The roar of ‘Sher’: Sheikh Abdullah’s legacy, symbolism abound in Kashmir poll campaign


PTI, May 19, 2024, 11:22 AM IST

Baramulla: More than 40 years since his passing, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah still in some sense shapes the election narrative here: his sobriquet ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’ being remodelled and used as a slogan, his ideals invoked to propagates unity and his spirit presented as a potent symbol of Kashmiri identity and resilience.

As one observes electioneering in this parliamentary constituency, it becomes evident that the slogan “Sher aaya” has emerged as a powerful battle cry not only for the National Conference — the party Abdullah founded — but also for its rivals to present their candidates as popular, strong, kingly and invincible.

The constituency is gearing up for an intense electoral showdown in the fifth phase of elections on May 20. Its nearly 17.32 lakh voters will decide the fate of 23 candidates.

When National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah — the grandson of Sheikh Abdullah, the former prime minister and chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir — addressed a thousands-strong rally after filing his nomination papers on May 3, he was welcomed with fervent chants of ‘Dekho, dekho, sher aaya’ (The ‘lion’ has arrived)”.

In his election speeches, especially in the Baramulla town — where National Conference worker the late Maqbool Sherwani misguided Pakistani raiders for days in 1947 to ensure Indian army landed there in time to stop them — Omar talks about his grandfather to propagate the message unity.

Sherwani was later crucified in Baramulla main crossing by the Pakistani raiders.

Omar is pitted against People’s Conference chairperson Sajjad Lone, Peoples Democratic Party’s Fayaz Mir and Independent candidate Sheikh Abdul Rashid, a jailed terror accused also known as Engineer Rashid.

Sheikh Abdullah, a popular leader who symbolised Kashmiri pride, underlined the ideals of secularism and fought for national unity, earned the title of ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’ (the lion of Kashmir) before Independence.

And in contrast, people and parties opposed to his ideals and ideas were called ‘bakras’ (goats), setting the stage for intense political rivalries in Jammu and Kashmir during those days.

This “Sher-Bakra” narrative dominated the political discourse in Kashmir till early 1980s.

A noteworthy monograph kept in the Parliament library sheds light on Sheikh Abdullah’s monumental contributions, capturing his legacy as a freedom fighter and a revered political figure.

Authored during a Janata Dal government supported by the BJP, the monograph pays homage to Sheikh Abdullah’s impact on the subcontinent’s history.

Penned by then speaker of Lok Sabha Rabi Ray, its foreword encapsulates monumental imprint he left in the annals of history.

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