Mufti In Perspective
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed being laid to rest
Besides many attributes, the late Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed will undoubtedly be associated with an exceptional political longevity and consequently with a substantial influence on the affairs of the state.
Mufti emerged in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir in the 1960s during a period that can be benignly termed as synthetic or artificial in a long saga of charades played out in the state. That superfluous era in Kashmir commenced with the dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah from the state premiership and his subsequently long incarceration.
Politics in Jammu and Kashmir became permanently tethered to illegitimacy that was propped and maintained in no uncertain manner by dangling carrots and stinging sticks on the hinds of those who became a willing part of that masquerade. Mufti Sayeed was part of the Democratic National Conference (DNC) and came to power in 1964 when Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq became the ‘Prime Minister’ of the state.
Within a year DNC became the local branch of India’s ruling National Congress. Prime Minister Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq, became Chief Minister together with a consequential transformation of the office of head of the state ‘Sadr-e-riyasat’ to that of Governor. The last change was not merely invidious but it struck at the basic character of the Constitution of the state that had a specific provisions determining the top positions, as is well known. And it was during this period that the first significant erosion of the laws determining the unique character of Jammu and Kashmir took place. The Act not only eroded the unique character of the state guaranteed under the provisions of article 370 but also happened to be blatantly illegal. Any changes to the Act could be carried out only with consent of the state constituent assembly, which had dissolved itself in 1957 under the chairmanship of none other than Sadiq.
Mufti Sayeed was very much part of that Machiavellian period that bereft of any democratic legitimacy thrived on intrigues and pleasures of the central government. The elections to the state legislative assembly were a sham with most of the ruling party elected without a single vote cast. And when factions within the party broke out, Mufti happened to be in the then Syed Mir Qasim group that dissented against, and tried to dislodge Sadiq from office.
Syed Mir Qasim did become Chief Minister of the state after Sadiq died in 1972. Mufti became a cabinet minister. The accord of 1975 saw them relinquishing their offices and Sheikh Abdullah returned as the Chief Minister. That point onwards, Mufti Sayeed played less than a savory role in the state and let himself be guided by narrow political and personal expediencies that had dire consequences and in many ways could be partly held responsible for the tragic era that Kashmir went on to endure.
But then he was not the only politician who contributed to the greater tragedy of Kashmir. The return of Sheikh Abdullah put the minions of that synthetic era into their proper place through repetitive defeats in state elections 1977 onwards. Mufti himself could not escape stinging defeats, more than once , in his home constituency of Bijbehara.
Nevertheless, even after being defeated in the elections, Mufti was part of the plot that led to the ouster of the Farooq Abdullah government in 1984 with Jagmohan playing a key role at then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s behest. That was a precursor to Mufti’s decision, under the VP SIngh government where he was a top Minister, to appoint Governor as Jammu and Kashmir Governor in 1989 when militancy in the state was still in its infancy. People in their thousands had yet to die and the migrations of the Hindus had yet to start.
This one decision by Mufti, who was the Union Home Minister at the time, had tragic consequences far beyond anyone had imagined. That move precipitated the resignation of Farooq Abdullah as chief minister. The tragedy that unfolded in the state under Jagmohan cannot and will not heal even after passing of ages.
After having switched parties and squeezed into parliament from a constituency in Uttar Pradesh, Mufti was inducted into the central cabinet of V. P. Singh at the time as the home minister. His conduct during the kidnap of his daughter and his vengeance to settle scores with Farooq Abdullah had consequences beyond tragic.
In later years though, Mufti did resurrect himself and his fledgling party in the state electoral politics that too with substantial electoral success and became Chief Minister in 2002, a tenure that turned out to be in many ways relatively successful. Then the lure of the office in the very late stage of his life forced him into the blunder of joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which will always remain a blot on his legacy leading to widespread unrest, and agitation at various levels in the Valley. The last chapter on this has still to be written. And who knows, perhaps there were reasons for this move, that Mufti could not share.
At the personal level Mufti Sayeed was always an amiable and approachable person. He died on the morning of January 7, 2016 at the age of 79.
(Rajiv Kumar was educated in Kashmir. He is currently a Professor in Heidelberg University, Germany)