Maqbool Bhat as an ambassador of liberation


Faizaan Bhat writes on Maqbool Bhat's personality, his vision and his stature in revolutionary politics of Kashmir. 

Go Aankh Se Door Jaa Chuka Tu 
Roshan Hai Magar Chirag Sa Tu 

Mehroom Laboon Ka Haruf Zinda 
Mazloom Dilu Ka Hamnawaa Tu 

These are the starting lines from “Marne Ka Hunar Sikha Gaya Tu” written by the renowned Urdu Poet Ahmad Faraz, as a tribute to a great resistance leader of Kashmir Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, who was hanged on Saturday, 11 February 1984 by the government of India.

Many people attain fame and prominence during their lifetime and some after death. Maqbool Bhat, a revolutionary rebel who gave a new face to Kashmir struggle during his lifetime and changed the discourse of Kashmir resistance has been a source for inspiration to innumerable freedom fighters of Kashmir. His death anniversary in Kashmir is observed as a Black Day, a reminder of India’s brutality.  

Maqbool Bhat was born in Trehgam village of Kupwara on 18 February 1938 the same year in which Kashmir’s political history changed perhaps forever as a move was initiated to convert the erstwhile Muslim Conference into National Conference, which practically materialized on 11 June 1939.

Maqbool Bhat, like a multitude of Kashmiri Muslims, came from a poor family and his mother passed when he was only eleven years old. Maqbool’s father Ghulam Qadir Bhat, who was a tailor by profession, married again. His step-mother Shahmal today lives at their ancestral home in Trehgam and remembers Maqbool as a shy and studious kid.

Maqbool Bhat was a sharp observer, high in the qualities of ‘social-intelligence’ which made him start his political fight at a very young age. His motivation was to unchain Kashmir from the subjugation, oppression and repression it was facing under autocratic rule.

In a letter, Azra Mir, daughter of veteran resistance leader G.M. Mir Maqbool Bhat wrote:

“It was 1945 or 1946 when I was eight or nine-year-old I fought against the feudal aristocratic and autocratic Dogra regime against the injustice done to Kashmiris”.

In the meantime, Bhat also completed his graduation from St. Joseph College Baramulla where he was active as a student activist and would participate in protests. During the Ganga Hijacking fiasco, Maqbool Bhat in an interview with weekly Zindagi (Life) said, “During college, the aim before us was a plebiscite and we used to protest. One of the benefits of our protests was that the government took control of our college”.

Khawaja Rafiq in his book Safeer- e- Hurriyat (The Ambassador of Liberation) quotes comments of a college principal Father Shanks on Maqbool Bhat. 

“This young man, if managed to pass through the hard times will become a great person. But these types of people usually face extreme difficulties in society. The kind of freedom this type of youngster’s demand is very hard to achieve. Subsequently, they get sacrificed on their way to freedom”. The words of Father Shanks proved true.

In December 1957 when Sheikh Abdullah was released, in the agitation following his release many people were arrested. At that time, Maqbool Bhat was in his final year and was taking his exams. Following this, he went underground and later completed masters in Urdu literature, as was well read deeply on world history, politics and religion, the impression of which can be seen in his writings and the letters he wrote from jail to Mian Sarwar, Azra Mir and many other people.

Maqbool Bhat was a visionary and farsighted person. His jail mate Ranjeet Singh, a Khalsi activist recalled after his death that, “Maqbool Bhat told me that before the attack on Golden Temple, it will be attacked and gave me many reasons (Roshni Ka Shaheedi Awal, M.H Altaf). Such was Maqbool’s vision.

Maqbool started his career as a journalist with a magazine called Anjam as a sub-editor. He soon left his job and started his activism by fighting for Kashmir’s Azadi (Independence)’. Before working in Pakistan, he taught in a school in Bijbehara owned by Jamaat-e-Islami. 

