Dr. KN Pandita
The Communist Party of India (CPI) played a leading role in the National Conference-led Kashmir liberation movement under the leadership of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The communist movement had come to the attention of almost all colonized peoples of the Asian subcontinent after the end of World War II. A new social, political and economic order was in motion under Marxist-Leninist ideology which proposed the concept of common ownership of the means of production and economic equality among citizens.
In 1938-39, Sheikh Abdullah bid farewell to the Muslim Conference and laid the foundation for the National Conference. The reason for his departure from the Muslim Conference, which was also pursuing the agenda of J&K’s liberation from autocratic rule, was, overall, the Jammu region-centric philosophy of the Jammu Muslim leaders of the Muslim Conference of That day. This parochial position was not acceptable to him because it did not meet the interests of the vast agrarian and working class in the three regions of the state. The peasantry who formed the backbone of the economy would not receive justice under the dispensation of the Muslim Conference, the sheikh was convinced.
Interestingly, the CPI also based its entire political, economic and social philosophy on the welfare and betterment of the working masses. The Punjab branch of CPI owned the NC cause and Sheikh Sahib was very impressed with their dedication to the great human cause.
Simultaneously, Sheikh Sahib came into contact with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the most outstanding ideologue and leader of the Indian National Congress. In a chance meeting at the Lahore railway station, as Nehru was traveling to NWFP at the invitation of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (aka Frontier Gandhi), he suggested Sheikh Sahib to accompany him to Peshawar. The overwhelming gathering of Khudai Khidmatgar volunteers (also known as Red Shirts), the enthusiasm and loyalty of the NWFP’s huge Pathan population to their leader, instilled great hope and a unique vision in Sheikh Sahib. He ruminated that this spirit could also become the driving force behind the poor and hungry in his state.
Nehru’s lifelong friendship and support to Sheikh Sahib in his great struggle for the freedom of his compatriots from autocratic rule and the vision of the popular masses of the state becoming the architects of their destiny was the overriding element who made the Kashmir ruler’s dream a reality. in 1947.
It will help to understand why the white plow on a red background with three white stripes became the emblem of NC. Years before the state ousted autocracy and courted secular democracy, the NC had drafted the manifesto that eventually became the basis of J&K’s new Constitution. The fact is that the famous document called Naya Kashmir Manifesto was to a large extent a copy of the Constitution of the Soviet Central Asian state of Uzbekistan. Although proposed by BPL Bedi, a Lahore-born but London-based and active member of the British Socialist Group, the draft Naya Kashmir Manifesto was authored by a Kashmiri pundit who had made it his mission to popularize Marxist ideology- Leninist and Nehru’s Fabian Socialism among the NC’s upper echelon as well as its dedicated cadres. Thus was founded the progressive group in NC whose outstanding leader GM Sadiq belatedly became.
For Sheikh Sahib, the NC’s acclaim of socialist ideology stemmed from his keen interest in how the Muslim-dominated states of Central Asia had emerged from medieval backwardness and into modernity and its traits. enlightening. Indeed, when we talk about the tyranny and oppression of the peoples of Central Asia in the khanates of Bukhara and Kokand, and also take into account the jadidiyat (modernism) movement, we can unhesitatingly deduce that it must have liked Sheikh Sahib as the most suitable module for his people. But the vision could not be realized without the contribution of the intellectual segment. How much he had to think about the thesis in isolation, anyone guess? One can imagine that he must have opened up to Nehru in his private talks with him because in India there was no leader more knowledgeable about what was happening in Central Asia under Soviet power.
We are told that in 1954, Nehru traveled to Central Asia on an official invitation from the Soviet government. In Uzbekistan, he shows a keen interest in visiting the famous buildings of the Timurid period. Among other monuments, he was taken to the Bibi Khanum Mosque in Samarkand. In the 15th century, it was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world. It is considered a masterpiece of the Timurid Renaissance. In the middle of the 20th century, only a grand ruin of it still remained, Nehru expressed his disappointment at seeing this unique masterpiece of architecture reduced to ruins and neglected. The Soviet authorities felt embarrassed and surprised that Nehru showed a deep interest in Timurid architecture. In his travelogue, My Tajik Friends, I wrote that when I visited Bibi Khanum in 1982, I saw the architects and engineers busy repairing and renovating the masterpiece. The engineer in charge told me the story of Nehru’s visit that after the incident the Soviet government allocated a good annual budget for the repair and renovation of this and other monuments.
