SRINAGAR, Kashmir, Sept. 8 (1982): Sheik Mohammad Abdullah, known as the Lion of Kashmir, died today after a long illness, the family sources said. He was 76 years old.
Sheik Abdullah was active in politics for 50 years, during which he fought for the independence of the subcontinent and became Chief Minister of of Jammu and Kashmir. His eldest son, Farooq Abdullah, who is a physician, was sworn in as the Acting Chief Minister, the family sources added.
Tens of thousands came to weep outside the Sheik’s home when his death was announced, and President Zail Singh of India called him ”a great nationalist and patriot.” His body will lie in state until Friday, when he will be buried near a lakeside Moslem shrine here.
He was known for more than four decades as the Lion of Kashmir, the man who would lead Kashmir from under the yoke of first British and later New Delhi’s rule. And though he only saw part of his dream materialize, Sheik Mohammad Abdullah insisted that he had never abandoned his commitment to Kashmir’s autonomy.
Jailed by the British and Indian Governments alike, Sheik Abdullah devoted his life to the cause of Kashmir, India’s northernmost and predominantly Moslem Himalayan state. He led one of the political parties that fought the British. And upon independence in 1947, he led the movement for Kashmiri self-rule.
An imposing man at 6 feet 4, he favored homespun white tunics and a caracul cap that became his trademark. Upon one release from confinement in 1968, he returned to Srinagar and was welcomed by surging, ecstatic crowds of several hundred thousand people. That same year Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had traveled the six miles from the airport to town in 15 minutes, but it took Sheik Abdullah’s car five hours to inch through the frenzied crowds.
He was born Dec. 5, 1905, in the village of Soura near Srinagar where his family made shawls for a living. The young man received his early education there before leaving for the Moslem universities of Lahore and Aligarh, in what is now Pakistan. At the University of Aligarh, he earned a Master of Science degree.
When he returned to the Vale of Kashmir, he became a schoolteacher. Then, on July 13, 1931, the army fired on a demonstration of Moslem protesters and 14 demonstrators were killed. Sheik Abdullah immediately organized a group of young Moslem intellectuals united by an intense hatred of Hari Singh, the Maharajah of Kashmir and a Hindu. At that time, the Government, the army and the civil service were filled by Hindus, with Moslems virtually banned from meaningful jobs.
He called his small group the Moslem Conference. At first it served as little more than an agency through which skilled Moslems tried to get jobs. But soon Sheik Abdullah and his firebrand compatriots realized that political action was the only means to their end. On joining with other dissident groups in Kashmir and with the powerful forces of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in India proper, Sheik Abdullah became one of the bright young men of India’s freedom movement.
In 1947, when India and Pakistan both sought Kashmir at the time of independence from Britain, Sheik Abdullah turned to India after an attack by Moslem tribesmen from Pakistani territory. Hari Singh was ousted and the sheik became Chief Minister.
He served as Chief Minister until 1953, when he began to espouse independence for his state. Although Sheik Abdullah had preached that Kashmir’s future lay with India, the state’s overwhelming Moslem population had grown restless and was demanding accession to Moslem Pakistan.
The sheik’s speeches began to ring with calls for the independence of Kashmir. He accused India of reneging on its promise to hold a plebiscite on the state’s future. Unable to tolerate his views, the central Government deposed him. He spent the next 20 years in and out of jail, under house arrest or in exile. ‘Age Has Mellowed Us’
In 1973, after his release from detention, he told an interviewer that his views had moderated. ”Age has mellowed us,” he said. ”The situation is difficult and I don’t see any signs of change. But you don’t lose hope. You can’t.”
With his mellowing came a rapprochement with Mrs. Gandhi, whom he described as ”a woman of strong character, strong will.” In 1975 he returned to political office as Chief Minister of Kashmir, a post he held until his death. As sectarian violence scarred the Kashmiri landscape, he turned on Mrs. Gandhi and what he perceived to be her efforts to depose him.
”The pendulum goes back and forth,” he said. ”If I go, someone else will take up this cause. My ideas will remain. Life is a struggle, and the struggle must go on.”