It is never easy to write about a person who is no more. It was never easy to write about Mufti Mohammad Sayeed even when he was living. The man had a method to his brand of politics–leave a wide enough room for ambiguity; never give out your mind on critical issues; keep the folks guessing; opiate the people with slogans and punch lines that make them feel they’re in control while you’re slipping away the rug under their feet; your political adversary within your political fold or outside should never get a clear idea where he stands with you.
For Mufti, politics was the art of the possible and the impossible both at the same time. But that wasn’t ‘shrewdness’ or ‘astuteness’ as some believe. That was an insecure politician either trying to cover up his vulnerabilities or making things work by means fair or foul.
Arguments like joining hands with Modi was done for the ‘progress and development’ of the state sound facile. It only strengthens the belief among Kashmiris that the state has been reduced to a colony that can’t do without its begging bowl and must permanently supplicate before New Delhi
Mufti’s death has revealed many shades of his life, most of them with deep disturbing tones when you see them from the perspective of Kashmiris. It might sound like a harsh judgment on Mufti. But then, he was in the public realm for a long time and his decisions deeply hurt Kashmiris and their political journey of breaking out of the neo-colonial yoke through peaceful means. On any day, Kashmiris judge the leaders here through the binary of pro-Indian and pro-independence. The pro-Indian lot usually earns itself automatic public condemnation for its part in securing up the occupation. In this context, Mufti cannot be an exception.
When Sheikh Abdullah passed away, he drew almost half a million mourners to his funeral. Today his party has to struggle to get a few hundred to his grave on his anniversary. The entrance to his burial place is ringed with concertina wire. Inside armed guards stand on duty 24×7. That was then. Now is now. Kashmhiris have grown up over the decades. They understand the politics of the Muftis, Abdullahs at one end and the Geelanis, Mirwaizs et al at the other. It is another question that the common Kashmiri is made to compromise and co-opt at every step of his life because of the coercive mechanisms of the occupation.
In the end, like every Kashmiri, Mufti was also a victim of the same mechanism. That is not to exonerate him though from the many acts of commission and omission against Kashmiris he has been part of and could well have steered clear of had he chosen so. But, Mufti’s life and legacy cannot be analysed in isolation of the corrosive apparatuses of the occupation.
For Kashmiris, Mufti’s demise has neither been a moment of mourning nor a cause for celebration. Kashmiris have reacted to his death with an iciness that January typically brings along. But for the real masters in Delhi, it is probably back to the drawing board. Mufti’s death may open up new fissures between the younger lot of collaborators and would-be collaborators because the game has once again been thrown wide open. They would now compete and challenge each other to control the political turf with an intensity that may rupture the pro-Indian politicalscape. As a result, it can open up new spaces for the pro-independence parties to dictate the political discourse in Kashmir. The overall developing political-security scenario in Kashmir teamed with the current levels of disenchantment with the politics of pro-Indian parties makes that a plausible reality.
Kashmiris have grown up over the decades. They understand the politics of the Muftis, Abdullahs at one end and the Geelanis, Mirwaizs et al at the other. It is another question that the common Kashmiri is made to compromise and coopt at every step of his life because of the coercive mechanisms of the occupation
One has to go back in history to understand Mufti’s opportunistic politics. Mufti’s first major political decision of being part of a Delhi-inspired split of the National Conference, to short circuit the politics of a recalcitrant and rebooted Sheikh Abdullah, to his last of bed hopping with the BJP are two dots that are enough to explain the man, his mind and his methods. The rest, in between, as they say, is all history. His calibrated flip flops, well-timed political machinations and sometimes long hibernation periods only to emerge from the hole with a slyness that would surprise even his confidantes were trademarks of his politics and its practice.
But despite Mufti’s foxy brand of politics, there is hardly anything of substance you can credit him with. Yes, he ensured his political resuscitation from time to time when most had written him off as deadwood. But that doesn’t count as achievement. Yes, he played a very useful role as an agent-collaborator for furthering Delhi’s interests in Kashmir. Again that isn’t an achievement. Kashmiris see it as a disgrace.
