Through The Eyes of Comrade Sethi

TNN Bureau. Updated: 9/12/2016 5:23:47 PM This Person: Then and Now

As we entered the lanes of Mohalla Dulpatian of the old city to interview Krishan Dev Sethi, apparently it was only us who didn't know his residence. Be it a child or an adult, everyone we asked for directions to his place, knew him either by 'Sethi Sahab' or 'Comrade Sahab.' Some people don't know him by name, but knew him as the person who is visited by big ministers, every now and then, making us even more curious about him. Expecting to meet a high headed politician, as we entered his place, all our notions were pleasantly proved wrong. In his room, he had only a few items of utility occupying any area, complementing his minimalistic yet humble approach visible in his answers to our questions.

An important part of the politics of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, pre-independence as well as post-independence, Krishan Dev Sethi has been instrumental in rise of National Conference in Jammu, arguably the most successful party in history of the state. He has witnessed some of the most significant political events in the state, being the member of the first constituent assembly in 1951, and the member of the first legislative assembly of state as well in 1957. Once an ardent supporter of Sheikh Abdullah, Sethi was not shy in criticizing him for his wrong policies, ultimately leaving NC, in whose rising he had an important role, and formed another party. He is also believed to be the political mentor of former chief minister Late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. He has been very vocal against the accession of state to India and considers parliamentary path of politics as useless.

All these things make him a very interesting person with a certain aura of mystique around him. To know more about him and the answers he has been holding on to his chest, Sahil Rasgotra met Krishan Dev Sethi for a TNN Exclusive.

SR: Tell us how did you become a part of state politics?

KDS: I was born in Mirpur, an area that was economically very inferior, due to feudalism and ill practices of landlords and moneylenders, who used to take lands from farmers in lieu of lending meagre amount of money. To make things worse, there was repression from the British government and Maharaja as well. Soon, the discontentment among people turned into a rebellion of which I was also a part, at the age of 15 years.
National Conference at that time was the strongest political group having some of the most famous political figures and since their struggle was same as ours, it only made sense to join NC. In 1945, during Quit Kashmir movement, I was sentenced to imprisonment for 2 years, only to come out to witness the communal riots happening in the state in 1947. I was made the Rehabilitation Officer for Rajouri and Poonch by Sheikh Abdullah. Then, we started the Jammu chapter of National Conference, which was only for namesake in Jammu till then, and was elected as General Secretary of NC in Jammu in the first provincial elections held here. This is how I became a part of state politics. After that, I was elected as a member of Constituent Assembly of the state from Nowshehra constituency in 1951 and was elected to J&K's first legislative assembly also in 1957.

SR: You were a part of National Conference and played an important part in establishing it in Jammu. Then why did you leave NC and formed Democratic National Conference, and later join Communist party?

KDS: There are two reasons for that. I had a conflict with Sheikh Abdullah when he started swaying back and forth on the issues of accession and autonomy. However even then, I believed in party and its working. But the things worsened after Sheikh was dismissed and Bakhshi (Ghulam Muhammad) took over from him. Sheikh was not corrupt but under Bakhshi, major section of NC became corrupt. These events spread discontentment among public against the government of Jammu and Kashmir and Indian establishment may have been used by secessionists and opportunists for their own benefits. To avoid this situation, we formed Democratic National Conference (DNC) which was our idea of having a strong, secular and democratic opposition in the state. I was joined by Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq, Mir Qasim, D.P. Dhar and others in Kashmir; while in Jammu, we had Ram Pyara Saraf, Master Girdhari Lal Dogra and many others. In the assembly we had 19 members; however the members from Kashmir along with Master Dogra from Jammu couldn't resist power and rejoined National Conference.
After all this, my leaning towards left politics made me join the communist party which itself got divided into two factions- CPM and CPI (M). Both of them turned out to be hypocrites and became a part of the establishment instead of resisting it. Meanwhile, during Indo-China war, Sadiq put me in prison for two and a half years, as I was advocating talks instead of war. After that I had to remain underground for 7-8 years. These years changed my perception completely and I became a non-believer of parliamentary path of government.

SR: What are your reasons to not believe in Parliamentary path?

KDS: I have been in politics for 74 years now and what I have learnt is that Parliament and Assembly are not going to change anything, not at least for the common man. This is because no party is going to stay in power permanently and all they care for, when in power, is to ensure that they get another term rather than focusing on service of the common man. No matter which party forms the government, their policies are always, more or less the same, focusing on ideologies like capitalism, feudalism, imperialism and also internalization. Congress, Janta Party and then BJP have ruled the country for multiple times but their focus has been on safeguarding the interests of Industrialists and elite class. Similarly in our state, NC, Congress, BJP and PDP have ruled but fundamentally, common masses have suffered throughout, at both the stages.
Although our constitution states that we have a Federal democracy but I believe it is more of a unitary system than Federal. States in India don't even have the rights which municipals committees in Europe possess. Grants of funds, collection of taxes, policies making and implementing, and all the control is in the hands of the central government. The governments in states, irrespective of parties, would always play the second fiddle to the central government. This setup cannot help states in any way. This is why I do not believe in parliamentary system as this system cannot ever yield any positive result.

SR: If not the parliamentary path, then what do you believe in?

