Saturday, July 9, 2022

Sheikh Abdullah’s 1953 Meetings With Adlai Stevenson

In April 1953, Adlai Stevenson II, the American politician who was twice the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, arrived in Srinagar. He claimed that he was on a vacation and intended to sail on Dal Lake and see the snow. But he had two meetings, each of more than two hours, with Sheikh Abdullah. 

The content of these meetings was not revealed by either side, and that led to a lot of speculation in India. Most Indians saw the USA as an imperialist power—they suspected that the USA was trying to encourage Kashmir’s secession with the intention of making the region a part of its sphere of influence. In those days Abdullah was insisting on Kashmir’s independence. Stevenson later denied that he had encouraged Abdullah. 

In his book, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography (Volume 2, Page 131, footnote), Sarvepalli Gopal writes that when Abdullah casually suggested that “independent status might be an alternative,” Stevenson remained silent. Stevenson claimed that he did not give “even unconscious encouragement regarding independence, which did not seem to me realistic…” 

In August 1953, the Abdullah government in Kashmir was dismissed—soon after that Abdullah was arrested for anti-national activities. One of the charges against him was that he was colluding with an imperialist power—hinting to a conspiracy with the USA. In his footnote on page 131 of his book, Sarvepalli Gopal writes: “Nehru thought that Dulles and Adlai Stevenson might have privately put forward the idea of an independent Kashmir.” 

But it seems that Jawaharlal Nehru disbelieved the charge of conspiracy against Abdullah. In his October 3, 1953, letter to his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit, (mentioned on the footnote on page 131), he absolved both Abdullah and Stevenson. 

Stevenson was close to Nehru. In 1949, when Nehru was on a “goodwill tour” of the USA, Stevenson welcomed him in Chicago with these words: “Only a tiny handful of men have influenced the implacable forces of our time. To this small company of the truly great, our guest… belongs… Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru belongs to the even smaller company of historic figures who wore a halo in their own lifetimes.”

In light of Stevenson’s closeness to Nehru, it is hard to guess whose agenda he was covering in his meetings with Abdullah—America’s or of the Nehru government? In the early years of India’s independence, Nehru failed to act decisively in Kashmir. He dithered for too long and then he took the Kashmir issue to the UN. The involvement of the UN and some foreign powers has caused further complications in Kashmir.

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