Mufti Mohammad Sayeed

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A biographical sketch

The Times of India Jan 08 2016

Sagarika Ghose & Sameer Arshad


Mufti Stood His Ground As Reconciler For 5 Decades

Dara Shikhoh was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's in spiration. In Mufti's home town of Bijbehara, Dara Shikoh the 17th century Mughal prince who translated the Upanishads, had created a Mughal garden. Mufti Sayeed wanted to make this garden a tourist spot to showcase his own belief in coexistence. That dream lies unfulfilled, as Jammu and Kashmir's lion in winter has passed away before the snows have melted in Gulmarg.

He passed away five days before his 80th birthday , ending a long career as the consistent unionist in Jammu & Kashmir's politics. In a political career that stretched back to the early 1960s, Mufti Sayeed would often say “main toh Nehru ke zamaane ka neta hoon“. In many ways he was a Nehruvian politician, more statesman than mass leader, someone who believed in the politics of consensus rather than confrontation, to bridge the gap between Srinagar and Delhi.

Sayeed first became a legislator a year after Jayaprakash Narayan wrote to PM Indira Gandhi protesting the `rule by force in Kashmir' while denouncing the 1957 and 1962 elections as `anything but free and fair'. Sayeed kept on the right side of Delhi even as men of his age began dabbling in separatism.

His career nearly peaked in the 1970s when he came a hair's breadth from becoming J&K's youngest chief minister when the Congress pulled the plug on Abdullah's government in 1977. Indira had handed over power to Abdullah two years earlier despite enjoying majority in the assembly . Abdullah was rewarded for endorsing the erosion of J&K's special status and abandoning the plebiscite demand.

But things soon came to a head, forcing Congress to withdraw support. Sayeed was Abdullah's natural successor as the head of state Congress. But Abdullah nixed then 41-year-old Sayeed's chances by recommending assembly dissolution that marked the beginning of the Mufti-Abdullah rivalry. Sayeed got back at the Abdullahs when he split their party NC to topple Farooq Abdullah's government in 1984. But the state's top post continued to elude him as Farooq buried the hatchet with the Congress and aligned with it ahead of the 1987 elections that sparked the insurgency .

Although a Congressman at heart, Sayeed broke away from the Rajiv Gandhi government to join hands with VP Singh's Jan Morcha, even becoming home minister in the VP regime. His tenure coincided with Delhi's brutal response to the Kashmiri insurgency . Mufti stayed the course while many of his former assembly colleagues opted for separatism.

In 1989 he negotiated the release of his daughter Rubaiyah Sayeed with the JKLF militants -a move that many believe gave a fillip to militancy . Thirteen years later in 2002, Mufti was at the helm in Kashmir after a spectacular electoral debut as head of People's Democratic Party with Congress support. At this time he initiated a healing touch policy designed to reach out to those who he described as `misguided youth'. Always a firm believer in dialogue with Pakistan it was on his initiative that a Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was started and that `insaaniyat' became the new buzzword in dealing with militancy .

Whether it was sharing a stage with A B Vajpayee, embracing Sonia Gandhi or taking the ultimate step of allying with Narendra Modi in a PDP-BJP government, no one was an untouchable for Mufti. “A PDP-BJP government is a historic opportunity for J&K and for India,“ he had told TOI in an interview, defying sceptics who questioned the Valley's equation with a Modi-led BJP .

It is that delicate equation which Mufti was able to hold together, which is now a challenge for daughter Mehbooba Mufti. The encouraging paterfamilias to his daughters and his party , Mufti would often say , “I am a politician who sits in the drawing room, it's my daughter who is the mass leader“. The fiery Mehbooba is prone to confront where Mufti pragmatically reconciled, and while she built the PDP , on the ground it was her father's experience that enabled him to build bridges with political rivals.

Mufti stood in firm repudiation of Jinnah's two-nation theory , Hindus and Muslims are one nation in India he would say , even though the special conditions under which J&K acceded to India must be accepted. He counted many Kashmiri Pandits as friends. Educated at a madrassa, then going on to study law at the AMU, Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb was his worldview.

In today's bitter, oftenabusive politics, the always immaculately dressed gentlemanly Mufti Sayeed was a reminder of a more genteel era of politics, when even bitter rivals sat across a table and worked towards consensus.

It is in the spirit of Mufti Sayeed that he will be buried in Dara Shikoh's garden in Bijbehara.


The Times of India

Dec 24 2014

He couldn't be youngest J&K CM, but may be the oldest

Sameer Arshad

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was state Congress chief came within a whisker of becoming J&K's youngest CM in March 1977 when Congress pulled the plug on Sheikh Abdullah's government. Two years earlier, despite her party's majority in the house, PM Indira Gandhi had allowed Abdullah to take office, a reward for endorsing the erosion of J&K's special status and abandoning his plebiscite plank. Soon things came to a head. Congress withdrew support.

As PCC chief, Sayeed was Abdullah's natural successor. But Abdullah nixed that, recommending the assembly's dissolution, upheld by then governor L K Jha. That put paid to 41-year-old Sayeed's ambition of making history and marked the beginning of a classic political rivalry.Sayeed, who turns 78 in January , had helped engineer the toppling of Farooq Abdullah's government in 1984 -working closely with then governor Jagmohan. But the state's top post still eluded him as Farooq made up with Congress, aligning with it ahead of the 1987 elections.

Sayeed quit Congress to be made Union home minister in V P Singh's Jan Morcha government in 1989, the first Muslim to hold the post. His elevation came as a quid pro quo deal where hardliner Jagmohan -whose counter-insurgency policies are blamed for worsening the situation -was made gover nor. The deal was struck as BJP -whipping anti-Muslim frenzy and supporting Singh's government -was unhappy with Sayeed's appointment. Sayeed's failed to shrug off the taint of his 1984 association with Jagmohan. His opponents rake this up, while NC highlights how Farooq resigned in 1990 against Jagmohan's appointment as governor.

He had a tumultuous tenure as Union home minister during which his daughter Rubaiya was kidnapped and released in exchange of five jailed militants. Sayeed's sup porters cite the kidnapping to swear by his incorruptible lifestyle, saying Rubaiya was abducted while travel ling on a public bus despite being the second-most powerful Indi an's daughter. Sayeed's aides say he's self-made, having built his career through hard work.

Sayeed left Congress in 1999 to form People's Democratic Party , whose win in its electoral debut in the 2002 polls propelled him to the state's top post. As CM, he made his `healing touch' cornerstone of his policies, ushering in a decline in militant violence.

He expected Congress to al low him to continue after three years in office but had to hand over the baton to Ghulam Nabi Azad as part of the power sharing deal in 2005. NC formed government in 2008 even as PDP increased both seats and vote share. Its mismanagement after the recent floods gave Sayeed an edge.

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