(Editor’s note: This article has been updated in view of Mufti’s passing away)
A man of perseverance and great survivor, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had an astute political sense honed by decades of experience in Kashmir politics that had stood him in good stead in crafting a delicate alliance with BJP to return as Chief Minister for the second time.
Sayeed (79), who was the country’s first Muslim Home Minister, however, saw his image dented when his government headed by V P Singh accepted the demand by a militant group that five of their men be set free in exchange for release of kidnapped Rubaiya, one of his three daughters.
The release of the militants in exchange for Rubaiya’s freedom had a far-reaching impact on the politics of the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir. Rubaiya was abducted just five days after the National Front(NF) government assumed office on December 2, 1989.
A suave politician, Sayeed, who had changed political allegiance frequently, was at the helm of internal security as Home Minister when militancy reared its head in the Valley triggering the infamous exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990.
Before launching his own political outfit Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (JKPDP) in 1999 with his daughter Mehbooba Mufti, Sayeed spent considerable part of his political career in Congress with brief stints in Jan Morcha under V P Singh and also as Democratic National Conference (DNC) member led by G M Sadiq in 1950s.
An avid golfer like his arch rival Farooq Abdullah of National Conference, Sayeed was able to form the government in Jammu and Kashmir within three years of launching his own party with support from the Congress.
His party was, however, ousted in 2008 Assembly elections as young Omar Abdullah led his party to victory in the state.
Much of the credit to his electoral success is given to Mehbooba Mufti, who has mobilised and organised cadre for the party and is known as a hard bargainer. Her bargaining prowess came to the fore after the assembly elections last year threw up a hung verdict.
Mehbooba is believed to have worked hard behind the scenes in ensuring that her father is agreed upon by the BJP as Chief Minister for a complete six-year term and that the post is not on a rotational basis.
Born on January 12, 1936 in Bijbehara in Anantnag district of the state, Sayeed was an almunus of SP College in Srinagar and Aligarh Muslim University from where he obtained a degree in Law and Arab History respectively.
Sayeed started his electoral journey from his birth place in 1962 winning the seat under DNC and retaining it in 1967 which saw him being made a Deputy Minister by Sadiq.
In 1972, he became a Cabinet Minster and also Congress party’s leader in the Legislative Council. In 1975 he was made the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and president of Pradesh Congress but lost the next two elections.
He joined Rajiv Gandhi’s Government at the Centre in 1986 as Union Minister for Tourism. A year later, he resigned in protest citing the alleged complacency of the Congress party in handling Meerut riots.
In 2002 when Mufti became the Chief Minister, with just 16 seats in the State Assembly, in alliance with Congress, Jammu and Kashmir was witnessing problems on many fronts. Personal liberties were restricted and army was in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Pakistan in the aftermath of the attack on Parliament.
Seen as a visionary leader, a smart political strategist and masterful politician, Mufti’s arrival on the stage and his deft handling of the delicate political equations resulted in an almost instant change in the situation, both within the State and in the regional context.
His invitation to then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee to address a rally in Srinagar, first-ever for a Prime Minister in nearly two decades, from the PDP stage, saw a new wave of peace efforts which culminated in withdrawal of forces from forward areas, ceasefire along borders, disbanding of instruments like Special Task Force and Special Operation Group of Police, scrapping of POTA and release of political prisoners.
It also led to a direct engagement between India and Pakistan and between Centre and separatist leaders in Kashmir.
Mufti felt that facilitating free movement of goods and people through the traditional cross-LoC routes in Jammu and Kashmir would help policy makers on the two sides of the divide to facilitate the political changes that the people in the region so badly need.
Mufti was the chief minister when the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was started between the two sides of the divided Kashmir.
He viewed the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote roads along the LoC as a stepping stone towards forging a new economic alliance in the region.
Within the State, Mufti’s political focus had been on connecting communities and regions. His emphasis on improving trust levels between two main regions of Kashmir and Jammu has remained the driving force for his party PDP’s political engagement.
Responding to the people’s yearning for peace with dignity, Mufti, after assuming charge as the Chief Minister of J&K in 2002, had crusaded the “Healing Touch” policy to repair the people’s hurt psyche, salvage their bruised dignity, rekindle a new hope in their hearts and motivate them to mould their destiny through a participatory political process.
In the late 1950s, Mufti joined the circle around prominent lawyer and NC leader P L Handoo. He followed Handoo into the breakaway Democratic National Conference (DNC), led by GM Sadiq, along with DP Dhar, Syed Mir Qasim and G L Dogra. He was appointed district convener of the new organisation, the first formal post he held.
When DNC rejoined NC, Mufti went with the flow. It paid him rich dividends. He was elected to the Assembly from Bijbehara in 1962, and retained the seat in 1967. As a result, he was appointed a Deputy Minister by G M Sadiq.
In 1972, Mufti became a minister in the cabinet headed by Syed Mir Qasim and was also elected the party’s leader in the Legislative Council.
In 1975, he was made the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and Pradesh Congress president. He continued to hold the post of PCC chief for over a decade.
In 1986, Mufti was appointed as Union Tourism Minister in the Government headed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Mufti resigned from the Union Government and Congress following Rajiv-Farooq accord of 1987.
After remaining in Congress for better part of his life Mufti along with some like-minded associates and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti founded Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999 and led the first PDP-Congress coalition government in the State from 2002 to 2005.
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