FROM MUSLIM CONFERENCE TO NATIONAL CONFERENCE (1938-1939)
IV. FROM MUSLIM CONFERENCE TO N A TIO N A L CONFERENCE (1936-39)
Let us rise above petty communal bickerings and work jointly for the welfare of the masses. I appeal to my Hindu brethren not to entertain imaginary fears and doubts. Let us assure them that their rights shall not be jeopardized if they join hands with the Musalmans. (S.M.Abdullah)1
Right from its inception the programme of the Muslim Conference was
secular and progressive. True, the leaders of Muslim Conference came forward in the
Muslim name but their programme and manifesto was as broad as that of any
progressive political Party of India. They fought against exploitation, regardless of
the religion of the exploiter. This attitude of Muslim leadership certainly began to
influence and impress even the staunch Hindu communalists.2 Besides, the fact that
the demands of Muslim Conference were purely secular in nature, it is also worth
mentioning that the Conference made persistent efforts to ensure a joint Hindu-
Muslim struggle. It did not even miss the smallest opportunity to strive for it. In all of
its sessions and Presidential addresses the Conference stressed on forging Hindu-
Muslim unity and co-operation.
In its inaugural session the President o f the Conference publicly
declared it that the aim of the Muslim Conference was to redress the grievances of all
the communities irrespective of caste, creed and colour.3 On March 7, 1933, a
committee was set up to contact non-Muslim leaders to seek their co-operation and to
persuade them to participate in the movement. However, the committee was unable to
achieve any positive results because of the suspicion of the Hindu leaders.4
In the welcome address of the second annual session of Muslim
Conference the non-Muslims were again fervently appealed to join hands with the
Muslims and to fight jointly for the common interests of all the communities while
forgetting temporary bitterness of the 1931 communal riot:5
Before concluding my address let me tell my Hindu and Sikh brethren that all of us have lived in this land brotherly and cordially. And in future, it is impossible for us to live in separation. It is in the nature of human beings that they sometimes fight with each other but that does not mean that they would remain divided once for all. The only way to the welfare of all the communities of the State is their mutual understanding and unity.
In these circumstances I would not hesitate to request you to come forward, forget the past and to stand united in order to assure an era of friendship, love and peace.
In his second Presidential address S.M.Abdullah again tried to bring
home to the non-Muslims that the demands or achievements of Muslim Conference
were not exclusively meant for one particular community, instead, it served the
interest of all the communities. The President said:6
So far the achievements of Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference have benefited all the communities. These achievements include proprietary rights in land, concessions in connection with the use of forests, abolition of tax on cattle and nazrana, freedom of press and platform, right to formation of associations and establishment of Assembly and the district and municipal boards. Among all these achievements there is no reservation for the Muslims and all communities irrespective of caste and creed have been benefited equally but sometimes the Hindus because of their past hegemony had an opportunity to get more benefits.
In a written statement which the Muslim Conference issued on 29th of
June, 1934 through its President, the Conference again requested the non-Muslims to
join hands with the Muslims and assured them every kind of help and safeguard7.
As a well wisher of the country and its minorities I would like sincerely to appeal you on behalf of the Muslims that they are ready to provide you as much security and constitutional rights as the majority in India is providing to its minorities. And it is
also possible that we can prove more generous in this connection. Come, and say good-bye to the past. The Constituent Assembly framed by Government cannot benefit any of the communities of the State. Therefore, if we persistently demand justice, you are not supposed to favour only verbally but to come forward and prove your spirit of nationalism. This does not mean that you would have to change your stance ostentatiously but the change of mind is needed and the spirit of friendship and peace must flow from hearts.
With the publication of Glancy Commission report in May, 1932, it
became abundantly clear that all the Hindus were not against the reforms and
particularly a section to whom P.N.Bazaz was representing were anxious to see that
the legitimate grievances of Muslims are redressed and a progressive form of
Government established in the State8. A historic meeting between P.N.Bazaz and
S.M.Abdullah took place in July, 1932 at Chashma Shahi Garden wherein a decision
for the secularization of State politics was taken. The meeting proved to be of great
significance9. On the last day of October 1932, P.N. Bazaz started the first news
paper, The Daily Vitasta, in the Kashmir province to popularize the idea of secular
politics and fight for the establishment of a responsible government in the State. This
journal did not live long because of the hostility of the reactionary Hindus who tried
to suppress it by every means at their command. Nevertheless, the daily rendered
great service to the cause of nationalism during those days of the freedom struggle10.
It was in 1934 that the Maharaja granted a constitution providing a
Legislative Assembly for the people. High hopes were raised with the introduction of
the reform but the reality soon dawned upon the people that the Assembly was
powerless. Nevertheless, it served a good purpose in that the elected representatives
of Muslims and Hindus were brought together on the floor of the house where they
began to understand and appreciate each others point of view. They began to
realize that most of the basic problems were common to both11 which helped in the
secularization of politics.
After the Sopore session (1934) which was the third annual session of
Muslim Conference, S.M.Abdullah left for plains to renew contacts with the leaders
of political thought over there. It was during this tour that he had a meeting with
Pandit Jawaher Lai Nehru which had far-reaching results on Kashmir politics12.
S.M.Abdullah accompanied Pandit Nehru (after they met at Lahore Railway Station)
to N.W.F.P. and it was during this tour as S.M.Abdullah himself admits that Pandit
Nehru laid a tremendous influence on his mind. He also came into contact with Khan
13Abdul Gaffar Khan whose views and ideas also influenced him . During their tour to
N.W.F.P. Pandit Nehru posed various questions to S.M.Abdullah about the nature of
Kashmir movement. No doubt the latter acquainted Pandit Nehru with the secular
character of Muslim Conference. But the Congress leader suggested him to enlarge
the sphere of Kashmir freedom movement in a way that the non-Muslims feel no
hesitation in joining it. By doing so no room would be left for Hindu communalists
and their press to launch any propaganda against Kashmir freedom movement by
declaring it communal14.
It was during this tour that S.M.Abdullah addressed a press Conference
at Lahore at the residence of Dr. Safi-ud-Din Kitchloo (a prominent Congress
Leader). In his press conference S.M.Abdullah said:15
The communal tension in Kashmir is to a great extent the result of the propaganda of Punjabi communal leaders. We want that the people of Punjab do not interfere in our matters. My future programme would be to act according to the principles of Congress. After returning to Kashmir I would lay down the foundation of an organisation which would serve national interests.
In 1934 S.M.Abdullah underwent a thorough ideological change and
came increasingly under the influence of the Indian National Congress with its
ideology of secularism and socialism. He realized that the problems in Kashmir were
related to the political structure and economic exploitation and had nothing to do with
the creed of any particular people.16 He felt the need of involving all people,
irrespective of caste and creed into the movement. This initiated a new and
progressive phase in the freedom struggle of Kashmir. It is to be noted that the
support for secular and progressive ideas was to come not from the Punjabi Muslims
17but from the Indian National Congress .
On August 1, 1935 S.M.Abdullah and P.N.Bazaz started a journal The
Hamdard, in Urdu to popularize the ideology and to lay the foundations of
progressive nationalism in the State. The inauguration of the first issue of the journal
was performed by Dr. Saif-ud-Din Kitchloo in a big public meeting at Hazuri Bagh
Srinagar. From its beginning The Hamdard attempted to blaze a new trail in the
affairs of the State. It was a standard bearer of democracy and unity of all Kashmiris
without any consideration of caste or creed they belonged to. It published articles
18bitterly and frankly critical of orthodox views . It played a dynamic role in the
secularization and reorientation of the S