A democrat, statesman
Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, a leader committed deeply to democracy and liberalism, was also a patriot of steely resolve. He would be remembered as one of India’s foremost nationalist leaders of the past half-century. Joining hands with an ideologically different political party-Bharatiya Janata Party to form the government in Jammu and Kashmir was something a statesman of wider vision could do it. And Mufti did it and showed to the world that ideologically different can too go together to keep the agenda of united stand. Mufti Sayeed had the courage to stand firm against some of the political blunders that proved costly in the long run. As Chief Minister from 2002 to 2005, he proved to be extraordinarily gifted at both administration and political management. He built new schools, colleges and universities across the State, new parks, wide roads and other public facilities. He brought corruption under check, and kept track of development at the grassroots, tapping his own people for real-time feedback on actual progress. He was by no means a populist leader. In fact, one of the first things he did when he became Chief Minister was to send out bulldozers to pull down illegal constructions. And those bulldozers began their demolitions from his native town, Bijbehara. Mufti Sayeed had an enviably warm relationship with both Prime Ministers with whom he worked as Chief Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh – and also with other national leaders across the political spectrum, from the Left to the BJP. He had earned respect across the board when he joined VP Singh to launch the Jan Morcha in 1987, and then became Singh’s Home Minister in 1990. It was Mufti Sayeed as Home Minister of India who took stern steps that were required to control situations when Kashmiri militancy peaked during 1990. And during his short stint as Chief Minister between 2002 and 2005, separatists (including such a hard-line anti-India activist as Syed Ali Shah Geelani) were marginalised to such an extent that their support base in the Valley seemed to be negligible. He wound up the autonomous operations of the counter-insurgency Special Operations Group. By bringing them under the control of
normal police stations, he made them accountable. Politically, the highlight of Mufti Sayeed’s career is that he stood firm against the Abdullah family’s exclusive dominance over Kashmir’s politics. He opposed the Rajiv-Farooq accord through which the Congress forced an NC-Congress alliance in 1986 – with disastrous consequences, including the
ham-handed rigging of the 1987 elections. In the second half of the 1990s, when he had returned to the Congress but been given short shrift, he chose to leave again rather than put up with marginalisation. This time, he launched the People’s Democratic Party. The formation of the PDP turned out to be the changing factor in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. Politically people found an alternative to National Conference, Congress who remained in power at different times. Mufti Sayeed’s career was an arduous one, but his legacy will live long after him.