Prof Hari Om
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, father and founder of the Kashmir-based National Conference and who usurped State power in 1947 with the full backing of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, much to chagrin of the people of Jammu province, was a known protagonist of Greater Kashmir comprising Kashmir province and the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu and Ladakh regions.
One of his plans was to make the medieval and dysfunctional Mughal Road connecting the Muslim-majority Poonch-Rajouri belt with the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley fully functional, so that he could play his nefarious games in the area and induce the Muslims of Poonch-Rajouri belt to help him achieve his ulterior goals.
Between 1947 and 1953, he tried to undertake the project, but nothing came of it. The prevailing political environment in the State in general and Kashmir Valley in particular, where the Sheikh’s authority had been challenged by none other than his close associates, including Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, G. M Sadiq, Mohi-ud-din Karra, D. P Dhar, to mention a few, did not allow him sufficient time to carry forward his agenda. The situation as it existed in Kashmir kept the Sheikh busy in neutralising the influence of his detractors, who were opposing his style of functioning as well as his undemocratic actions. His detractors wanted the Sheikh to go.
The Sheikh also failed to undertake the Mughal Road project in right earnest as relations between him and Jawaharlal Nehru had, in the meantime, turned bitter. There were reports that the Sheikh was in touch with the United States, and was with the support of the American administration, working for the separation of Kashmir Valley from India, and establishing there a “Switzerland-type independent Kashmir”. The activities of Sheikh climaxed to the point that Jawaharlal Nehru was left with no option but to have him dismissed from the office of Wazir-e-Azam and put him behind bars on 9th August, 1953, on charges of sedition.
In the period between 1953 and 1975, no one in Kashmir dared rake the issue of Mughal Road as Kashmiri rulers knew that New Delhi was opposed to the idea of the abandoned Mughal Road being made operational. New Delhi’s opposition stemmed from the fact that the army and intelligence agencies were of the considered view that reopening the Mughal Road would help Pakistan create troubles in the State’s border belt and endanger national security. Opposition also stemmed from the fact that reopening of the Mughal Road would make easy the task of those working for segregation of the Muslim-majority areas from Jammu and Ladakh regions and integrating them into Kashmir province.
Sheikh Abdullah returned to power in February 1975, courtesy the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who overlooked his controversial credentials. She did what no one could have ever thought of or imagined – brought down the government of her own party in the State and put all eggs in Abdullah’s basket.
As expected, Sheikh again toyed with the idea of making Mughal Road functional, but with no result. Indira Gandhi, at the behest of the ever alert army and intelligence agencies, put her foot down and rejected the idea of reopening Mughal Road as a threat to national security. This action of Indira Gandhi was consistent with the national requirement.
The attitude of New Delhi remained constant. During his first tenure as Governor, Jagmohan “wound up the two Mughal Road divisions of R&B” (Roads and Building Department). According to former bureaucrat and presently minister in the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP Coalition Government, Naeem Akhtar, the decision was “also accompanied by reports correctly saying that much had not been achieved by way of construction during the many decades of their existence,” and that “the road was opposed by security and intelligence agencies also started appearing around this time” (“My tryst with Mughal Road, Kashmir Scan, January 2010).
It was Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral who, according to Naeem Akhtar, during a visit to the State, “announced that the Central Government would fund half of the cost of the road which would be the State subject”. Thus it was Inder Gujral, well-known for his controversial Gujral Doctrine (read unilateral concessions to Pakistan), who sided with the votaries of Mughal Road. But nothing came of it as the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) refused to “prepare a detailed project report on the road which was a prerequisite to qualify for central funding”. The argument advanced by BRO was that it could not hand over “execution” of the project to the State Government.
Work on the Mughal Road project started in right earnest during the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule, courtesy Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his BJP, which dubs most other political parties as pseudo-secular and consistently accuses Congress of being “soft” towards terrorism and the separatists!
The BJP-led-NDA took this decision ignoring past history and against the wish of Congress Works Minister Madan Lal Sharma, who told the Assembly in 2003 that the project could not be taken up for “security reasons”.