KDS: I am a professional revolutionary and my belief lies in the path of revolution. To bring change around us, we need to have a revolutionary struggle. J&K in itself is a mini India where 5 communities, totally different in their language, tradition and culture, reside. How can a Dogra be on same page as a Kashmiri or a Ladakhi can relate to a Pahari? The only solution to the problem of J&K is independence and that can be brought only through the path of revolution.
I also admit, however, that this is not the right time for a revolution. People need to be mentally prepared for a revolution only then an uprising can happen that could get the people of our state what they always deserved- independence.

SR: By that logic, people of Jammu and Kashmir must be happy before 1947, as it was an independent state under the rule of Maharaja. What is your opinion of Maharaja of the state?

KDS: No! People were oppressed before 1947 too.Their leadership always betrayed the people of Kashmir, and Maharaja was no exception. Although J&K was an independent state before 1947 but this independence was under the rule of one person that was Maharaja. This is totally different from a secular, democratic and federal independent state. Under maharaja rule, the situation was even worse.
In my opinion, Maharaja was guilty of the destruction that happened in the state post 1947. If Maharaja had decided on 15 august 1947 between Pakistan and India, all the bloodshed could have been avoided. Some famous grapevines have a story about a saint, Swami Sant Dev whom Maharaja consulted on regular basis. It was Swami Dev who told Maharaja not to accede to India as he could foresee Maharaja's Kingdom expanding to Lahore, if he stays independent. It was this dream shown to him by the saint which caused all the devastation in the state. Even ignoring this, for me, Maharaja is still guilty of being indecisive and causing all these deaths.

SR: You have observed Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah very closely and have been on both the sides- with him and against him - at different points of time. What was the reason of your conflict with him? What is your opinion about him, today?
KDS: If I go back in time, I would say there were two different Sheikh Abdullah’s, one before 1953 and the other after 1953. The former was a great leader who had his hand on the pulse of people. He led the successful campaign in ending the feudalism. He united farmers, did the land reforms and abolished system of money lending. The state of J&K can easily credit its emancipation to Sheikh Abdullah, without a doubt, who in real terms eroded the forces of repression.
However, things changed drastically in 1953. The corruption started seeping in the party and Sheikh Abdullah lost touch with the people. When people from Jammu were migrating, he refused to intervene and to stop them saying, "why should I bother about the Muslims of Jammu as they have never accepted me as their leader?" He started talking against accession in 1953 which was strange considering the right time to oppose it was in 1947 and not in 1953 when majority of people have already left their homes. National Conference, under him, had always been demanding the right to self-determination and autonomy. But in his second coming, he left the idea of plebiscite. This was not expected out of him.
He succumbed to the expansionist policy of the government of India. They tried to get more out of the Delhi Agreement. India's Supreme Court and Election Commission had no jurisdiction in our state. There was no financial jurisdiction and we had our own flag as well. India wanted all these things in J&K and Sheikh wanted power. Both made a deal where Sheikh became the Chief Minister of the state but by betraying his people who were struggling all along with him for an independent state. Not many people know but he was ready to join Congress and many meetings regarding the same also took place before Indira Gandhi declined his proposal and gave him the outside support, instead.

SR: You are regarded as the political mentor of Late Jenab Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. What are your views about him as a person and as a politician?

KDS: I was not the political mentor of Mufti but we were very good friends. Our friendship started in 1959 when Mufti had just completed his LLB and DNC was being formed.
As a politician, he was a liberal and democratic leader of new age. His most significant contribution to the politics of the state was setting up a secular, democratic and pro-India opposition party; first in Congress and then in PDP. If he hadn't done that, it would have been sheer monopoly of National Conference in J&K. Alliance with BJP for the government formation was no small feat. Only a person like Mufti could handle such a politically sensitive situation so effortlessly.
Mufti never compromised with his values and that, for me, was his greatest asset. When parties are in power they sing certain tunes and change them as soon as they go out of power. Mufti never did that. He had always maintained that we are a part of Indian democracy and never talked against it even when he went out of power. He was in favor of Indo-Pak talks and has been instrumental in resumption of talks at multiple occasions.
He was a great friend too who always kept in touch. Despite of being from different parties, we had excellent personal relationship. Our political views were different, and we always had that mutual respect among us. Never did he ask me to agree to his views, nor did I expect him to agree to my views. Although we were following different lines of politics, I still applaud him for the good work he has done for the state.

SR: What do you expect from Mehbooba's term as the Chief Minister? How would she fare as the CM of the state?

KDS: My equation is different with Mehbooba, as she is more like my daughter. Still I believe that if she works on the framework drawn by her father, she would do as good as her father had done, if not better. Mehbooba is a strong woman and a mature politician. Her views in past have been in sync with his father's on subjects like Indo-Pak relations, development of the state, for Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the state, so I don't see why she would not do good as the Chief Minister of the state. Mufti had done excellent job considering the difficult and complicated equation he was. If Mehbooba could do half of what Mufti has done, I would rate her term good.

SR: Why did you left active politics in 1965 when you could have easily continued? What are you doing these days?

KDS: We are very much active in politics; albeit in different roles. We have shunned the parliamentary party politics and are doing things more close to ground, under the ground as well as over the ground, for the common man. Our organization has its representation among what I call the classless class of the society. We have left the process of elections far behind us but focusing more on preparing people for the revolutionary path of struggle. We also have our weekly publication, 'Zadd-o-Zehad' with a total circulation of 2-2.5 thousand copies through which we reach out to people with our thoughts and opinions.

Comment on this Story