In 2015, one Deepak Sharma a RTI activist from Jammu filed an application with General Administration Department/GAD of the State Government seeking details about who had conferred sobriquet of “Shere e Kashmir” on Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah / SMA. GAD in reply said that there was not any official record conferring or confirming that the sobriquet was ever officially bestowed upon SMA. It is a fact that the sobriquets are not officially conferred. They are conferred by the followers. Glaring examples are those of Gandhi as Mahatma & Father of Nation, and M A Jinnah as Quade Azam & Bab e Qoom. These leaders did unmatched historical achievements for their people which, in turn, won them these epithets of the highest honour from them. Even though sobriquet is, generally, informally bestowed on a person for certain unique characteristic or quality attached to that person, it was Robindra Nath Tagore (Tribune 08-12-2015) who first called Gandhi as Mahatma inasmuch as it was Mian Ferozeuddin Ahmad who first called M A Jinnah as Quade Azam (The Milli Gazette dated 08-05-2011; Chugta’s Blog 20-07-2015).
But in case of SMA, there is no historical evidence that any specific person or politician had even given him the title “Shere e Kashmir”. Alaister Lamb , while giving background of the sobriquet, writes that the growing secularisation of SMA’s political outlook was mainly responsible for political rivalry between admirers of Molvi Yousuf Shah & SMA, and that in that scenario, SMA came to be increasingly called by his supporters as “Shere e Kashmir” (Lion of Kashmir) while followers of Molvi Yousuf Shah came to nicknamed as Bakras (goats) for (1) spotting beards, (Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy (1992) pages 92-93), and, (2) obviously, for opposing them for their anti-secular-political outlook.
With tightening his grip on “power” or “shadow-power”, as some call it, first as Emergency Head on 30-10-1947 & then on 17-03-1948 as PM of JK under the Maharaj’s Administration, the Maharaja, one time his fiercest enemy, who “was “advised” to end the Emergency Administration & nominate SMA Prime Minister of Kashmir, SMA’s admirers made “Sher e Kashmir” sobriquet “dominant- discourse” in Kashmir. . The State Assembly was dissolved because its Muslim members represented exclusively the “enemy” party, the Muslim Conference. The Maharaja, living in an enforced exile in Bombay, lost all authority over internal affairs. As a result, Abdullah and his associates became the real and only rulers of the country”. (Danger in Kashmir (1954) Josef Korbel, pages 205-206). Hence, as “only rulers “of the land, with State apparatus in hand, the sobriquet “Shere e Kashmir” came to be permanently sealed on government buildings, bridges, educational institutions, roads, parks, etc, till it was subconsciously screwed into the mental slot of common masses as an epithet of a “God-man”. Power speaks. Powerless listens. Hence, in a predominantly Muslim land, rulers at Delhi & non-Muslims of JK were pleased to see SMA being “lionised” by his cult-admirers for his “secularized-politics” that greatly benefitted & united minority, while harmed & disintegrated majority. During the period that followed Indira-Abdullah-Accord of 1975, the sobriquet was more vociferously & repeatedly used in “official & non-official” spheres of Kashmir-life. But, post-1989, the sobriquet has been confined to “official” use only. It does not find place in common discourse now among general populace the way it used to be before “political awakening” of 1989; although some die-hard admirers of SMA till date hold it close to their hearts & minds which is writ large from their discourse in any manner whatsoever concerning SMA.
Sobriquets in Kashmir have been bestowed on other two “important” politicians of their time who also belonged to the NC clan. Mirza Afzal Beigh was one of the two. Second was Bakshi GM. Mirza Afzal Beigh who inked Indira-Abdullah-Accord in 1975, was bestowed by “party workers” with the sobriquet of “Fakhr e Kashmir” (pride of Kashmir) when he enacted a socialistic-legislation of Agrarian Reforms or Land to Tiller Law in Kashmir immediately after “facilitating” accession & dispatch of Indian troops to Kashmir. “Though not a Communist, he (along with top leadership) fell undoubtedly under their influence”. (Korbel, 253-254, emphasis mine). However, it is a fact that as NC’s reputation had been falling day by day among the common Kashmiris for their September-October 1947 “ actions & activities”, the Land to Tiller Law, writes one of the close associates of NC leadership, was passed to regain and revitalise the fast-decreasing popularity-base of the party among the masses. (Memoirs by MM Isaaq, pages 232-233). The land reforms law, though primarily abolished large jagirs & land ownerships of the Maharaja, his family, relatives & other influential people of his administration, was a good law in that sense, as yet, certain things should not to be lost sight of while referring it. They are: (1) It did not abolish only big jagirs of tyrant landlords. The Law also deprived “small landowners” who had purchased it with lifelong savings or sale of gold ornaments. (2) The Legislation was joint venture of the Communists & NC leadership who opposed, tooth & nail, UN Intervention in Kashmir for holding Plebiscite “the result of which could deprive them of all their labors”. (Ibid).
That said, the sobriquet of “Fakhr e Kashmir” could not earn permanent place in official or un-official records in Kashmir. Today, it lies buried in the debris of the past & lost political career of Mirza Afzal Beigh as the “tallest” leader didn’t like others grow higher in size & shape than him. So, all buildings, etc, as aforementioned, bear his own sobriquet “Sher e Kashmir”.
On 9th August, 1953, SMA’s government was toppled by Delhi Rulers & in his place his deputy & closest associate Bakhshi G M was put on PM chair. Bakshi GM after consolidating his position & spending lavishly on the political turncoats, his “admirers”, out of Delhi’ s treasure trove, began to be given the title of “Khalid e Kashmir” by the recipients of the largess in multiple-shapes , from contracts, plots of land, jobs, scholarships, etc. “Within the National Conference party he earned the sobriquet “Khalid-e-Kashmir” after Khalid Bin Waleed, the great Muslim general”. (Wikipedia) “Khalid-e-Kashmir” epithet drove its semblance with Khalid Bin Waleed (RA) one of the pioneer & greatest commanders of Islam under whose commandership the Unity of Muslims was consolidated into one entity of the Caliphate. It was for his wisdom & bravery shown in the Battle of Mutah that the Prophet (pbuh) gave him the title of SAIFULLAH (Sword of Allah) (Ibn Hisham, Vol. 2, page 382) & in all battles he fought for Islam, he proved the title conferred upon him by the Prophet (pbuh) absolute truth. Drawing aberrational comparisons, while calling Bakshi GM, “Khalid-e-Kashmir”, it may not be out of place to mention that on 27th October, 1947 when first Sikh Regiment of Indian Army landed on Srinagar Airport, it was, among other NC workers, Bakshi GM who was waiting outside Airport with number of trucks that carried Indian Troops to different parts of Kashmir. (GK dated 10-06-2016: When Sheikh Swallowed the Insult).
The Kashmiris have been very generous in conferring sobriquets & nicknames on their “leaders” regardless of whether they justly fitted in the momento of conferment or not.
M J ASLAM is an Author, academician, story-writer & columnist
Note: Views expressed are personal of the author based on recorded evidence & not of the organisation he works for.