The man who persuaded Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take the plunge and “endanger” national security was none other than late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who became Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on 5th November, 2002. Addressing a joint session of Parliament, President A.P.J Abdul Kalam announced that the Union Government had endorsed Mufti’s proposal and had also decided to declare the Mughal Road project a “national project”.
Naeem Akhtar commented: “When Mufti became sure of this, he worked all his charm, standing and influence in Delhi to have it declared as a national project. This was achieved when President A. P. J Abdul Kalam made an announcement to that effect in his address to the joint session of Parliament. It was an unexpected and unprecedented development… A dream the State’s tallest leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had harboured. But look how it was realised only when he was gone and his NC Party was out of power”.
The foundation stone of the Mughal Road project was laid by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in September 2005, just a couple of months before the completion of his three-year term as Chief Minister. It was his crowning triumph over the BJP, the Indian State, the army and the intelligence agencies, as also over the Congress Party, which hitherto had vehemently opposed the reopening of the Mughal Road.
It was Mufti’s spectacular victory in the sense that he neutralised all opposition with the full backing of then Prime Minister A. B Vajpayee. It may be recalled that the “first response”, as per Naeem Akhtar, “he received from the officials was cold. The impression that it was opposed by the army and intelligence agencies was communicated to him as well. For sometime he too was carried away by it and thought the propaganda was true”. But, ultimately, it was the Mufti who won.
Naeem Akhtar’s revelations cleared the cobwebs of confusion and established beyond doubt that it was the BJP that walked into the Mufti’s trap willingly, and helped him and other votaries of Greater Kashmir to the hilt, despite army and intelligence reports, and opposition from a section of the bureaucracy to the project. All this shocked the people of Jammu province, who had all through fought against the votaries of Greater Kashmir.
The 3rd February, 2017 announcement by Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari that his ministry at the behest of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had approved additional Rs 1,000 crore under the Central Road Fund (CRF) for the construction of tunnels on the Mughal Road and Kishtwar-Anantnag Road and construction of direct link road between Lakhanpur in Kathua District of Jammu province and Doda has further alarmed the people of Jammu. The decision to build tunnels and construct road link between Lakhanpur and erstwhile Muslim-majority Doda adjoining Kulgam in Kashmir bypassing the existing communication routes passing through Hindu-majority areas of Jammu province has naturally upset the people of Jammu. They have come to believe, and very rightly, that these tunnels, when constructed, and the link road, when made functional, would not only destroy the Jammu’s economy but would also be a “great step forward towards the establishment of Greater Kashmir”.
The Mughal Road became functional on 12th July 2009. The reopening of the Mughal Road only facilitated the task of the protagonists of Greater Kashmir to accomplish their most cherished dream of de-linking the Muslim-majority Poonch-Rajouri belt from Hindu-majority Jammu province, as Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah did in 1979 in the case of the Muslim-majority Kargil area in Buddhist-majority Ladakh and in 1948 in the case of the Jammu’s Hindu-majority Udhampur District.
In1979, Sheikh bifurcated Ladakh into two districts on purely communal lines and in 1948, Sheikh de-linked Muslim-majority Doda area from Hindu-majority Udhampur District and conferred the status of district on the Doda area. The purpose was not administrative. The purpose was to communalise the situation in the newly-created districts, weaken the movement in Ladakh and Jammu for political empowerment, and ensure their merger with Kashmir at an appropriate time.
His son Farooq Abdullah, and his grandson and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, pursued the same line and constructed roads in order to establish direct links with the erstwhile Doda District. On 13th January, 2010, the then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah sanctioned Rs 400 crore for constructing a link road between Kishtwar district of Jammu province and Anantnag District in Kashmir province. He ordered execution of the 4.5 km-long Vailoo Tunnel near Chatroo in Singhpora (Doda).
No one should oppose construction of link roads. In fact, the construction of roads and link roads needs to be welcomed by one and all. But the story of the construction of the Mughal Road or the link road between Kishtwar and Anantnag was altogether different. These roads were constructed for political reasons, and one of the reasons was to create schisms among various communities and create an environment that helps the votaries of Greater Kashmir, as also their mentors and masters across the border, so that they are able to play their nefarious games with utmost ease.
Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari would do well to review his decision taking into account the security concerns and the concerns the people of Jammu who have been expressing over his decision.
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