I see Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as a very mature and seasoned politician. He conducted politics with ethics and on his own terms. He belonged to that class of politicians for whom politics was a passion rather than a profession.
In his individual life as well as political life, honesty was the buzzword. Even after being a Union Minister twice, all he had were three rooms of a joint house. This speaks volumes about his character and integrity.
Of late, he has been castigated for joining hands with BJP. Had he not done so J&K state would have been polarized. Mufti’s main idea was to keep Hindus and Muslims together. To negotiate and strike a deal with a man of Modi’s stature speaks volumes about Mufti’s strength. He would often say that by joining hands with BJP, he wanted to “change BJP right from Kashmir.” Now the Modi government is talking to Pakistan. That’s what he meant by it.
He used to keep people guessing and there is nothing wrong to keep people guessing. He was a very mature politician and kept his thinking cap always on.
He was a Muslim politician in India, though not communal. He lived in the Indian political system with dignity, even when he was in the Congress party. He always represented Muslim interests.
His core ideology was uncompromising. Deve Gowda, when he was PM, offered him a position in his government, but he refused.
Mufti was very impartial in his conduct. He uprooted nepotism.
Consider his daughter Rubaiya Sayeed’s kidnapping. She was then an internee at Lal Ded hospital and while travelling in a matador she was kidnapped. Imagine an Indian Home Minister’s daughter travelling in public transport and not having her own escort vehicle. This says so much about Mufti saheb’s principles. These principles made him fearless.
People say that he was India’s man in Kashmir. I don’t think so. Had he been India’s man he would not have refused central ministry during the 2005 transfer of power. What else do you need in politics but power? But he made his point by that refusal. He wanted to create history by making his politics Kashmir centric.
During Farooq Abdullah’s rule, you had this ‘catch and kill’ policy, there were widespread atrocities. Mufti overturned these policies.
When Mufti was Home Minister a number of Kashmiris were given jobs in Indian institutes through a special recruitment drive. That was his idea, to include more and more Kashmiris in Indian institutes.
Then in 2002 when he became CM his approach was to give some relief to the people through good governance and development. He understood that good governance can be realized only when people are taken into confidence. That is what his political thought was.
Mufti sahib while addressing a function once said that youth with guns must give peace a chance. An official press note was issued. There was a line in the press release which read, “Mufti asks gun wielding youth to give peace a chance”. It so happened that this news items was carried by Doordarshan and Mufti sahib would never miss the 7pm local Doordarshan news irrespective whether in power or not.
As he was listening to the news, he was sipping tea and he smashed his cup when he heard this news item. What the newsreader actually read, “Mufti sahib asks estranged youth to come within the ambit of India.” This was not what Mufti had said earlier in the day. He asked for a copy of the official press note. He himself checked the press note and realized that he was quoted perfectly in the press release. Then he checked the translation and that too was correct. He then called the Doordarshan news editor and asked him why he was misquoted. The editor said that he is an employee of government of India and they have a policy to call everyone who wields weapon as ‘estranged’ and such people must return to the Indian mainstream. He categorically refused to budge even an inch. But Mufti sahib was very sensitive about these issues and he had the editor transferred to Bhopal.
He was very sensitive about all other issues. The recent Dadri killing was not reported in the state and he reprimanded his press team for not reporting it. He thought this incident deserved condemnation which he should have done.
Once there was a killing of two children in a village by the army. Mehbooba Mufti raised that issue in parliament and there was a lot of hue and cry about it. After some time, a delegation from the same village came to thank Mufti sahib who was CM at that time. Among the delegation was the father of the slain duo. He thanked the CM. But Mufti told him, “You don’t have to thank me. It is my duty.” Another man in the delegation requested Mufti to provide them a transformer and have the roads macadamized in their village. Mufti turned to his media team and asked them to write that the delegation wants justice; they want the army to be punished and tried in an open court. He then told the delegation that he will make their village a model village but not as a substitute for the killings. This was his greatness and concern for his people.
Another good thing he did is that he opened the Gupkar road for traffic, which otherwise remained closed for public vehicular movement for decades. There were objections from the army and other quarters to this decision. But Mufti went ahead and had it opened for public.
Mufti had great administrative qualities. He would not rely on what his officers would tell him; rather he would research things of his own and then take decisions. No officer could mislead him. He had his men at the grassroots who would provide him counter feedback about the developments.
Bureaucrats and police officials were all in awe of Mufti. They were comfortable with NC rule as there was hardly any accountability. See what kind of treatment he would give to police chiefs. Mufti had to visit some areas in Pulwama. Javaid Makhdoomi, who was IGP then, came with an intelligence report that a car laden with explosives is doing rounds in the area. Everyone thought that Mufti would prefer to remain in his office. But he left his premises and went to Pulwama. It took everyone by surprise. He later remarked that some people create a hoax just to remain stationed in their cozy offices.
Mufti would respect dissent. When Sheikh Abdullah was CM he complained to Indira Gandhi that Mufti bothers him. Mufti told her that democracy is a battle of ideas; if a person fails to get justice from a sitting CM he would naturally come to the opposition. He then remarked that the institution of opposition is missing in Kashmir with the result we are not moving forward.
Time and again he would say that dissent is the essence of democracy.
Outside mainstream politics, he was never in favour of putting blanket curbs to control people. He would give enough space to his opponent to make his point.
