Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who passed away on Thursday after a prolonged illness, will be remembered by many people as the Union Home Minister (1989-’90) – the first Muslim to hold that post – who set free a group of militants in exchange for his daughter Rubaiyya Sayeed after she had been kidnapped by terrorists, an act that is widely held to have given a spurt to militancy in the Valley. The appointment shortly thereafter of the BJP-backed Jagmohan as Governor of the state, that precipitated the resignation of Farooq Abdullah as chief minister, is also often attributed to him.
But when posterity will judge Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s lasting legacy, the irony is that it will discover that at more than one stage in his political career, he stepped up to provide a mainstream – some would say, nationalist – alternative to the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir, a state where separatism – in lesser or greater measure -- has run like a leitmotif through its tangled politics since Independence.
The first time was in the early 1970s when he walked out of the National Conference to join the Indian National Congress. At that time, it was considered a courageous but risky decision given the cult status that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who was in jail, enjoyed at that time.
In the years that followed, he created a base for the Congress in the Valley, even as he became a state minister in 1972, he became a state minster, Congress leader in the Legislative Council and then the PCC chief. As he grew in stature, he saw himself as the next Chief Minister of the state, but these hopes were dashed when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi entered into an accord with Sheikh Abdullah and facilitated the latter’s return as chief minister much against the wishes of the local Congress unit.
Again in 1987, as Union Tourism Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, he quit the Congress in protest against the accord signed with Farooq Abdullah as he felt that it would not work and joined the Jan Morcha that eventually became the Janata Dal, leading to his appointment as Union Home Minister in the VP Singh government. The kidnapping of his daughter at the time, intelligence sources said, was to make him ineffective, but added that it is to the lasting credit of Rubaiyya Sayeed that after her release she helped in the identification of her kidnappers.
Mr Sayeed later rejoined the Congress in 1996, leaving it for the last time in 1999, when he formed the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as he felt that the Congress, with its pan-national character, was not capable of securing the vacant political space in Kashmir, a space that had been vacated by the Muslim United Front in 1987, an alliance of the religious Right and centre-Right, against the N.C. The issues that the PDP was taking up vigorously -- the release of jailed terrorists and alleged atrocities by security forces -- could never have been taken up by the Congress. But it was important that a mainstream political party do so rather than a separatist group.
Many people believe that it was his daughter and now successor Mehbooba Mufti who brought him around to this line of thinking.
Of course, in between, he held office as chief minister, first with the Congress ( 2002-’05) and then from March last year with the BJP, the latter in the belief that without help from a friendly Centre, the funds would stop flowing to develop the state. That remains an unfinished task and it now falls on Ms Mufti’s shoulders to take up that challenge even as she balances her personal beliefs with doing business with the BJP, the PDP’s ideological opposite.
Why is it that I and the whole of India bel,ieve that the kidnapping was a got up affair to get the militants released.
Ironically, even in his death, we have another militant affair in Pathankot when more than 20 people have lost their life.
Whatever, people may say of him, I believe he and his family would very much like to give Kashmir to Pakistan.