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Saturday, February 28, 2015

A cold morning in December 1975

It was a cold December morning in 1975. It had been in many ways a monumental year for both Kashmir and India. And that morning despite being cold and cloudy had an idyllic aura and promise for future. If there was a foreboding of future upheavals, that was not something that many at that time had on their minds. Two major events of the year, which was almost coming to an end, were an accord between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi following the culmination of torturous Beg-Parthasarthy talks. The accord paved way for Sheikh Abdullah to become chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir almost twenty-two years after his illegal and most ill conceived dismissal as the Prime Minister of the state by the Indian administration. In the interim, governance in the state had a feeling of being unreal with hand picked chief ministers lacking democratic legitimacy and who were at all times at the mercy of their masters in Delhi. The assumption of power of power in the state by Sheikh Abdullah suddenly brought gravitas and a sense to the administration that until then had tethered on sleaziness and illegitimacy. The effect was real, eclectic and perceptible. If there was a single department, which stood out, it was education that until then had suffered from scourge of patronage and mass copying. There is another but completely pertinent matter that in a few years the mechanics of Indian machinery and unscrupulous local politicians who had lost crumbs of power would turn that accord into a ploy to strengthen the occupation rather than guaranteeing the agreed maximum autonomy to the state. As per the accord itself, it is always convenient to pass a judgment with the benefit of hindsight but to be present in that era is an altogether different matter.      

Another consequential chapter of that momentous year, which shook the very foundations of the democratic structures of the Indian state, was promulgation of the internal emergency by Indira Gandhi following the verdict of Allahabad high court that disqualified her from holding any elected office. That declaration itself, incarceration of many opposition leaders, complete censorship of news media and spates of constitutional amendments bulldozed through the truncated parliament virtually paralyzed the Indian democracy. India was enveloped in a pal of gloom that due to the very presence of Sheikh Abdullah in power did not affect Kashmir. The two events would eventually coalesce as Indira Gandhi for some reasons realized the wisdom of democracy and declared elections in the country in spring of 1977, despite the vehement opposition from her coterie that included notorious Sanjay Gandhi. Those elections resulted in a complete loss for Indira Gandhi and her party at all over India. The local congress party incidentally under none other than Mufti Saeed tried to engineer a coup of sort by withdrawing support to Sheikh Abdullah, which virtually amounted to reneging on their promises made in the accord. But for the then governor of the state L. K. Jha, wily Mufti Sayeed might have succeeded back then in attaining power. L. K. Jha instead on the advice of the Chief Minister called for fresh elections that gave a huge mandate to National Conference and resulted in decimation of Congress and other disparate groups that had opportunistically joined hands. Mufti Sayeed did get his chance to play a spoilsport not once but many times after the death of Sheikh Abdullah. But that would be for some other time.    

It was on that December morning of 1975, I went to meet Sheikh Nazir at his office-residence at Nedous. Sheikh Nazir besides being a close confidante of Sheikh Abdullah was an eminent practicing lawyer. I was in my teens but that never prevented Sheikh Nazir from greeting me with dignified courteous civility. He would always get up from his chair and extend his hand. On that particular day, when I entered his office he as usual got up from his chair with an extended handed, despite there being a number of people from National Conference sitting in his office. Once he finished dealing with other visitors, he asked me that I should accompany him to his office on the Court Road so that he could talk me on the way. I went out with him expecting an awaiting vehicle along with an entourage. There was no vehicle and there was no entourage and we started to walk towards the Court Road and for me that was an exalted lesson in humility. That was besides, the other things I learnt from Sheikh Nazir during that walk that lasted close to forty minutes. I had privilege to visit Sheikh Nazir occasionally following years until my research work completely consumed me. There was always that uprightness and dignity without a trace of arrogance. He was always courteous. I was filled with a tinge of sadness on reading the news about his death on February 24, 2015. I recalled with a pride for having known such a dignified human being who could have attained any position in the government but chose not to.     

-Rajiv Kumar

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