The Post partition period was not all spring and blossom for India especially in the areas which were enclosed to the “Radcliffe Line” or the border between India and the newly formed Pakistan. After independence, many states chose to become one with the democratic republic state of India while some princely states chose otherwise. In the fall of October 1947 Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra king of the princely state of Kashmir signed an instrument of accession to come under the dominion of India (which later on became the base of article 370). Even after the accession being signed, the Dogra state was attacked by the tribal raiders of the North-West Frontier Province who were directly sponsored by Pakistan.
Here begins the story of an unsung hero who successfully stalled the invaders in Baramulla district thus preventing them to annex Srinagar. His name was Maqbool Sherwani, a 19-year old boy who was a political worker for the National Conference Party. While there are many versions of the story, the two popular versions ensure that the raiders were not able to proceed to Srinagar.
In one version, Maqbool Sherwani told the raiders that he would show them their way to Srinagar and led them off target. This gave the Indian Army an amount of time to land at Srinagar Airport on 27 October.
The second version of the story notes on 22 October when the Pakistani raiders attacked Baramulla. Maqbool thought of a plan to put them off track. He told them that the Indian Army had already landed in Srinagar which reportedly stalled their advance towards Srinagar. Eventually, they were attacked by the Indian Army at Shalteng which is a few kilometers outside Srinagar on 7 November and driven out altogether.
However, what’s not in question is that the Pakistani raiders brutally killed him for misleading them. Sherwani was in Sumbal which is 35 kilometers away from Baramulla when the Pakistani raiders found out about his plan and brought him back.
In a report filed by the Times of India correspondent who visited Baramulla on 9 November, the day after the Indian Army captured the town, “the most popular local leader of the National Conference, Meer Maqbool Sherwani, went through torture for his politics and was finally bound to wooden bars and shot dead—14 bullet holes were found in his body.”
Some other reports spoke about how the raiders had even posted a note on his forehead in Urdu stating, ‘He is a traitor, his punishment is death’ before nailing his body to a wooden plank. Many Indian commentators believe he is a hero who turned the tide of a 1947 war. After the raiders were driven out of Baramulla, his body was buried with full military honors.
Understanding Maqbool Sherwani
As a political worker in Baramulla of the National Conference which is a party established by Sheikh Abdullah. Maqbool Sherwani made Sheikh Abdullah his idol and he did the party’s bidding in Baramulla.
Khaliq Parvaiz stated that he saw Maqbool being chased by some rival political workers one day when he was sitting on a ghat by the Jhelum river in Baramulla. He escaped their clutches after jumping into the river for swimming to safety. Although many didn’t agree with his politics, what people agreed on was that he was “something of a hellraiser, a swashbuckling character who could impress the crowds”. There are stories of him trying to disrupt public addressing of Mohammed Ali Jinnah who had arrived in Baramulla. In fact, moments before the raiders executed him, Maqbool is believed that he shouted “Victory for the unity of Sikh, Hindus and Muslims”.
Some are less humanitarian in their description of Maqbool. Historian Andrew Whitehead who is a renowned scholar of the same region writes about his interaction with Muhammad Yusuf Saraf who is a rival political activist from Baramulla referred to Maqbool Sherwani as a “semi-literate man of about 40 years” who became “very unpopular for his goondaism.” Whitehead wrote that “Saraf, however, acknowledged both Sherwani’s devotion to Sheikh Abdullah and the courage with which he sought to impede the Lashkar advance and approached his own death.”
In fact, Saraf recalled his events as he told that, “He was brought down to Baramulla and after several days of interrogation, was tied to an electric pole in the center of the town and nails were driven into his hands and forehead. Ultimately, he was shot dead. How fanatically devoted he was to his leader and basically how brave he was, maybe judged from the fact that even while he was so nailed, he continued to shout ‘Sher-e-Kashmir Zindabad’ [Long Live the Lion of Kashmir – a title for Abdullah],”.
Whitehead recalled his another encounter with Pran Nath Jalal who had spent time in the Maharaja’s prisons with Maqbool Sherwani and after that joined the National Conference militia.
Whitehead told that, “Jalali told me that Sherwani was among those who offered to go undercover into areas controlled by the tribesmen. ‘In fact, there was a list of 22 volunteers which we framed to go behind the enemy lines. [Sherwani] was one of them. But being an adventurer and a bit showy—he held public meetings village to village and rode into the enemy on a motorbike. That motorbike undid him.’ Sherwani was, as far as Jalali recalled, the only one of these behind-the-lines militia volunteers to lose his life.”.
Maqbool Sherwani lost his life in service of a nascent Indian nation that was still struggling to come to terms with the violence and chaos surrounding its birth regardless of whatever said about him. He significantly contributed to giving India a serious foothold in the Kashmir Valley when all seemed lost while risking his life.