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Mufti’s Last Wish Is Kashmiris’ First Wish: Indo-Pak Amity 

Tribute to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed whose political clout panned across party lines, both in the Centre and J&K.

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Time is the greatest healer. However, for time to heal it needs an ally – the willingness of people to learn from experiences and circumstances, to shed dogmas and rigidities, to compromise, and even join hands with one’s adversaries.

Life of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who passed away on 7 January after a brief period of illness, exemplifies the forward movement that is slowly taking place in the resolution of the complex issue of Kashmir as well as in India-Pakistan relations, the latter being both the source and the solution.

If we see time’s journey since 1947, when the Partition of India created a knotty dispute between India and Pakistan over J&K, it is tempting to conclude that the hostility will never end and that the dispute will continue forever. However, look how time has healed at least some antagonisms and is quietly putting a balm on other wounds.

Tribute to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed whose political clout panned across party lines, both in the Centre and J&K.
Ghulam Nabi Azad (R), then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee (2nd R), Sonia Gandhi, and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed flag off a bus service at Chakka Da Bagh in Poonch, 20 June 2006. (Photo: Reuters)
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Mufti, The Politician

Mufti was the most hated Kashmiri politician in the rest of India when, as the Union home minister in VP Singh’s government in 1989, he agreed to set free five terrorists for the safe release of his daughter, who had been kidnapped by members of the J&K Liberation Front. He was especially disliked by the BJP, which believed that Mufti’s surrender was the beginning of the armed militancy in Kashmir.

Twenty-five years later, BJP and Mufti’s party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), formed a coalition government in Srinagar. Last month Mufti even hailed Narendra Modi as one of the best prime ministers India has ever had.

Tribute to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed whose political clout panned across party lines, both in the Centre and J&K.
File photo of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting in New Delhi in February 2015. (Photo: PTI)

Before he fell ill and was brought to AIIMS in New Delhi for treatment on 24 December, he was a very happy man. The cause of his happiness was a dramatic thaw in the frosty relations between India and Pakistan. Talks between the National Security Advisors of the two countries in Bangkok, followed by the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad, had suddenly raised hopes about the resumption of stalled bilateral talks. (He was already in ICU when Modi visited Lahore to greet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on 25 December).

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In Favour of India-Pakistan Dialogue

An elated Mufti reacted to these developments by saying that the people of J&K would be the main beneficiaries of a thaw in the India-Pakistan relations.

I wish to change the destiny of the state’s people who have borne the brunt of violence for nearly two-and-a-half decades.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed

He described resumption of dialogue as “a victory for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have always aspired for friendly relations between India and Pakistan. I hope this new phase of reconciliation will bear positive results for all of us”.

Speaking at a function on 9 December at Anantnag, his home district, Mufti reminisced that his earlier tenure as chief minister in 2002 was the time when India and Pakistan engaged in a constructive dialogue. “I along with the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee changed the course of history by fostering a new era of friendly relations.” Mufti had also helped in facilitating a constructive dialogue between Hurriyat leaders from Kashmir, Vajpayee and his deputy LK Advani.

Tribute to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed whose political clout panned across party lines, both in the Centre and J&K.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (R) listens to Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in New Delhi, April 2, 2003. (Photo: Reuters)

This assessment is corroborated by AS Dulat, the former RAW chief who later oversaw Kashmir affairs in the PMO, in his book Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years. Dulat writes that Vajpayee (who headed a BJP-led government) at the Centre and Mufti in the state, succeeded in applying a “healing touch” to the wounds of the people of J&K. “Mufti was someone who understood and cannily played on the Kashmiri psyche…Mufti’s three years (in his earlier stint as CM) were the best they (Kashmiris) had” since many years.

Also watch J&K CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed Breathes His Last

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Electoral Tie-Ups with National Parties

As a matter of fact, we have seen many other interesting, almost unbelievable, turnarounds and alliances in Kashmir. Both the main national parties at the Centre, Congress and the BJP, have had alliances with the National Conference and the PDP, two main regional parties in the state. This despite the fact that both the Congress and the BJP have had intensely antagonistic relationships with the two parties and their leaders since 1947.

Tribute to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed whose political clout panned across party lines, both in the Centre and J&K.
File photo of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed with his daughter Mehbooba Mufti and then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee after a meeting with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi in October 2005. (Photo: PTI)

The very name of Shaikh Abdullah, the tallest Kashmiri leader in the modern times was an anathema to the BJP for many decades. After all, Dr SP Mookerjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJP’s earlier avatar), had been arrested on the orders of Shaikh Abdullah in Kashmir in 1953. Dr Mookerejee died when he was under house arrest. Yet, both Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah became ministers in Vajpayee’s cabinet. Dr Abdullah was also a minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet, at the same time his son Omar Abdullah was heading an alliance government with the Congress in Srinagar. PDP was an alliance partner of the Congress in a government headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad.

It is easy to dismiss these shifting electoral and governance tie-ups as “opportunistic”, and devoid of any real significance for the destiny of Kashmir, and hence for the larger India-Pakistan dialectic. But such a conclusion is both cynical and wrong. These alliances are symptomatic of a major change that has taken place in the psyche of the people and politicians of Kashmir. Today their first wish is for peace and normalcy at home, which they know is inextricably linked to peace and normal relations between India and Pakistan. This was also the last wish of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

My heartfelt condolences to this gentle peacemaker.

(Sudheendra Kulkarni was an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He tweets at @SudheenKulkarni. )

Also read:
Tough Road Ahead For Mehbooba as She Takes Over as J&K CM
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed: India’s First and Only Muslim Home Minister

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