It was in the year 1961 Bhat joined active politics, contested and won the Kashmiri Diaspora seat from Peshawar, Pakistan in the “Basic Democracy Elections”. Following this victory, Maqbool campaigned for K.H. Khursheed for the presidential elections and G.M. Lone for council elections and both won the elections. Maqbool Bhat was one of the founding members of Kashmir Independence committee formed in 12 May 1963 and J&K Plebiscite Front formed in April 1965 when Shaikh Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beigh were in Pakistan discussing confederation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir to resolve Kashmir issue with Bhat as Vice President, and afterwards Maqbool founded Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front (JKNLF) formed on Friday 13 August 1965 in Peshawar. Maqbool later went onto become a President of two organizations.

Maqbool played a role in every major political upheaval in Kashmir afterwards. Noted columnist and author Zahir Din in his book Flashback (2013) wrote that “Maqbool had a role to play for everyone including notorious collaborators like Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad for his independent Kashmir dream. He met him and Bakshi agreed to help him in armed struggle and signed a document with blood showing ready to sacrifice. But soon afterwards, he was arrested”. This was revealed to Zahir Din by former Acting Plebiscite Front President and friend of Bhat Advocate G.N. Hagroo in an interview on his death bed. 

Inspired by the Algerian revolution, Maqbool Bhat crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to recruit youth for NLF. Maqbool entered the valley on 10 June 1966 with Amir Ahmad and Kala Khan while Major Amanullah (who also fought in the second World War with Subhash Chander Bose) remained near LoC.  After spending three months in Kashmir an encounter took place in Kupwara in which Aurangzeb [Tahir] was killed and the rest of the two were arrested. It was Tahir who had killed Amar Chand, an intelligence officer of State police. They were arrested by the then SP Baramulla & Kupwara Shyam Ji, who was the brother of famous doctor Dr Naseer Shah and political activist Miss Mehmooda Ali Shah. (Maqbool Bhat Trehgam Se Tihar Tak, Tahir Ahmad Mir)

Soon after his arrest in 1968, Maqbool Bhat was awarded a death sentence.

In Srinagar Central Jail Maqbool Bhat started planning to escape from the prison. After one and a half month of painstaking efforts, on the intervening night of 8th and 9th December 1968, he successfully escaped from the Jail along with Mir Ahmad and Yasin Badana and crossed over to other parts of Kashmir via Kamalkot area.

Maqbool Bhat’s aim was to highlight the Kashmir issue at the international level. To meet this end, NLF hijacked an aircraft. The aircraft was hijacked by Hashim Qureshi in 1971, who according to B.M Sinha in his book "Samba Spying Case" was B.S. F and R.A.W agent. Former R.A.W chief R.K Yadav in his book "Mission R.A.W" also discusses it in his book. The Hijacking created a political furore. After this hijacking, India cancelled all transport to Pakistan and under international pressure, Maqbool Bhat was arrested.

In May 1976, Maqbool Bhat re-entered Kashmir against the advice of many of his friends and colleagues. This time he entered the valley with Abdul Hammed Bhat and Riaz Dar. Only Dr Farooq Haider was aware of Maqbool Bhat’s entry in the valley.

At that time, it was Mir Shahida Qayoom, a post-graduate in political science, who used to support Maqbool Bhat in his adventure of Guerilla warfare.

When Maqbool Bhat ran short of finances, his group resorted to a bank robbery which was pre-planned with bank manager Sanaullah Magrey who later shouted at them when they had stormed inside the bank demanding money and the group forcibly took INR 4000 from Sana Ullah Magray, the Bank Manager. Magrey resisted and was killed by Reyaz Dar, who was accompanying Maqbool Bhat but another unsupported version states that he was mistakenly fired by Ramzan Shikari, and this led to the arrest of Maqbool Bhat. The arrest of Maqbool Bhat was a major breakthrough for police and he was later taken to New Delhi’s Tihar Jail.