That said, there is one streak you will find running right through Mufti’s entire political life from end to end: being a committed Indian. Credit is due to him for remaining steadfast on this ideology rather than romancing other blends of politics to make himself politically relevant. But Mufti did posit his party, PDP, in its initial years in a very tactical way to harvest political benefits left, right and centre. If you go back to the early days of PDP and its forays into electioneering, you will discover how Mufti got the religio-political formation, Jama’at-e-Islami, which too has played dubious roles at critical times of history, on its side in the elections. But that was small change in comparison to this. The PDP had Hizbul Mujahideen, HM, commanders ensuring their safety in its election campaigns in areas where the HM held sway. At the other end, Indian army commanders were simultaneously doing the same duty in areas they dominated. Tactical brilliance of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares? No. It was the hand of a political trickster playing with all its deftness.
There was another sly move PDP made to sponge up the dominant discourse of azadi in Kashmir. A senior Indian journalist, intimate both with Mufti and the Indian Home Ministry, helped popularise the term ‘soft-separatism’ as a public avatar for PDP. The idea was to pickpocket the narrative of the pro-independence parties and then ventilate the people’s sentiment for azadi through a pro-Indian political formation. It worked to an extent—let’s give it to Mufti.
But while Mufti played two opposite cards together, his commitment as an Indian could never be questioned (unlike Sheikh Abdullah or his son) although his daughter has been under some cloud for cozying up to militants in the early part of her political life. Mufti’s unwavering commitment to be an Indian and strengthening Kashmir’s forced and unnatural bonding with India translated on the ground into something very toxic for Kashmiris and their resistance to being absorbed as part of the neo-colonial project. That meant doing everything to help Delhi keep not only its stranglehold over Kashmir and the lives of Kashmiris, but also consolidate it through a broad spectrum of means ranging from furtive political subterfuge to literally waging a war on Kashmiris.
Jagmohan’s deputation to Kashmir as Governor and his ruthless hacking of Kashmiris while he officially described himself as “the nurse who has come here to heal the wounds of Kashmiris” is the first that comes to mind. Despite the bloodied trail left behind by the brutal military crackdown Jagmohan ordered on Kashmiris, Mufti airbrushed Jagmohan painting him as a hero and later sought to justify his crimes. “By sending Jagmohan to Kashmir we made major gains. He set up this nucleus of officials to fill the administrative vacuum. And we established the authority of the state,” he had told India Today in an interview on 30 June 1990. Next, of course, is the imposition of AFSPA in Kashmir that gave the military and paramilitaries absolute powers to kill, maim, destroy with no fear of any legal case being brought against them. That was Mufti as India’s Home Minister—the number two powerful man after the PM in the Indian setup. And that was a declaration of war on Kashmiris in all its brutality. And it continues to be so to this day. But let’s not forget—Mufti laid the basis for it.
Were these moves partly dictated by a sense of revenge for the kidnapping of Mufti’s daughter by Kashmiri militants? Yes. No. May be. One would perhaps never know for sure.
Most commentators have been critical of Mufti for his parting sin of consorting with the BJP even when base political expediency dictated otherwise. And it wasn’t the BJP of Vajpayee. Nobody would probably have had any issue with the alliance had it been so. It was the BJP of Narendra Modi who as Chief Minister of Gujarat had overseen just over a decade ago a pogrom against Muslims that’s often rolled over in the euphemism of Hindu-Muslim riots. It was the man who had infamously remarked about this pogrom, “When your cab runs over a puppy, there is always some pain you feel.” At another point in response to a question if he had any regrets about the killing and rape of Muslims in the carnage, he had told a New York Times reporter, “My only regret is that I didn’t manage the media well.” The fact that Modi, apart from his own anti-Muslim background, was firmly in the grip of a rabidly communal organisation RSS is not a secret that could have remained hidden from Mufti. Now when you bear hug such a person to see yourself in the CM’s chair, how is history going to judge you? Having made such compromises just to earn himself the chief ministership, it is sad what happened to Mufti’s both stints as Chief Minister–a position he coveted so much but eluded him for the better part of his life. The first one he had to leave half way because of a political arrangement with the Congress. The other one was cut short by death. Justifications like joining hands with Modi was done to keep the Hindus of Jammu and Muslims of Kashmir together sound very facile. So do arguments that it was done for the ‘progress and development’ of the state. It only reinforces the belief among Kashmiris that the state has been reduced to a colony that can’t do without its begging bowl and must therefore permanently supplicate before New Delhi.