In 1975, Sheikh Sahib began his second term as Chief Minister of State. It was a summer day. Professor NN Raina, then Head of the Faculty of Physics, received a call from the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Rais Ahmad. He told her to be ready to accompany him and Sheikh Sahib for a visit to Gulmarg. In the secluded bungalow atop Gulmarg where the former ruler used to entertain his guests and from where the snow-capped peak of Kanchanchanga, the second highest peak in the Himalayas can be seen in a grand panorama, the three people sat down. Sheikh Sahib reportedly pointed to K2 and told Professor Raina that beyond that peak lay the land of his ideological dream. With that, he slowly and systematically explained to his two listeners his dream of developing the state according to the parameters employed by the republics of Central Asia. Next, Professor Raina outlined an institution that could ultimately become the hub for reviving our ancient history of relations with Central Asia and also mapped out the roadmap for connectivity and collaboration with this unique part of the Islamic world. The greatest attraction for Sheikh Sahib was discerned in the manner in which Central Asian Muslim society, while retaining pristine Islamic civilizational values, had emerged from medieval backwardness, ignorance and stubbornness towards modernity. modern enlightenment and the world of science and technology. It was no small vision and there was no better representative of that vision than Prof. NN Raina, one of the most famous intellectuals of modern Kashmir. Addressing Vice Chancellor Rais Ahmad, Sheikh Sahib said, “Rais Sahib, now it’s your baby.”
A proposal for a multidisciplinary center has been submitted to the UGC. He was easily accepted. Vice Chancellor Rais Ahmad and Professor Raina worked out the plan together. Disciplines were identified, faculties were announced, and in the fall of 1976 the Center for Central Asian Studies was officially inaugurated.
History, political science, international relations, languages (Farsi, Uzbek, Mongolian, Sanskrit, Pali), Buddhist studies, tasawwuf, philosophy, philology, geography, historical geography and exegesis were the areas concerned. Some of the teaching positions were advertised and filled in due time. Prof. Maqbul Ahmad, retired head of ABU’s Arabic department and close friend of Vice Chancellor Rais Ahmad, has been appointed director of the center. Secretarial staff, furniture, furnishings and other logistical needs were provided.
The most notable addition to the center was a relatively small Central Asian Museum, an extension in which Sheikh Sahib took a personal interest. An adequate budget has been provided for and an expert hand has been appointed in charge of the museum. Mr. JL Bhan, a talented museum expert, has created an attractive museum on the first floor of the Iqbal Library building.
Sheikh Sahib has expressed a desire to visit the CCAS Central Asia Museum. But before doing so, he summoned Prof. Maqbul Ahmad and Prof. JL Bhan (museum manager) to come to the Toshakhana at Gupkar Road and meet him there. It was winter and Sheikh Sahib arrived dressed in a meticulous cashmere Pheran and with a pashmina shawl wrapped around his head and shoulders. He sat inside the Toshakhana and ordered the manager to place on a large table in front of him all the objects related to Central Asia and kept in Toshakhana. About 220 small and large rare objects were collected. Before these were listed and officially handed over to the director of the CCAS, Sheikh Sahib fell into deep thought, then raising his head, he addressed the guard in these terms: “Yahan Neelam ka ek jug hai wuh mujhe Askardu ke ek delegation ne tohfe ke taur diya tha aur main ne Toshakhana men bhej diya tha. The guardian searched for it and finally produced it in front of Sheikh Sahib who confirmed its originality. Today the emerald jug is preserved to the museum Sheikh Sahib left Toshakhana, but only after all the artifacts were properly handed over and taken back, these now beautify the CCAS Museum.
In the latter part of 1976, the research work of students enrolled at the Center was initiated. Not all faculties could be recruited in a short time. Students from the disciplines of History, Political Science, International Relations, Geography, Sociology, Languages and a few other disciplines were admitted and assigned to guides for the M.Phil and later for the Ph.D. .
The academic achievements of the Center over the past forty-six years is a long story that may be picked up by some scholars in due course. Suffice it to say that the Center has opened an important channel for the exchange of scholars and teachers between Kashmir and the various Central Asian republics, especially Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. I happened to be the first beneficiary of the exchange protocol which came into effect in 1982 when Professor Muhammad Asimi, President of the Tajik Academy of Sciences, made his first visit to Kashmir and addressed to students and staff of the University of Kashmir.
We and the entire Asian region are going through a difficult period. Academic activities have been affected by the pandemic. We are gradually recovering and I hope the difficult times will be over soon. A dynamic intellectual and academic interaction between Kashmir and the CARs is a great ambition for us. Once conditions are normalized, our academic community will highly appreciate and even emulate the vision and push to emerge from regression and seek the path of progress as the vast Muslim population of Central Asia does.
(The author is the former director of the Center for Central Asian Studies at the University of Kashmir)