Mufti’s death leaves PDP at a vulnerable space

He was a politician who spent his formative years under the command of stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

January 07, 2016 12:22 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 03:12 am IST

Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, died on Thursday morning at AIIMS in New Delhi. Reports about his declining health began to pour out since August 2015, but the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a local political front he founded in 1999, maintained that the 79-year-old leader was recovering and looking forward to resume work.

Since Mr. Sayeed could not survive his illness — sepsis, decreased blood count and pneumonia — it’s to be seen whether his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, will fill in his position.

Mr. Sayeed’s death leaves the PDP at a vulnerable space. The party has exhausted significant time and energy wrestling with its coalition partner BJP over the range of issues — the release of the incarcerated separatist leader Masarat Alam, the revival of the State’s decades old beef law, imposing a tax on chopper rides to Amarnath shrine, and flying the state flag along with the national flag.

But the common perception in the PDP was that with Mr. Sayeed’s political finesse the government would complete its six-year term. After all, he is a politician who’s spent his formative years under the command of Indira Gandhi. If the separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani is the man who says no to New Delhi, Mr. Sayeed is quite the opposite. He’s known to be the Congress party’s little soldier in Kashmir, who single-handedly stood against the towering personality of National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah and throughout the 1970s challenged his politics of Kashmiri nationalism with the ideological doctrine of the Congress.

Former Union Minister and National Conference Patron, Farooq Abdullah, told The Hindu in early November that Mr. Sayeed has been a “great manipulator.”

“He [Mufti] was always promoted by Indira Gandhi to abuse Sheikh Abdullah. His own utterances were against my father,” he said.

Born on January 12, 1936 in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town, Mr. Sayeed comes from the clergy family of Jammu and Kashmir called “the peers.” The clan claims to have a lineage which goes back to Prophet Muhammad. In both Mufti-led governments, Mr. Sayeed's coterie was highly influenced by the peers.

According to local accounts, Mr. Sayeed had shown great interest in politics since his young age. He was a member of student union in his high school. But because of the absence of political mentors, his interest soon drifted toward studying the law. He studied Arabic and law at Aligrah Muslim University and by 1959 he had started practicing the law in his home district, Anantnag.

Within a year, Mr. Sayeed abandoned practicing law and joined the left-leaning party Democratic National Conference, the first opposition party that stood against the National Conference in the state.

But as Jawaharlal Nehru tossed the National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah into jail in 1953, freezing his political mobility for the next 22 years and bringing in Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad as the Prime Minister of then autonomous Jammu and Kashmir, the DNC soon disintegrated. Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad headed the rival faction of the NC and formed the government. Mr.Sayeed who by then had gained the reputation of being anti-Sheikh Abdullah, joined the new NC.

Since then, Mr. Sayeed changed several sides. He joined the Congress in late 1960s, then moved to V.P. Singh’s Jan Morcha which chose him as Home Minister in 1990. He then rejoined the Congress but left again and founded PDP in 1999. When the 2002 assembly elections were round the corner, Mr. Sayeed worked behind the scenes, projecting his daughter as the party’s leading foot soldier.

Ms. Mufti visited the families of the militants who were gunned down by the security forces. She shed tears with their grieving families. She even met militants to ensure the safety of all the PDP workers, who were campaigning in far off villages where gun-toting militants were a common sight.

In 2002, PDP formed a coalition government with the Congress. For the first three years, the PDP ruled with Mr. Sayeed as the Chief Minister. And for the next three years it was the Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad who had to rule. But in the summer of 2008, when Mr. Azad was about to finish his three-year stint as the Chief Minister, a state-wide agitation broke over the alleged illegal transfer of land to Amarnath shrine. The PDP, which had established its position as a Muslim sympathiser party, snapped the ties with the Congress, pulling down the government.

In March 2015, the PDP found the BJP as a better partner. So far, the move hasn’t helped the party so far since it’s had troubles with the BJP along the religious and political lines.

At present, the people in the valley have conflicted views about Mr. Sayeed. Some remember him as a Chief Minister who governed well between 2002-2005, some remember him as a leader who made a gross miscalculation in the end by joining hands with the BJP.

“It is Mufti sahib who formed a space for the people who were disillusioned with the NC and the separatists and it is Mufti sahib who eroded that space,” a senior PDP leader told The Hindu .

A look at the veteran politician's career that spanned nearly six decades :

Stepping into politics

Sayeed joined the Democratic National Conference of G M Sadiq in the late 1950s. Sadiq, recognising the potential of the young lawyer, appointed him as the District Convenor of the party.

Into the Assembly

In 1962, Sayeed was elected to the state assembly from Bijbehara, the seat which he retained five years later. He was appointed a Deputy Minister by Sadiq, who by then had become Chief Minister.

Joining Congress

He fell out with the DNC a few years later and joined the Indian National Congress, a decision that raised eyebrows at that time given the unstinted support of most Kashmiris to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who was in jail

Cabinet Minister

In 1972, he became a Cabinet Minster and also Congress party’s leader in the Legislative Council. He was made the state Congress president a couple of years later.

Stint as Tourism Minister

In 1986, he was appointed as the Union Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Home Minister under V.P.Singh's reign

He quit as tourism minister in 1987, left the Congress and co-founded Jan Morcha with V.P. Singh. In 1989, he won the Lok Sabha election from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh as a Janata Dal candidate and became the Union Home Minister in Prime Minister V.P. Singh’s cabinet. Sayeed was the first Muslim Home Minister.

Daughter's kidnapping

Sayeed’s stint in the Home Ministry, at a time when militancy had begun to rear its ugly head in his home state, would, however, be most remembered for the kidnapping of his third daughter Rubaiya by JKLF. The militants demanded freeing five of their comrades in exchange for Rubaiya’s freedom and let her off only after their demand had been met.

Founding of PDP

In 1998, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed won the Anantnag / Islamabad Lok Sabha seat, but soon resigned from both his position and the Congress party to launch a regional party Peoples Democratic Party in the state. PDP participated in 2002 assembly election and went on to form a coalition government with Indian National Congress. In 2002, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir for a term of three years.

Second stint as CM

Sayeed became the unanimous choice for Chief Minister when PDP and BJP reached an agreement to form a coalition government and took oath on March 1, 2015.

(Photos: Nissar Ahmad)

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