There is a degree of invincibility that we subconsciously attach to those leading us, and so the sudden loss of a senior government leader almost always comes as a shock. Perhaps that is how I felt when I first heard about Mufti Mohammad Sayeed sahib’s illness and admission to AIIMS. Despite my physician wife expressing concern about his ability to recover, I was optimistic that he would recover fully and resume his work. Sadly, Mufti sahib passed away and left an unfillable void at a troubled time in Jammu and Kashmir.
Those who follow J&K politics closely are well aware what Mufti sahib meant to the state. His decades in politics included a long stint in the Congress, including as a Union Minister in Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet. Estrangement from the Congress led him to join Mr VP Singh’s government and he became Union Home Minister at a time when secessionism was gaining ground in Jammu and Kashmir. I recall how some of his decisions as Home Minister made him deeply unpopular in Kashmir. But his vision ultimately prevailed when he founded the Peoples Democratic Party (after a brief return to the Congress) as an alternative to the dominant National Conference and gained widespread acceptance in Kashmir and parts of Jammu region.
- Estrangement from Congress led Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to join VP Singh’s government
- He became Union Home Minister at a time when secessionism was gaining ground in Jammu and Kashmir
- Some of his decisions as Home Minister made him deeply unpopular in Kashmir
- His vision ultimately prevailed when he founded the PDP as an alternative to the National Conference.
Alternative Political Force in J&K
In other states, developing an alternative political force may be difficult but in Jammu and Kashmir it was near impossible. But Mufti sahib went from being unpopular to extremely popular in less than 10 years – a testament to his grit and belief that the people of Jammu and Kashmir needed an alternative to single-party dominance. Yes, he had help from various quarters but it was Mufti sahib’s resourcefulness that ultimately dislodged Dr Farooq Abdullah from power.
In the early 1990s, people in J&K could have hardly imagined that one day they would elect Mufti sahib as their Chief Minister. In 2002, Mufti sahib led a coalition government with the Congress that is widely credited with ushering in a period of relative peace in the troubled state. Mufti sahib’s “healing touch” policy showed his political maturity. It helped reduce the pressures that had built up in Kashmiri society during the long period of militancy. He disbanded the notorious Special Task Force or STF that often made news for its high-handedness and human rights abuse. Mufti sahib also launched a drive against encroachments that initially led to protests but ultimately won him praise. Mufti sahib did not pander. He was tough when required and that is no mean achievement in J&K.
Balance Between Emotions and Realism
After I joined politics, I met Mufti sahib a few times at his residence. These were courtesy calls and also a way for me to gain from the wisdom of one of the most seasoned politicians of not just the state but the entire country. He was generous with his advice and freely expressed his views on problems confronting J&K and what he felt could be done to alleviate them. I felt that he understood the people of the state and genuinely wanted to improve their lives. His experience at the national level helped frame his views because it appeared to me that he wanted to strike a balance between emotions and realism.
It is perhaps these impressions that made me hope, despite serious reservations, that his decision to form a government with the BJP could ultimately prove beneficial to the people of the state. J&K was still reeling from devastating floods just a few months earlier and a stable government was the need of the hour. I remember vividly the excruciatingly long process for government formation in early 2015.
Loss Of An Experienced Leader
In public, I spoke against a PDP-BJP alliance. I truly felt that there was no chemistry between the two parties and often repeated on TV that oil and water do not mix. Yet, in my heart, I knew that Mufti sahib had very limited options and if there was anyone who could make an alliance work with the BJP, he was the man for the job. Fundamentally, when it comes to J&K, I am unable to be too partisan in my politics. So, I hoped that Mufti sahib could work some magic for a state that desperately needs a positive direction. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to realise all that he had in mind.
I am a big believer in the experience and wisdom of our seniors. Frankly, Mufti sahib’s demise has robbed us in J&K of experienced leadership. Whether it is Dr Farooq Abdullah, Dr Karan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad sahib or even my own father, Professor Saifuddin Soz or others, the next generation of leaders in the state would do well to learn from the experience of these stalwarts. We should learn from them just as we would from Mufti sahib, had he remained with us. That would be a fitting tribute to Mufti sahib, a man whose sagacious presence on J&K’s political landscape will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.
(The author is a National Media Panellist of the Indian National Congress. Views expressed here are personal.)