowk hosted Amanullah Khan in 1974, the trade heartland at once was reverberated with, “Chyon Desh, Myon Desh… Koshur Desh, Koshur Desh” (Your country, my country … Kashmir, Kashmir).

Flanked by Dr Farooq Abdullah, Khan was then permitted by Delhi to go round Kashmir and suggest a solution to Kashmir dispute. As Farooq later denied hosting Khan in Srinagar, his former ally Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq contradicted him, saying: “Both Dr Farooq Abdullah and Amanullah Khan had visited my house in 1974. This was with the permission of the Government of India.”

But before Khan’s Srinagar visit that year, Farooq—the proponent of plebiscite—had met late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto with Amanullah Khan’s help in Azad Kashmir. He even shared podium with Ashraf Qureshi, the hijacker belonging to JKNLF, during a lavish reception in Mirpur.

“It was basically a convention of the Plebiscite Front,” Farooq would later sum up his 1974 Pakistan visit. “I met Maqbool Butt there … I found him to be a romantic – like Che Guevara.” Back then, as Beig-Parthasarthy talks were on, Farooq would tell the Muzaffarabad weekly Qaid: “Even if my Abba compromises with India, I shall go and fight against him with a sword.”

Once back to Srinagar, ZG Mohammad said, Farooq addressed a gathering at Lal Chowk on July 7, 1974 and threatened a militant struggle in case the dialogue with Plebiscite Front and New Delhi failed to yield the ‘desired results’.

Years later in early eighties as Sheikh Abdullah would address a public meeting to introduce him—“What I have not been able to achieve, he will”—Farooq told the gathering that he would never compromise ‘the dignity and honour’ of Kashmiris, even if it meant ‘fighting the mighty India’. Only a secessionist could speak such a language, the Congress hit back. But soon Farooq surprised everyone when he delinked himself from Maqbool Bhat, Amanullah Khan and JKLF.

***

Soon after the (1987) elections were over … even one of Salahudin’s election agents and future militant commander Hamid Sheikh of JKLF was beaten up and tortured by one of your senior minister.

That is not true. Hamid Sheikh was from a National Conference family and today his father is a National Conference man. He comes and sees me in this very room.

That does not mean Hamid Sheikh was National Conference man.

He was a National Conference man for your information.

So did he die as a National Conference man?

No, he died as a man who wanted to die.

For what cause?

For that man… You don’t know the inner story. He was working for Inspector General Police (IG) Patel who was an intelligence man. Patel was trying to bargain something for Hamid Sheikh, but it did not work out and in the end Patel got him eliminated.

So you blame IG Patel for his death?

Yeah definitely.

If Hamid Sheikh was NC man, you earlier opposed his release in exchange of the then Home Minister Mufti Sayeed’s daughter?

Yes, I opposed the move knowing that it will boost militancy. Release of the militants gave their militant movement a flip as they thought they will drive India from Kashmir like Afghans had done with Russia. But look where are we now. Have they driven out India? Today India is occupying us more than ever. The army is acquiring thousands of kanals of land everywhere in Kashmir for building huge new basis.

***

Farooq Abdullah and his late father have done politics in the name of freedom of Kashmir for a long time, JKLF chief Muhammad Yasin Malik ridiculed Farooq’s latest statement that an independent Kashmir is not a reality. “Farooq Abdullah has always played non-serious and selfish politics.”

Before their chief’s outburst, the JKLF rank and file would say with authority that Farooq had joined their independent Kashmir outfit during his visit across the Line of Control. But despite his denial, Farooq’s past often contradicts his wordplay.

In Oct 1993, when he bumped into his former associate Amanullah Khan in Belgium, the old ties surfaced, albeit dourly. They were invited by the European Parliament to attend a seminar on Kashmir. But on Delhi’s directions, Khan was detained and was to be extradited to India.

The vintage Farooq Abdullah lodged a strong protest against what Indian diplomats considered “a coup” at a time when the firearms issued to the National Conference workers would find their way to Kashmiri insurgents patronised by Amanullah Khan.


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