The distance between Skardu and Astore in the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan region, part of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistan’s illegal occupation but often in the news because of Chinese activities, is about 130 kilometres by road. This is not a vast difference given the present means of transportation. Yet, these have produced two powerful personalities which were poles apart in terms of ideological convictions which they followed to the hilt till the end of their lives. Mr Balraj Madhok, a former president of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (now Bharatiya Janata Party), was born in Skardu on February 25, 1920. He passed away in New Delhi on May 2 this year. Mr Amanullah Khan, founder of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was born in Astore on August 24, 1934. He died in Rawalpindi (Pakistan) on April 26, 2016.
For Mr Madhok, the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India was final and irrevocable. He resolutely stuck to his stand. Having worked on the ground in the Jammu region in particular before and after the turbulent 1947, he had deep interest in the State despite taking the centre-stage of the national politics for a considerable period.
Mr Khan, in sharp contrast, wanted the erstwhile princely State to be “united, secular and independent.” He determinedly adhered to his ideology and maintained equal distance from India and Pakistan even as some of his colleagues on this side of the Line of Control (LoC) parted company with him at least for some time taking the plea that offending New Delhi and Islamabad simultaneously could be counter-productive and that they should not shirk Pakistan’s helping hand.
The two leaders were prolific writers and easily accessible as my own experience showed. They never minced their words; they did not camouflage their views or indulge in skullduggery. This was possible obviously because they were uncompromising in their perceptions.
First time I met Mr Madhok was in the late 1960s in Srinagar’s Kailash Cafeteria which was then a popular venue of press conferences close to the city’s historic Amirakadal Bridge over Jhelum. I was accompanying my father Mr Om Prakash Saraf, journalist and a public figure. Father and Madhok knew each other well and as I have seen with leaders of their generation they had personal regards despite serious differences in political philosophies. Mr Madhok had by his side his close associate local Jan Sangh (later Bharatiya Janata Party) leader Mr Tikka Lal Taploo who was shot by militants on September 14, 1989; BJP has not got a leader like Mr Taploo afterwards in the Kashmir Valley. Mr Madhok had taken the Jan Sangh to a new high as its national president but was eased out of the party. In the 1980s and 1990s I was to occasionally inter-act with him in New Delhi as one of the main political correspondents of a national newspaper. He never minced his words and had kept himself informed of the people and developments in Jammu and Kashmir especially. One of his last telephone calls to me was when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took over in New Delhi. He saw it as the vindication of his politics. Often he recounted his past experiences in the Jan Sangh, its association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and his own personal equations leaving little doubt that he was an extremely sensitive person and would not brook any assault if he felt it was on his self-respect. Indeed, he was a reservoir of information. One could easily form an impression that a leader like him would follow his chosen path within an ideological spectrum and could have difficulty in building a team or carrying his colleagues along with him. With a single-minded pursuit he had made Jan Sangh a formidable political force only to be marginalized later. If he was ever bitter about how his younger colleagues had treated him he never showed it. He lived on his terms.
“You belong to somewhere near Kathua….. between Jammu and Kathua”, Mr Khan told me tracing the place of my family’s origin. He immediately recollected that it was Samba, now a throbbing district headquarter at the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. It was in 2000 and I was in Islamabad (Capital of Pakistan) as a member of the wedding party of Mr Sajjad Ghani Lone, son of charismatic People’s Conference leader Mr Abdul Ghani Lone (he was assassinated by militants). The younger Lone married Mr Khan’s only daughter Ms Asma. Mr Khan practically knew everyone who was anybody on both sides of the Line of Control. Mr Sajjad Lone is currently a Cabinet minister in the People’s Democratic Party -Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government in J&K. He has kept afloat the People’s Conference flag and is the minister from the BJP’s quota. Since his wedding party had gradually turned into a peace mission (evidently encouraged both by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf) we were active participants at quite a few public meetings in Pakistan and “Azad” Kashmir, as the occupied territory in locally known. At one such gathering in Mirpur, Mr Khan vacated his seat on the dais for me to occupy and speak. It was generally known that Mr Khan and other “Azad” Kashmir leaders were on the same page over the issue of drawing international attention to the Kashmir issue by exploiting anti-New Delhi sentiments in the Valley and the method they chose was to foment violence by training and arming Kashmiri Youth. This was not without irony though considering that one of them, the formidable late Sardar Abdul Qayum, described the slogan of an independent Jammu and Kashmir “a mental luxury”. Clearly all of them and Pakistan made common cause to keep the Valley on the boil. Last I met Mr Khan was during my second trip to Pakistan in 2004. As we entered the lift of a hotel in Islamabad he told me “Sajjad has hit a six” announcing the birth of his twins. Life truly moves very fast. P.S.
Courtesy The North lines