Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who redrew the contours of politics in Jammu and Kashmir by deftly bringing into its mainstream voices and ideas that were considered separatist, died in New Delhi Thursday. He was 79.
Sayeed, who took charge as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir for the second time last March after entering into an unlikely alliance with the BJP, passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi after battling a respiratory infection for two weeks.
Daughter Mehbooba Mufti, his political heir and chief of the PDP, is set to become the first woman chief minister of the state.
“She (Mehbooba Mufti) is the soul of the party,” senior PDP leader and Education Minister Naeem Akhtar told The Indian Express. “As far as her being the chief minister is concerned, everybody (in PDP) is unanimous on that.”
The J&K government has announced seven days of state mourning. The national flag was flown half-mast Thursday across the country as a mark of respect.
Sayeed’s body was flown in a special IAF plane to Srinagar and he was laid to rest at his ancestral village in Bijbehara in South Kashmir.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi also conveyed her condolences to his family. “In his death, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, as indeed the entire nation, has lost a great leader,” she said.
Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah and his father Farooq Abdullah also condoled the death of Sayeed.
A Congressman until 1987, Sayeed left the party and joined the ranks of V P Singh to become Home Minister of the National Front government in 1989. He was Chief Minister from 2002 to 2005 with the Congress as his coalition partner.
In a political career spanning nearly six decades, Sayeed straddled politics in the state and the Centre. With daughter Mehbooba, he ensured that the PDP emerged as a major player in Kashmir politics, challenging the Abdullahs of the National Conference.
If he allied with the Congress to become the chief minister the first time, he joined hands with the BJP last year to head a coalition for the second time.