As the Front man, he gave everything to the cause dismissed as “wilderness” by a figurehead. And now when the same league is out for a new political bargain, the erstwhile supporter is seeing a clear déjà vu.
Sheikh Abdullah’s mid-seventy handshake with Indira Gandhi began backfiring when a secret police laid a net to capture an armed emissary who recently died as a recluse in Prof Hajini’s hometown.
Top cops of the era call it a beginning of Kashmir’s firepower defiance that would go full-blown with the fall of Berlin Wall and the subsequent disintegration of Soviet Union.
The captive’s league of young men was miffed with Abdullah’s decision. But soon they would be rounded up in a sweeping crackdown against the anti-Abdullah voices.
For his iron-fist action—that his diehards then justified as: “Ye kari, Ti kari, Bab kari, Lou’lo” (Abdullah has right to do everything)—the “aged lion” making his meek comeback as a chief minister lived up to the image of a “leader with a least tolerance for opposition”.
Earlier, Abdullah’s decision of binning the popular plebiscite movement as the “22 years of wilderness” had come as a rude shock to the right to self-determination camp of Kashmir.
Many disgruntlers popped up from the leader’s close circles itself.
At about the same time, when Abdullah’s loyalist Sofi Mohammad Akbar of Sopore was packing his bags and bedding from Mujahid Manzil for his “burn bridges” journey, one unassuming plebiscite protester would return and retire as a betrayed man to his home in Hyderpora.
45 years later, Ghulam Qadir Wani is furrowing his garden weeds with a small hoe at the ripe age of nineties.
“Soun karun, eazkyan petrunn” (It’s our actions that current generation is paying for).
Wani, who’s Qadir Resh for his family and friends, defies the firebrand image that he once wore as a sparkplug behind the sentimental storm thawed by “the tallest leader”.
A witness of political transitions, movements and uprisings in the valley, Wani dismisses the contemporary alliances and promises to be ‘a history repeating in itself’.
“No assumption but example from history for today’s ‘Article-370, 35A’ preachers is of the Bakshi’s, Sadiq’s, Qasim’s, and Co.,” he flashes a near toothless smile.
“All they seek is chair and power, no matter if it costs for dignity.”
Holding back his hand-hoe and taking a seat, Wani opens up of the time some six decades back when Hyderpora, mostly an agrarian society, played the puzzle of political activities for the “Plebiscite Front”.
Since a very young age, Wani identified with the cause that figurehead stood for unlike most of his companions.
“I always kept quiet about being called a ‘Raishumeari Mahaaz’ or a Plebiscite Front worker unlike a pro-Abdullah or pro-NC that my friends were ok with,” he says while mentioning the line between him and his brothers-in-cause.
Back then, he would go into hiding, yet secretly reach out to grass-root Front workers with support and strategy.
“During days, I was a farmer feeding my family, and during nights, I was a foot-soldier fuelling the cause,” he says.
Wani has lived and grown through the experience from being a pro-‘Quit Kashmir movement’ against Maharaja Hari Singh and identified to be against the ‘Ababeels of Abdullah’ immediately when, he says, they burnt down his neighbouring lane at Hyderpora to “flesh out” any suspected tribesmen in later part of 1947.
Apart from his “trysts with thugs”, Wani’s oratory and sound socialization would feed the Front.
“During Eid-ul-Azha, I would collect sacrificial animal hides to sustain the cause and swell our support base,” he recalls.
But for this, he was nicknamed as ‘Basti Choor’, the hide thief, by the local congressmen dismissed as “gutter worms” by Abdullah.
Later, as the hunt to trace the Front members started with Abdullah whom other bowed as ‘Babb’ already behind bars, Wani had to go underground.
“I took refuge at Ramza Ju’s house and prepared myself for any eventuality,” he recalls.
“It was a time when homes of our close relatives weren’t a haven for us due to political inclination. Those were the difficult times as the political difference between the families who had their sons and daughters married to each other took decades to settle down.”
But as a go-to man, Wani didn’t hold back reaching out to the influential and resourceful persons from the other side of the line to help his tribe.
“I once visited Mohammad Shaban Ganai, a big landlord from Rawalpora and an influential congressman of that time,” he says.
“Within an hour, I left out with the wood and household essentials on my cart for the family of our incarcerated workers.”
To Wani, the plebiscite days are like a sea of memories to which watershed is the day Indira-Abdullah Accord was put out to display.
While most of his comrades-in-cause chose to adore and bow to Abdullah and all his decisions, Wani chose to be an unknown loyalist to a cause that he believes was buried under the chair that assured them power and bucks.
“Not guarded but a shrine flooded with visitors would’ve been his grave, if he passed away as figurehead of the cause that he portrayed to be leading most of his life,” Wani opens his hands bare while mentioning Abdullah’s decision to ‘gain something while giving away everything’.
Before resuming his garden routine, Wani voices a resounding remark: “Eass rued wadas wafadar, magar Sheikh drav bewafa” (We stayed honest to the promise but Sheikh betrayed us).
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