Born to a humble family in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara area of Anantnag district on January 12, 1936, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed dies a true Indian Muslim who looked at the Kashmir problem through the prism of Indian ethos and believed in re-writing the destiny of troubled Jammu and Kashmir with out-of-box ideas.
At the peak of wrangling over coalition partners when a fractured mandate was thrown up in Jammu and Kashmir in December 2014, donning a long trademark sleeping gown, Mr. Sayeed told this correspondent in a one-to-one conversation over a cup of traditional hot drink kehwa — “It’s like playing with fire but there is no other option. Only Kashmir can change Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s politics. Indian diversity will do the course correction to the BJP’s politics and I can help change it too.”
In fact, Mr Sayeed’s words at heart were of one who was raised as Indian Muslim Congress leader. Hardcore proponent of secular ideals of India and democratic values, Sayeed left the portfolio of tourism and civil aviation in late Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet in 1987 following the Meerut communal riots.
Mr. Sayeed may have served as Union Tourism Minister in the Congress rule and much-critiqued as the Home Minister during the V.P Singh government, for releasing his kidnapped daughter Rubiya Sayeed on December 8, 1989 — which he claimed in private conversations being the only regret — the man always eyed to change the complex polity of Jammu and Kashmir.
Mr. Sayeed would have been the youngest chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir had the Congress not withdrawn support to the National Conference (NC) in 1975.
Arch rival of National Congress founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Sayeed’s biggest asset was his invincible patience. He first realized his dream to head the state in 2002 where he changed the political course of marginalised mainstream politics in Kashmir pitted against wide-base separatist movement. He not only brought legitimacy to mainstream leaders but also vowed to make them stakeholders between India and Pakistan.
It was him who was brain behind the April 19, 2003 speech of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that came in the backdrop of growing hostility with Pakistan brewed by the Kargil war and the Parliament attack.
Mr. Sayeed received Vajpayee at the Srinagar airport and insisted that he accompany him in his car up to the venue. No one knows till date what transpired between the two in the 40-minute ride. Later, Vajpayee’s speech surprised his National Security Advisor (NSA) and PMO officials when he extended a hand of unconditional friendship to Pakistan.
The puzzling thing was that Mr. Sayeed was never trusted by people back home the way he wanted them to. He could only manage to win the Kashmir polls twice between 1962 and 1967 and his stint with anti-NC forces like G.M. Sadiq and Mir Qasim earned him the wrath of the NC till he won assembly polls first time in 2002 from Pahalgam constituency.
Having degrees in Law and Arabic, Mr, Sayeed believed in resolving Kashmir through his slogan ‘healing touch’ and ‘self-rule’. While he saw Indian constitution as the cornerstone of his ‘health touch’ policy and his self-rule was embedded in the federal growth of India.
“There is problem in Kashmir. People have died and sacrificed. Kashmir people are full of politics. We cannot ignore their aspiration. We have to reach out to them,” said Mr Sayeed during a private conversation as he regretted not getting full mandate in 2014.
Credited with mainstreaming separatist sentiment and sidelining figures espousing secession of Jammu and Kashmir from India by mixing separatist agenda with developmental politics, Mr. Sayeed raised hope of Kashmir resolution in 2002 when he erected signboards with distance written between Srinagar and PoK capital Muzaffarad, at a time when India and Pakistan were not talking at all.
Reunion of two parts of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir through people-to-people contact and trade was his dream to make borders irrelevant not only in Kashmir but a beginning of borderless South Asia.
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.
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
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.
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.