This was midnight of August 8 and 9, 1953, a Saturday night. After a hectic week involving a crisis in his cabinet, Sheikh had escaped to the hill station of Gulmarg along with his family and several members of personal staff. The air was filled with conspiracy theories. Unprecedented security arrangements signalled imminent unfolding of some unforeseen crisis. No one had any clue what was about to happen. Back in Srinagar, Ajit Prasad Jain, a confidante of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, was with Sadar-e-Reyasat Karan Singh, at Karan Mahal which was evolving into Raj Bhawan. In Delhi, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Intelligence Bureau director B.N. Mullick were with Nehru at his residence supervising the midnight operation. Karan Singh thought he was addressing a constitutional crisis as Constitutional Head of the State. But in reality, he was playing just the symbolic role of the Raj Bhawan in a larger game which was laid out weeks before.
Sheikh’s dismissal and arrest has been officially presented as a normal case of the leader losing trust of majority in his cabinet and hence the fall. Constitutionally, it is the majority in legislature that determines longevity of its leader and the cabinet, as made out in Sheikh’s case. Sheikh was among the closest friends of Nehru’s and in the 1940s and early 1950s, he was easily seen as one of the top political leaders in the country. If he had anyone at the national level to challenge his authority and question his politics, that was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Since Patel had died in December 1950, and now if Sheikh had any opponent at the Indian national scene, they were also the ideological rivals of Nehru, such as Syama Prasad Mookerjee who had left Congress and the Bhartiya Jana Sangh in October 1951. Then in who in the government had wanted Sheikh dismissed and jailed?
In this episode, I take you to a tour of minute-by-minute details of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s dismissal and arrest.