|Lately many pleas have been made that Mohammed Afzal Guru's execution should be stayed because his death 'could fuel separatism in Jammu & Kashmir.'
The state chief minister himself has been an ardent advocate for clemency for the terrorist who attacked the Indian Parliament in December 2001 (and nearly provoked a war between India and Pakistan).
The 'secular' protagonists claim that his execution will make a martyr of Afzal. I will not enter into these fallacious arguments, but the time has perhaps come to remember a true martyr: Major Somnath Sharma who on November 3, 1947 saved Srinagar airport (and Kashmir) at the supreme cost of his life.
Had he not sacrificed his life, Afzal's defenders would not today make front page news in the Indian press, for the simple reason that they would be Pakistani citizens living under a military dictatorship.
Our story starts during in the early days of October 1947 when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru received a message from a former deputy commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan [one of the province's main districts] in the North West Frontier Province.
he bureaucrat warned of 'a scheme to send armed tribals from Pakistan to the Pakistan-Kashmir border; some of them had already moved towards the area in transport provided by the Pakistan government. Arms confiscated from non-Muslims had been supplied to these tribals.'
As Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir was reluctant to sign the Instrument of Accession to India, Nehru refused to take any action. Two weeks later a large contingent of Afridis, Mahsuds, Wazirs, Swathis and regular soldiers of the Pakistan army 'in mufti' began to enter Kashmir.
During the night of October 22, the 'raiders' burnt the town of Muzaffarabad. They then overran Uri and captured Mahura, the electric power station, fifty miles from Srinagar. The city of Srinagar was plunged in darkness.
In these dramatic circumstances, V P Menon, Sardar Patel's faithful collaborator, went to Jammu and got Hari Singh's signature on the printed Accession Form. He rushed back for the historic meeting in Delhi with India's governor general, Lord Mountbatten in the chair.
A young army colonel named Sam Manekshaw, who attended the meeting, recalled: 'As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God Almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said, 'Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away?' He [Nehru] said, 'Of course, I want Kashmir.' Then he [Patel] said: 'Please give your orders.'
Everything then moved very fast. Early the next morning, the first troops and equipment were airlifted from Palam airport [in Delhi] to Srinagar. A young major was sent on his first assignment to Kashmir. He was responsible for the logistic. His name was S K Sinha (today the governor of Jammu and Kashmir).
He later wrote about the first Indian jawans reaching Srinagar: 'It was indeed inspiring to see grim determination writ large on their faces. They were all determined to do their best, no matter what handicap they had to contend with. I had never before seen such enthusiasm and fervour for duty.'
They knew that all eyes in India were focused on them. At Srinagar airfield, just before returning to Delhi, Sinha met an old friend, Major Somnath Sharma of 4 Kumaon. He had come a day earlier from Delhi with a broken arm.
Sinha found him 'rather disgusted with life.' With his 'wretched hand in plaster,' no one would give him 'an active assignment in Delhi.'
His company had now been posted to Kashmir, but he was looking to be relieved soon from his present job and given 'something really active.' His company's duty was 'only' to protect the airport.
Sinha tried to impress on Somnath 'the vital importance of the airfield to us and in that context the importance of the task The Reconnaiassance by companies of 1 and 4 Kumaon, 3 November, 1947assigned to him,' but says the governor this 'sermonising could do little to fulfill his desire for being sent further forward.'
After spending an hour discussing and sipping a mug of tea reclining on his kitbag, Sinha left for Delhi. 'Little did I then know that within the next forty-eight hours, he was to die a hero's death and earn great renown, fighting most gallantly in very close proximity to where we then lay talking so leisurely.'
But let us spend a moment on Somnath Sharma's life.
He was born as the eldest son of an army family. His father General A N Sharma, who retired as the first director general of the Armed Medical Services after Independence, was often in non-family postings.
Som, as his friends and family called him, used to spend time with his maternal grandfather Pandit Daulat Ram in Srinagar. His favourite pastime was listening to his grandfather's on the Bhagavad Gita. This influence of Krishna's teachings to Arjun were to remain with Somnath till his last breath.
At the age of 10, Som enrolled at the Prince of Wales Royal Militar