Like Farooq Abdullah he would not disgrace and denigrate the separatists. His scheme of things was that intra-Kashmir dialogue should move forward. Farooq Abdullah would always say that it is either he in Kashmir or no one else. Mufti changed that strategy. He said that Hurriyat is an option too provided Delhi talks to them. He firmly believed in his philosophy to listen to the alternative voice also.
Then Mufti’s thanking Pakistan for peaceful elections in Kashmir in 2014, that too in front of Modi is a big statement. It needs enormous courage to do it. That makes him a class apart and equivalent to Sheikh Abdullah.
Mufti was consistent in his view that Kashmir issue needs to be resolved. He also said that Hurriyat represent a shade of opinion in Kashmir. And when he says that he is an Indian you must acknowledge his honesty.
He was very particular about preserving the Muslim identity of the Valley. That is why he paid great attention to the Mughal road. It was always said that government of India is not allowing the opening of Mughal road. But Mufti did it. This shows his commitment and character. He preserved the Muslim identity of the state.
Mughal road had a socio-economic and cultural impact. It connected Rajouri and Poonch with Kashmir. It brought a sense of solidarity among different regions. Trade flourished and relationships developed within people all due to a road. It was all because of Mufti sahib’s vision.
He was particular about naming the university at Awantipora as Islamic university. It is interesting to know how the proposal of Islamic University was conceived. Mufti sahib was heading to Bijbehara with his two ministers, Taj Mohiddin and Muzaffar Baig. His driver stopped at Awantipora and gave 10 rupees as charity to a shrine. When asked about this, the driver said that everyone who passes through this area gives charity to the shrine. They calculated how much they could put together for an institution with this money.
At that very moment they thought of establishing a university there and within a week the proposal of Islamic university was prepared in black and white.
Then he also set up the Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University. These are not mere coincidences but Mufti did these things as a matter of policy.
He would never go for Pakistan bashing, unlike Abdullahs who would seek pleasure in it. He had the same propaganda machine as was with Farooq Abdullah, the Information department, but he would never use it for this purpose.
During Farooq Abdullah’s rule, you had this ‘catch and kill’ policy, there were widespread atrocities. Mufti overturned these policies
Mufti had lots of friends in the media including Ved Bhasin, Mohammad Sayeed Malik and others. He kept track of the news cycles. Even if a newspaper was five days old, he would still read it. He knew media in and out. In a sense he was a journalist expect that he was not on the parole of a newspaper. He knew how to handle media. He was discreet and consistent. He was not after cheap publicity. He was a serious man, both in his thoughts and action.
Mufti had a tremendous art of taking people along. He would engage with people at all levels. He had great contacts all over India.
Once Mufti sahib was at Delhi airport in VIP lounge. Pranab Mukherjee, who was then India’s Defence Minister, also happened to be there. The protocol says that if the Defence Minister passes by officials have to stand up for him. CM was no exception. But Mufti didn’t stand. A moment later, Mukherjee saw him, came by and touched his feet.
During 2005 earthquake relief operations, the Indian army hijacked the media. They were taking credit for all rescue operations. Mufti sahib took offence to that. He raised the question with the army and told them, “If you are doing everything, what am I doing then? Army is not for that. You are encroaching on my ambit of work.”
He had guts that no other Kashmiri politician except Sheikh Abdullah had. He contained army officers, telling them on their face that they have limits. “Who are you to call the shots,” he would tell them.
Unfortunately he didn’t get due respect and acknowledgement for his deeds in Kashmir. He came to the helm at very uncomfortable times. Be it his tenure as Home Minister or Chief Minister of Kashmir–the times were always very testing.
In 2002 there was a terrible situation in the Valley at the administrative level. He once remarked that it took him two years to make the DC and SP understand what he wants to do in the district.
With Mufti’s demise, serious politics in Kashmir is also dead. There will be no one now to stand and talk to Indians looking straight in their eyes.
You may not like him, but he was honest to the core. Even his close relatives’ promotions would go through scrutiny. He was always against nepotism. He ordered CID investigations into the assets of one of his close relatives.
He had no biases. His private secretary was a member of Youth National Conference. He was neither communal nor had regional bias. One should salute such attributes.
People say that he was India’s man in Kashmir. I don’t think so. Had he been India’s man he would not have refused central ministry during the 2005 transfer of power. What else doyou need in politics but power?
He was very particular about his clothes: polished shoes, neat dress. He would love meat preparations.
He was a Kashmiri in the true sense of the word. He would treat his guests with nunchai, makki roti and sattu. No black or white forest and no foreign bakery. He even taught Lalu Prasad Yadav how to make Rooganjosh. At the national level, Sharad Pawar and Nitish Kumar were his close friends.
During a public meeting two men came to him with a complaint. He listened to them and checked their credentials. When one of the men told him his father’s name was Abdur Rahman of Barbarshah, he suddenly got interested. He told them that Abdur Rahman had four sons, where are the other two? They were puzzled how CM knows so much about their family.
He then asked them, “Do you know me”. They were even more perplexed. “You are the CM of Kashmir,” they said. He asked the same question thrice until the duo answered, “No, we don’t know you.”
Mufti sahib then said, “I used to be at your home as a tenant when I was studying in Srinagar”.
During his last days in AIIMS, he was reluctant to stay at the hospital. He would look up to the clock on the wall and tell the doctors, “You are wasting my time. I still have a lot of things to do.” Sensing that it agitates Mufti, the doctors later had the wall clock removed.
But then just after a few days later all the clocks permanently stopped ticking for Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
—The author wishes to remain anonymous