The grief and mourning of thousands of supporters of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa has unmistakable parallels with the death of iconic Kashmiri leader and founder of National Conference, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.
Like Jayalalithaa, Sheikh, who was born in 1903, ruled the hearts and minds of his followers and supporters.
Both these leaders were accused of corruption during their rule, but that did not matter to their supporters in whose eyes the two could do no wrong.
The late Sheikh’s persona, like that of Jayalalithaa grew out of its political borders and finally the two became to be seen as some kind of super humans who could not die.
“This is something which the death of Jayalalithaa and the Sheikh prove. Death of these icons had been unacceptable to their followers. Super humans can not die and that is what people who adored these two icons believed,” said Muzaffar Ahmad, a professor, here.
Like her, Sheikh remained in a critical state of health for many months before he passed away on September 8, 1982.
Rumours of his death spread many times during his illness as these did in case of Jayalalithaa.
Like her followers, the supporters of late Sheikh ridiculed, abused and even roughed up anyone who said that Sheikh had passed away.
Hours before his death was officially confirmed, rumours had spread like wildfire saying the leader was no more.
People in summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir sacrificed sheep in hundreds devotional offerings to disprove the news of Sheikh’s death.
Markets closed, traffic stopped, Kashmir was on the road.
Thousands throughout the Valley waited with bated breath to know the latest on the Sheikh’s health.
When the news about his death was officially confirmed in the evening, an unprecedented gloom descended on Kashmir.
Wailing, weeping and beating their chests, men, women and children file passed the body of Sheikh, which was kept in the Polo Ground in Srinagar as thousands came for the last glimpse. Exactly what is seen today (Tuesday) in Chennai.
The then President, Gyani Zail Singh, and the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, rushed to Srinagar to attend the Sheikh’s funeral.
“We were told that this was the first time in India’s history that both the President and the Prime Minister left the capital at the same time and that was done to express solidarity and stand alongside the people of Kashmir in their hour of grief.
“I don’t know whether that was true or not, but that is what every Kashmiri believed that time”, said Khwaja Nisar Hussain, a retired chief engineer.
Wrapped in the national flag, the body of late Sheikh was carried in a funeral procession that took over eight hours to cover a distance of around 10 kilometres.
Senior journalist Zafar Meraj who did a running commentary on radio Kashmir on the funeral procession recalls: “There was no television those days in Kashmir, the only means of public broadcast was the radio. It was for the first time that a running commentary was done on any funeral procession in Kashmir.
“Undoubtedly, around a million mourners attended the funeral procession. The grief was so widespread that indicated the leader’s death had been unacceptable even for those who came out to bury him”.
“Politics seemed to have come to an abrupt halt because the motor and engine that had driven Kashmir’s politics for 50 years had suddenly stopped.
“Today the grave of the late leader is guarded and yet there is no doubt that nobody has since risen to the level of public adoration and reverence as late Sheikh did,” said Abdul Majid Bhat, a resident of Srinagar city.
As images of thousands of people paying last respects to J. Jayalalithaa are rolled by television news channels, Kashmiris are reminded what they saw personally in 1982.
As iconic leaders unlikely to be matched by anyone in near future, the deaths of Jayalalithaa and Sheikh will remain itched in public memory for many years.