According to JKLF leader and spokesperson and author of Maqbool Bhat’s biography Roshni Ka Shaheed Awal, Muhammad Altaf Kahn writes, “It wasn’t Bhat sahib who killed the bank manager but his close associate Reyaz Dar who couldn’t tolerate indiscipline against his leader”. The bank manager was known to have close ties with Maqbool Bhat and part of the bank-robbery plan but due to fear, he parted ways with them at the end.

Following this, Maqbool Bhat was shifted to Tihar jail where the death penalty was awarded against him for the murder case of C.I.D Inspector Amar Chand. Maqbool Bhat was represented by R.C Pathak, Kapil Sibal and the then Vice President People’s Conference Muzaffar Hussain Beigh. Some NLF activists of Kashmir in London kidnapped Indian diplomat Ravindra Mahatre for the release of Bhat. Bhat wasn’t released, following which Mahatre was killed.

Maqbool Bhat’s death sentence was passed by Chief Justice Chandrachud of Supreme court of India. The government in Srinagar was headed by Farooq Abdullah who once claimed Maqbool as his leader.

Resistance leader Muhammad Altaf Khan alias Azam Inqillabi in his book Panorama writes it was general secretary N. C Shaikh Nazir who helped us to cross the border.  It is said that original documents were not in a file but Justice Chandrachod didn’t listen due to political pressure as per the interview of a close associate of Bhat and Sr. V.P JKLF Adv. Bashir Ahmad Bhat. Even his request to change the advocate was denied. Even journalists were not allowed to meet or interview him. Noted journalist Kumkum Chada in her book ‘Indian Jail’ writes “Despite getting orders for an interview from Supreme Court, she wasn’t allowed to interview for security reasons”. She further writes that "Bhat earned name and fame for fighting the rights of detainees in jail.” Usha Pathak, a renowned educationist of India, and wife of R.C Pathak, in 2015 during a visit to Kashmir on educational tour talked and praised the role of Maqbool Bhat in Srinagar, referring to her husband, who was the counsel to Maqbool Bhat. 

Soon after Maqbool’s death, there were protests and strikes and even courts were closed in his remembrance. The Indian embassy in Islamabad was attacked following which many people were arrested including his son Javed. His two graves – one in Kupwara and another in Eid Gah Srinagar – are still waiting for him.

His grave in Tihar Jail has been removed by authorities, as brought into notice by veteran Journalist Iftikhar Geelani, who was also incarcerated at Tihar jail. His killing was widely condemned by a veteran leader of the world like Yasir Arafat of Palestine, Muhammad Gaddafi of Libya, Bhutto and Zia of Pakistan.

Maqbool had a vision. Veteran political activist Azam Inquilabi in his memoirs Payaami e Hurriyat writes that "when he met Maqbool first in 1969 in Azad Kashmir, he told him that he wants to liberate Kashmir from India and wants non-Muslims involved in the struggle as they were part and parcel of Kashmir". 

Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, in his interview, just before climbing to the gallows, had specified, "I do not support any differences on the basis of sex. I believe in the establishment of a society based on equality and harmony and the role of women is as important as that of a man," (Daily Alsafa edition of 9 June 1990).

Justice Mohammad Yousuf Saraf writes in Kashmir Fights for Freedom, "Maqbool Bhat is a revolutionary of a higher order than Bhagat Singh and Ashfaq Majid Wani. A double graduate, he was News Editor of Daily Anjam and Daily Bang-E-Haram as well as editor of the English weekly, Khyber Mail Peshawar, before plunging into politics and not the politics of power but that of service and sacrifice. The Ganga tribunal, headed by Mr Justice Yaqub Ali, later Chief Justice of Pakistan, has testified that his family of two wives and three children, lived on a miserable pittance while he was under death sentence in Srinagar."

In today’s Kashmir, Maqbool Bhat stands as a great symbol of sacrifice and epitome of resistance.♦

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