It is reported that while waiting for his execution in Tihar prison of Delhi Maqbool Butt stated that if India thinks that the struggle for freedom in Kashmir will die down with his execution then they are seriously mistaken. “In fact the struggle will begin after I am gone,” he had said.
His legal team was waiting optimistically for the response to the review appeal they lodged pointing to certain flaws in the case in which he was given death sentence in 1976. However, allegedly, all the legal procedures were set aside following the abduction and murder of an Indian diplomat by an unknown organisation called Kashmir Liberation Army (KLA) in Birmingham, United Kingdom, where nearly one hundred thousand Kashmiris are settled from Mirpur city of Pakistani administered Kashmir or Azad Jammu and Kashmir. His dead body was not handed over to his family or lawyers and he was buried inside the prison compound.
The reaction in the Indian administered Kashmir was confined to his village Trehgam where he was born on 18 February 1938 and a public protest called by Abdul Ghani Lone, who many years later was killed by unknown gunmen.
However, the reaction in the PaK and among diaspora especially in the UK was proportional and for many who assumed that the influence of pro-independent Kashmir politics was confined to few pockets of this mere 5000 sq. miles strip of the divided Jammu Kashmir state unexpectedly high. In all three divisions of PaK thousands of people came out spontaneously and expressed their anger in a variety of ways and manners. In Britain some people claim that the protest at Hyde Park London was the largest ever by British Kashmiris.
I was at Karachi University and although had little interest in politics and was in fact in anti-Maqbool Butt camp (Jamiat and Jamat e Islami and Muslim Conference) because he was not fighting for the accession of Kashmir to Pakistan. I too went along with other Kashmiri students of all political backgrounds to protest and it was the beatings and humiliation that I received from Pakistani police that pushed me on the journey to find out more about Maqbool Butt and his ideology and struggle. I tried to cover whatever I could find out and understand in the booklet, “Mabqool Butt: Life and Struggle” that is banned in PaK but only available now in electronic form.
Three years after the hanging of Butt when thousands of people took to streets in Srinagar against the rigging of 1987 elections to keep Muslim United Front (MUF) out of the state assembly, portraits of Butt gradually emerged along with Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) flags. Interestingly one of the portraits that became visible in Srinagar, according to some reports was created in Britain. So was the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
When Butt formed the Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front (JKNLF) on 13 August 1966 they were only a few members but today on thirty-forth death anniversary not only the pro-independence activists but also the ordinary Kashmiris from apparently ideology of accession to Pakistan parties in PaK and diaspora remember him as the most influential icon of the Kashmir struggle for independence. Every year the numbers of events and activities organized on 11 February have been increasing. While many political groups organize events and activities under the banners of their own organizations and ‘alliances’ Butt remains the strongest symbol that brings pro-independence Kashmiri groups closer.
However, previously not many people knew much about his ideology. He was seen as merely a guerrilla fighter but recently through the publication of his letters from prison, his statements in the Pakistani and Indian courts, media interviews, audio recordings of his speeches and most recently memories of his comrades, friends and relatives, his political ideology and vision has also become accessible. He was a visionary.
The challenge for Kashmiri intellectuals right now is to analyze his vision of tomorrow and convey that to the younger generation of Kashmir valley and wider population of the Jammu Kashmir State. They need to know what he stood for, why he adopted the path he did and more importantly that no freedom can be achieved through mere hate and narrow nationalism or narrow religious politics no matter how much sacrifices are made. The freedom can be achieved only through a realistic, democratic and inclusive political vision and political struggle, the goal of which in his words has to be setting up a democratic order of the society where such vision can be fulfilled.
To elaborate on this point I include three questions from an interview with Butt by the veteran Indian journalist KumKum Chadha in Tihar prison of Delhi, where he was kept in a death cell. The interview was published in “The Indian Jail: a contemporary document” in 1983. This I think sums up the ideological and political vision of Maqbool Bhatt and reflects to a large extent the realities not only of Jammu Kashmir but also of Indian and Pakistani societies as well. A very important, arguably most important part of his ideological legacy.
MB: I have no pretentions of being a deeply religious man in the conventional sense of the term. Yet I do feel indebted to my study and understanding of religion in the development of my thinking and the determination of the course of my life. I think devoid of religion, the very moral and ethical foundations of social life are destined to crumble down. Apart from its historic role in the development of human civilisation, religion continues to be and will always remain in one form or the other an important objective condition of social life which simply cannot be wished away and will have to be taken into consideration by those who stand for reform and change. Personally I am a Muslim according to my own understanding of the faith – deen as Quran calls it. My study of Islam, although very meagre, has certainly played an important role in the development of my personality.
KK: What do you believe in?
MB: Equality of human beings, to be fortified by what ought to be termed as social justice constitute my fundamental social belief. All else in this connection follows from this basic source. Society as such means a lot to me. Without it, I think, I will cease to be even my ownself.
KK: What is your political faith?
MB: Freedom of thought, and in pursuit thereof the right to freedom of expression, action and association for all humans constitute my basic political faith. I believe a democratic order of society can best guarantee the fulfilment and realisation of this concept. The term political ideology has come to be synonymous with ones inclination towards what is termed as right or left. I am afraid that is not the case with me. My political ideology consists of my faith in the right of all peoples to make and shape their present and future in accordance with their freely expressed wishes and aspirations through the instruments and institutions enacted and established by them without any external compulsion coercion or interference.
I must clarify that I’m not advocating for the propagation of, and building on, the political vision of Butt out of my emotional attachment or hero worship tendency but because I think that his ideology was shaped by and reflects our social context and our objective conditions. It is not him, it is his vision and struggle that in my view must be understood and built on.