A renaming in Srinagar: Why Sheikh Abdullah was called ‘Sher-i-Kashmir’

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The renamed Kashmir International Conference Centre in Srinagar, on Sunday. (Express photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

On Sunday (March 8), the Jammu and Kashmir administration renamed the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar as 'Kashmir International Conference Centre'.

“Sher-i-Kashmir” is the title used for Sheikh Abdullah, the former prime minister and chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir.

Before this, in December 2019, the J&K and Ladakh authorities had dropped Abdullah's birth anniversary, December 5, from its list of gazetted holidays. Another holiday, Martyrs’ Day on July 13, was also scrapped.

The Sher-i-Kashmir title

The Sher-i-Kashmir, or the “Lion of Kashmir” Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, was a leader pivotal to the politics of Jammu & Kashmir for many decades.

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Abdullah was born on December 5, 1905, in Sohra in Jammu and Kashmir. Before becoming prominent in politics, he worked as a schoolmaster, with an MSc degree in Chemistry from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

In 1931, Jammu and Kashmir saw an agitation against the Dogra rule. The uprising, which led to the killing of 22 Muslims, is seen as the first assertion of Muslim identity in the region. Abdullah was among the key leaders of the agitation.

Following the 1931 incident, one of Kashmir’s first political parties, called the Kashmir Muslim Conference, was formed. Abdullah was its president.

Abdullah is known for his efforts to integrate Jammu and Kashmir with India. A close friend and political ally of Jawaharlal Nehru, Abdullah converted the Muslim Conference into the secular National Conference in 1939. Unlike the Muslim Conference, the NC advocated a future with the secular India rather than with Pakistan, and rejected the Two-Nation Theory.

Abdullah assumed the position of the prime minister of J&K in 1948. In 1953, he was imprisoned for several years, amid suspicion in the Government of India that he was working to break Kashmir away from the Union.

In 1975, the Indira–Sheikh Accord was signed, and Abdullah came back to power, serving as chief minister between 1975-77 and 1977-82.

Once the tallest leader of Kashmir, Abdullah saw his popularity rise and wane over the years, but his party continued to advocate Kashmir’s future with India.