ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Demystifying Sheikh Abdullah

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah has been the most dominating political figure of modern Jammu and Kashmir who played a significant role in shaping its post-1947 politics. Frequently mentioned in various works, both scholarly and journalistic, his role is often viewed in black and white terms. This article attempts to place his political work in the contexts of its times and fi nd clues to the region's present predicaments from a study of Kashmir's modern history.

An eminent scholar and journalist, M J Akbar, rightly regards Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah as the architect of modern Kashmir saying: “The modern history of Kashmir begins with the greatest Kashmiri of modern times, Sheikh Abdullah” (Akbar 1991: xii). Sheikh Abdullah was, without question, the dominant figure in Kashmir from 1930s until his death in 1982.1 He was the most enigmatic and complex political leader of Kashmir. He had a meteoric rise to the top slot of Kashmir politics and continued to dominate the political scene for more than 50 years with enduring impact. However, notwithstanding his abiding contribution, perhaps no other person has become as controversial as Sheikh Abdullah did. In this article, I intend to revisit his role with a view to understand the politics of modern Kashmir.

Sheikh Abdullah was the harbinger of national consciousness2 and instrumental to introduce political modernisation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Those who met Sheikh Abdullah during his political heyday attest to his enormous charm, considerable presence, and unquestioned charisma and authority – though his political wisdom was always not so evident. By establishing the Muslim Conference, Sheikh Abdullah not only started political life in the state, but also his organisation became an important pressure group over the feudal establishment which compelled the state to introduce different socio-economic and administrative reforms. The organisation, with Sheikh its moving sprit, championed civil liberties, freedom of the press, spread of modern education and economic emancipation of the downtrodden sections of the society.3

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