Born On: 5th December, 1905
Born In: Soura, Kashmir
Died On: 8th September, 1982
Sheikh Abdullah was one of the most distinguished political leaders who ruled in the Kashmir valley, prior to the Indian Independence and post the freedom struggle in India. His never-say-die attitude earned him the moniker of "Sher-e-Kashmir" (Lion of Kashmir), by his ardent supporters. Abdullah was the founder and leader of the National Conference, which was believed to be one of the biggest political parties in that region. The aim was to work actively for the progress of the common people. Sheikh Abdullah was a reputed man and he worked for equal rights, medical infrastructure for the people and establishment of trade and commerce in Kashmir, during his tenure. Till today, he continues to be held in great reverence as an important political figure. One of Sheikh Abdullah and his party members' achievements was that they were the first few educated individuals who struggled to make a change in the feudal system and establish a democratic rule in Kashmir.
Sheikh Abdullah was born in a remote village named Soura where his father was a middle-class Kashmiri textile trader. In his autobiography, it is said that he hailed from a Hindu-Kashmiri Pandit community and later converted to Islam. Hence he came to be known as Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.
His early childhood was scarred by acute poverty that denied him of quality education. Despite his stepmother's best efforts, he did not receive more than the traditional form of education, consisting of recitation of the Koran and other Persian texts like Gulistan of Sa'di, Bostan and Padshanama. Later, he was admitted into primary school but discontinued after two years. In 1911, his stepbrother insisted that Abdullah learn the family trade.
Abdullah first worked at an embroidering workstation and then as a sales boy at a grocer's shop. During this time, the family barber, Mohammed Ramzan, influenced Abdullah's uncle to send the young boy back to school.
Soon after passing out from the Punjab University in 1922, he joined Sri Partap College Abdullah did his B.Sc. from Islamia College at Lahore and M.Sc. in Chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in 1930. Due to malnutrition and excessive exercise, he developed a heart condition called cardiomegaly, which he recovered from.
In 1933, he married Akbar Jahan, the daughter of Michael Harry Nedou. His father-in-law was a European proprietor and the heir to certain hotels in India.
Formation of Muslim Conference
Abdullah began to become socially aware of Kashmir's socio-political condition, when he was a student at the Aligarh Muslim University. He was convinced that feudalism was the main cause of a desolate state of affairs and believed that Kashmir must adopt a different system of governance. He was in favor of a democratic governing body that provided equal rights to its people.
Abdullah was deeply influenced by Molvi Abdullah's political views. On 16th October 1932, Kashmir's first political party: the Muslim Conference was formed and Sheikh Abdullah was nominated as the President. In his first presidential speech, he stated that the party was essentially formed to work for the rights of all oppressed sections of society, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Abdullah also made it clear that this party was not just a communal party but it also worked for justice of the backward castes prevalent in the society.
Renaming of Muslim Conference
It was not until 1933, that the Muslim Conference decided to change the name of the party, in order not to sound representative of the Muslim community. In March, a nine member team was formed to establish relationships with other non-Muslim parties for a political alliance. Abdullah extensively campaigned for this change with the help of Jawaharlal Nehru. Finally, in 1939 the Muslim Conference became the National Conference, with the support of Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas of Jammu.
Formation of Legislative Assembly
Meanwhile, due to a political demonstration against the sovereign rule in Kashmir, the Maharaja had appointed a grievance commission to look into matters. With the help of the Muslim Conference, it was decided that a Legislatively Assembly must be formed.
In 1934, the Praja Sabha was created that became the first step towards democratic rule in Kashmir. Despite its formation, the Maharaja controlled the Assembly and believed in monarchy. Four years later, the leaders of the Muslim Conference began to protest. Abdullah and other party leaders presented their demands, which were flatly refused by their King. Demonstrations were carried out against Maharaja Hari Singh, which in turn united people from Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other communities, to oppose an autocratic rule. Although the protest failed to make any major changes, the Muslim Conference succeeded in changing their party name.
As the sovereign rule in Kashmir continued, Abdullah initiated the Quit Kashmir Movement in 1946. He was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment for three years. In September 1947, when the country was in a state of political anarchy, Hari Singh requested Lord Mountbatten to allow Sheikh Abdullah to take over the Government, in the state of emergency. Subsequently, when he took over administration duties, an army was raised to protect against the Pakistan Government In 1948, the UN Security Council intervened and tried to settle issues between the two regions.
On March 17th 1948, Sheikh Abdullah was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Kashmir, under the rule of the Maharaja. He was looked upon as a representative of Nehru. So, when Abdullah visited Pakistan in 1964, he was not welcomed. Five years later, he was dismissed from his position by Maharaja Hari Singh's son, Dr. Karan Singh. This was followed by an 11 year imprisonment for conspiracy against the state.
After his release, Abdullah met up with Nehru for further political advice. Based on the latter's advice, he became a negotiator for India and Pakistan. Shortly after Nehru's death in 1964, Abdulla maintained a low political profile and was not very active between 1965 and 1968.
During this time, war had broken out between India and Pakistan and consequences looked disastrous. Abdullah took this opportunity to settle matters with the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. His dialogues with her made an impact and resolved matters temporarily. Soon after this, Sheikh Abdullah was made the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. But by then, the ruling party had withdrawn its support due to which the State Assembly was dissolved and elections were conducted. The National Conference won with a majority support.
During his term in office, Abdullah worked on the development of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh's infrastructure to better medical facilities and promote trade and tourism in the region. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah remained as Chief Minister until his death. On the 8th of September 1982, his eldest son Farooq Abdullah succeeded him.
1905: Abdullah was born on December 5th, in Kashmir.
1930: He was the first Muslim to earn a Master's Degree in Chemistry.
1931: Entered into politics in order to oppose the sovereign rule.
1932: Abdullah was appointed as the leader of the Muslim Conference.
1933: He married Akbar Jahan.
1934: Responsible for the formation of the Legislative Assembly in the valley region.
1939: Managed to gain maximum votes by party members to change name of the party to National Conference.
1946: He commenced the Quit Kashmir Movement.
1948: He was announced as Prime Minister of Kashmir by Maharaja Hari Singh.
1953: Abdullah was dismissed and arrested on charges of conspiracy.
1964: He was released and became a negotiator between India and Pakistan
1971: Sent away on exile for 18 months.
1975: Sheikh Abdullah was elected as Chief Minister of Kashmir.
1977: He won the State Assembly elections for the second time.
1982: He passed away on the 8th September.