When the house-owner saw an old man planting seedlings in his garden at Rawalpora on a pleasant spring morning, he thought that his wife had hired a new gardener.
He watched the man keenly for some time. Suddenly, the gardener got up, and left, without asking for his wages.
This left the owner wondering.
Only later did he come to know that the gardener was a prominent freedom fighter who had struggled for decades for the rights of his people. He was none other than Raghunath Vaishnavi, an advocate.
When Mohi-ud-Din Karra joined the Janata Party in 1977, a shocked Vaishnavi quit politics, but his concern for Kashmir remained lodged in his heart till his dying day.
He would often set out early in the morning with his bag of seedlings and plant them in others’ homes.
This would bring him some comfort.
Like most Kashmiris, he resented the occupation of his homeland by alien forces. When Mohi-ud-Din Karra launched the Political Conference in June 1953, Vaishnavi had became its founding vice-president.
The new party, standing for Jammu and Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, held its first rally at Suhyaar, Safa Kadal, and people responded by taking out processions and chanting pro-Pak slogans.
Authorities cracked down on its leadership, including Vaishnavi, and put it behind bars in a Jammu jail.
Shortly afterwards, Jana Sangh leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee was taken into custody by the Jammu and Kashmir government for trying to enter the state in violation of the prevailing permit rules.
On Mookerjee’s death under detention in Kashmir, the Jana Sangh held demonstrations across India, with his Jammu supporters, who had been arrested for turning violent, being sent to the same jail as Vaishnavi.
The superintendent there, Feroz Din, somehow came to know of their plan to liquidate the detained Political Conference leadership inside the prison, and prevailed upon the government to shift it to Udhampur.
Vaishnavi was a dedicated political worker and never complained about his hardships. His family lived from hand to mouth as his party was in no position to support it financially.
While he languished in jails, his wife got no help even from those receiving funds for the welfare of prisoners’ families. But she did not budge from her husband’s political beliefs, and bore her burdens silently.
Syed Rasool, an activist from Sur Teng, Rainawari, is all praise for Vaishnavi and salutes his contribution to the freedom struggle. He saw Vaishnavi for the last time in the late 1970s at Justice Rizvi’s house in Sharifabad, Bemina.
Vaishnavi had been deeply disappointed by the u-turn of his leader, Mohi-ud-Din Karra. He believed in Kashmiriyat and worked tirelessly for the welfare of Kashmiris, going from the pillar to the post for an amicable settlement of the Kashmir dispute.
According to his granddaughter Mona Bhan, a noted academician and writer, his belief in an equitable and a non violent resolution for Kashmir, and Indo-Pak amity and reconciliation, remained resolute.
He founded and chaired the India-Pakistan Conciliation Group on Kashmir (1965-70), and was also a member of the Steering Committee of All J&K State People’s Convention from 1968-1971.
Recalling Raghunath Vaishnavi’s commitment to an equitable and non-violent resolution for Kashmir, his granddaughter, Mona Bhan, further says: “An astute political analyst and an intrepid statesman, he proposed independence for Kashmir under the UN Neutralization Guarantee at the second plenary session of the All J&K State People’s Convention in June 1970.”
“Relentless in his pursuit to establish peace in the subcontinent and ensure a just, transparent, and a realistic solution to the Kashmir dispute, Vaishnavijee founded and chaired the India-Pakistan Peace Forum of Kashmir from 1986 onwards.”
In his illustrious career as an advocate and a political advisor, Vaishnavi fought several high-profile political cases for the Plebiscite Front and advised its members on the political future of Kashmir without a trace of vested self-interest.
“He was a man of integrity. He never rejected a brief on political grounds, and commanded respect in the Bar,” says his colleague, Latif Qureshi.
With master’s degrees in political science and psychology from the Punjab University at Lahore, and an LLB from the Allahabad University, Vaishnavi began his political career in the 1930s, and became a member of the UP Civil Liberties Union in 1937.
He played a pivotal role as the founding general secretary of the Kashmir National Congress in 1938, and became a founding member of the National Conference (into which the KNC was subsumed) in 1939, serving on its Working Committee from 1941 to 1943 when he resigned from the party due to political differences with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.
From 1947 onwards, he advocated a peaceful, realistic, and a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute. From 1953 to 1964, he was the Vice President of the Kashmir Political Conference, of which he was also a founding member.
His political philosophy was driven by the urgent need to respect the aspirations of Kashmiris.
For his political stance on Kashmir, Vaishnavi suffered seven years of detention in several prisons in Jammu and Kashmir. But long periods of imprisonment did not break his determination, and he pursued the Kashmir cause with renewed enthusiasm when released.
He remained a prolific political writer right until his death on November 22, 1996. In addition to being the editor of an Urdu newspaper, the Jamhoor, in the 1950s and a columnist for several other newspapers, English as well as Urdu, he contributed frequently to various journals such as the Other Side and The Radical Humanist.
In one of his articles, Pandit Vaishnavi recounts his meeting with Govindrao Deshpande, a Bombay-based Sarvodaya leader, who was visiting Kashmir in 1965 for the “settlement of the Kashmir Problem.”:
“On November 8, 1965, in reply to a question by Shri Deshpande asking me what solution I proposed for the settlement of the Kashmir problem in view of the fact that Pakistan had committed aggression and India was not prepared to re-open the issue with that country, I expressly denied that the Kashmir problem was a closed chapter. The problem is not only open, but it is staring in the face and demands to be resolved without any further waste of time. To linger it on in its present condition means to invite further expense and loss of precious lives. India will gain nothing ultimately. Why cannot Kashmir be granted independent status? For thousands of years, Kashmir has remained independent until she was subjugated by outsiders.”
His rich collection of letters, telegrams, and essays to key political figures in India and Pakistan, urging them to resolve the Kashmir issue from a humanist perspective, stands testament to his belief in human dignity and freedom, and his insurmountable love, passion, and commitment for Kashmir and Kashmiris irrespective of their religious, ethnic, or political affiliations.
Raghunath Vaishnavi did not accept the government’s allowance for freedom fighters.
To his daughter, Dr. Purnima Bhan Vaishnavi, at whose house in Udhampur he spent his last days, he had said: “I will not accept the allowance until the Kashmir dispute is resolved in accordance with the wishes of the people.”