Mufti Mohammmad Sayeed, a man for all seasons and one of the tallest leaders in Kashmir, passed way in Delhi this morning. Ironically, I had gone to AIIMS the previous evening to inquire about his health, but could not meet either Mufti Sahab — who was forbidden visitors — or anyone from the family. Room 201 in the VIP wing looked like death and from the whispers in the corridor among his staff one sadly sensed that Mufti Sahab didn't have much time left.
I first met Mufti Mohammed Sayeed on New Year's Day 1990 when as Union Home Minister he had called a meeting in Delhi to take stock of the situation in Kashmir arising out of the kidnapping of Rubiya Sayeed. I was then posted in Srinagar and Mufti Sahab often spoken to me during those five days in December, 1989, when his daughter was held captive by the JKLF. His concerns then were natural as that of any father.
I got to know Mufti Sahab better in the 1990s when I often called him on his residency (first in Akbar Road and then in Tughlak Lane). This was a different Mufti from the anxious father seeking the release of his daughter by any means. His stint as Union Home Minster matured him and he grew in stature as a national leader.
He repeatedly acknowledged that there was no alternative to Farooq Abdullah in Kashmir. He was gracious enough to admit Farooq as his senior in Kashmir politics. Again in May, 2014, when it appeared that Farooq Abdullah may lose the Parliament election from Srinagar, Mufti said to me, "No matter the result, Farooq's place in Kashmir history was secure".
Mufti Sahab bided his time and knew after he formed PDP in 2002 that time was on his side. As Chief Minister from 2002 to 2005, he made a huge impact with his "Healing Touch": standing his ground on vital issues and providing much needed relief to Kashmir and Kashmiris. Unfortunately, the Congress removed him from Chief Ministership under the three year rule. This proved to be a set back in Kashmir. Another three years of Mufti's rule would have provided more light at the end of the tunnel for Kashmir.
Yet, Mufti Sahab fought back and appears to be the monarch of all he surveyed when the PDP won all the three Parliament seats in the valley in the summer of 2014. He could now claim to have emerged as a regional player. Unfortunately, again for the PDP their numbers fell short of expectations in the Assembly Elections, leaving Mufti Sahab no choice but to align with the BJP — an alliance which he himself admitted was between the North and South Pole and never accepted either in Srinagar or Jammu. Alienation in Kashmir grew and so did militancy; Mufti's ultimate nightmare as much as he feared for the lives of young Separatist leaders.
Sadly, in the Kashmiri perception, if he scored a century on his maiden appearance as Chief Minister in 2002, he was bowled first ball after his swearing in on March 1, 2015.
As time went by, Mufti appeared a pale shadow of his former self — not able to provide either healing or his touch. He looked frail, appeared forgetful and withdrew into his shell apart from occasionally praising Narendra Modi's leadership while pleading for Indo- Pak peace and friendship. His last wish was finally answered when Modi in a bold move stopped over at Lahore on his way back to Kabul. Thereafter Mufti Sahab's health slipped rapidly.
Even though his first and last ambition was to become Chief Minister in J&K, Mufti Sahab belonged to the old school — a man of deep culture and civility who was an astute politician and able administrator. He was above all a patriot who understood the complexities of the Kashmir imbroglio and maneuvered the landmines in his way.
May his soul rest in peace — and give Mehbooba the strength to carry forward his legacy.
Amarjit Singh Dulat is a former Research & Analysis Wing chief.
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