Srinagar: Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday announced that the police medal for gallantry and meritorious service will no longer bear the image of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and will be replaced with the national anthem, a move that many see as part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s acrimony against the region’s famed political icon.
“It is hereby ordered that in modification to the Para 4 of the Jammu & Kashmir Police Medal Scheme, the Sher-i-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah embossed on one side of the medal shall be replaced with ‘The National Emblem of Government of India’ and the other side inscribed with the J&K State Emblem shall be inscribed as “Jammu and Kashmir Medal for Gallantry” and “Jammu and Kashmir Police Medal for Meritorious Service” in case of Gallantry/Meritorious Medal, as the case may be,” the government said in an order dated May 23.
The fresh order comes after the Union Territory administration in January 2020 changed the name of the police medal for meritorious service by removing Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir), a reference to Sheikh Abdullah, to “Jammu and Kashmir police medal for gallantry and Jammu and Kashmir police medal for meritorious service”.
Earlier, the UT administration omitted the birth anniversary of Sheikh Abdullah on December 5 from the list of public holidays following the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A in 2019.
Many in Kashmir believe that the decision to remove Abdullah’s legacy is rooted in the divisive politics of the BJP, which is aimed at disempowering the people of Kashmir by “targeting their identity and history.”
The state spokesperson of National Conference (NC), the party founded by Sheikh Abdullah, Imran Nabi Dar told NewsClick that such moves will have “little impact on the popularity” Abdullah commands in the region.
“With due respect to National Emblem, these attempts to erase our history, identity and icon show the nefariousness of those running the show. People of J&K have struggled on many fronts to be where they are now. They fought oppression and autocracy. No one can change that, not by replacing or changing names. Sheikh Saab will continue to rule the hearts of the people of J&K, no matter what they or their masters do,” Imran said.
Abdullah, who headed NC since it was established in the 1930s until his death in the 80s, served as the Prime Minister of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir from 1948-53 and twice as its chief minister from 1975 to 1982. He was considered a bulwark against pro-Pakistan leadership in the 1930s and 40s; his then close aide Jawahar Lal Nehru until the latter got him arrested in 1953. Abdullah spent his next decade in jail, during which he led a movement called the Plebiscite Front (PF) only to give it up after negotiations with the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi.
His political activism against the Dogra rule and subsequent reforms in education and health had turned Abdullah into one of the most revered figures until the armed insurgency broke out in Kashmir. Many, including the Hurriyat, now refer to him as the architect of the Kashmir problem since he led Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India. However, leaders from the mainstream, including from the NC’s opposition, continue to hold him in regard.
A senior People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Naeem Akhtar termed the authorities’ decision as an act of rewriting history. Abdullah, according to Akhtar, is now the “anachronism” in the present-day politics of BJP.
“Sheikh Abdullah is himself history, so erasing him is erasing a phase of history, the decision of accession, the struggle of people of Kashmir against autocracy and British rule, the resistance against the two-nation theory and the so-called roshni ki kiran (ray of hope), which Gandhi saw around 1947 from Kashmir inspired by Abdullah,” Akhtar said.
Akhtar added that the BJP does not believe in anything other than their own book, which is unrolling everywhere in the country, whether it is the figure of Aurangzeb or Sheikh Abdullah. He accused the right-wing party, many of whose regional leaders hailed the latest medallion move, of looking at everyone through the same lens, including their own faces in Kashmir, for sharing their names with what the party refers to as ‘invaders’.
Sheikh Abdullah, Akhtar added, is the “antithesis of what Hindu Mahasabha stood at that time.”
“BJP became a political party in Jammu, which is the first place where the idea of Hindutva was territorialised. They began it immediately after the accession following the massacre of Jammu Muslims, their traces, heritage names and physical elimination and pushing them out to create Hindu-only areas, which were previously mixed,” he said.
Both NC and PDP are critical of the BJP’s policies in Kashmir. The ruling party has been accused of hampering democracy in the region which many believe has led to the creation of a political vacuum since J&K was downsized into a union territory on August 5, 2019.