After the 2014 assembly elections when Mufti was incubating the idea of becoming the Chief Minister by teaming up with BJP, he had remarked: India wants me to be the Chief Minister of roads and bridges; I want to do something bigger. When somebody asked him what he meant by that, he replied, “I want to do something about this problem in my tenure.” What Mufti was forgetting were the limits imposed by State power. The State obviously doesn’t want a Chief Minister who can think beyond roads and bridges and gardens and parks. For understanding this one has to go back to the 1950s when Sheikh Abdullah was also thinking something ‘big’ after having discovered the idiocy of his decision of turning over Kashmir to India cheap and easy. One also has to study the reasons behind carving out the Democratic National Conference from the National Conference in 1960 of which Mufti was a part. Among many other things, it also warrants an examination of the purpose behind the formation of the PDP in 1999. And also why, in the past few elections, no party has won enough number of seats that it can form a strong government which can think beyond ‘roads and bridges’.
Fact is that the political games played in Kashmir are scripted in Delhi. The competitive exteriors of Kashmir’s politics can easily though mislead you into taking politics here at its face value. Kashmir’s politics is not a cookbook free and fair game. It is micro-managed by the agencies to produce a certain result, a specific effect as the situation may demand. At best, it is a pre-paid democracy. Former Indian army chief, now BJP minister in the Modi government, V K Singh alluded to this when he said a few years ago that the army had been funding politicians in Kashmir since 1947. AS Dulat’s Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years offers but only the proverbial tip of this micro management iceberg. In this matrix, could Mufti have done something ‘bigger’ as he was dreaming of? And can any other politician, however loyal he or she may be to Delhi, play a role beyond the one scripted by Delhi and the agencies? Even pro-Indian politician Ghulam Hassan Mir, described by the former Indian army chief VK Singh as a “true Indian”, alludes to this dark reality. Mir told the Caravan in its latest issue, “Whatever happens in the rest of the country is different from what happens here. Whatever the courts say, your channels say, the politics here is different. And that is needed.” Mir was referring to his electoral loss which was also needed to, in Mir’s own words, “show the fairness of elections.”
Politics in Kashmir may appear pretty competitive and combative. A behind the scenes look reveals how slush funds move the characters up and down the political chessboard. With big time money going around, it isn’t difficult to understand why India finds it so easy to have a clutch of collaborators on its side always. And even more easier to manipulate them to its advantage. Politics in Kashmir is run like a Ponzi scheme.
In such an atmosphere of micro management, even the strongest of leaders in Kashmir are forced to reduce themselves to their own caricatures. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is the best example. And the worst too. Mufti couldn’t have had it different. His daughter or Omar Abdullah or anyone crossing over from the Hurriyats into electoral politics cannot have it different. Mufti vainly tried to lay claim to some ‘big’ things like trade links and road opening between the two occupied parts of Kashmir. But these measures were part of a larger agreement between Indian and Pakistani governments of that time. Mufti and his party members were there merely as cheerleaders.
Mufti’s daughter or any other politician aspiring be Kashmir’s CM will always be there no more than a cheerleader or rag doll of an unsightly enterprise of occupation which hasn’t even in 69 years found itself a pretty face that the man on the street can care to give a second look.