Somebody said this about the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat: He is an enigma, inside a riddle, wrapped in a puzzle.
This description exactly befits Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. We could never understand what actually was on his mind when he would speak on a particular issue. He would speak in half sentences. For example, he would say, “We need to have cordial relations with Pakistan…; Kashmir’s fruit market will bloom with tourist rush…; No human rights violation will be tolerated…”
It was very difficult for a journalist to corner him. We would expect him to speak at least a few sentences so that we could question him. But that never happened.
He was an Indian without a shadow of a doubt. There was no ambiguity in his politics regarding this. But unlike Abdullahs, he didn’t speak against Pakistan. This gave him the much-needed political expediency. In fact, when he was sworn in recently as Chief Minister in Jammu, he credited Pakistan for peaceful elections. He was playing to the gallery. BJP leader, Nirmal Singh, was sitting there and he left the podium when Mufti uttered these words. He didn’t deem it fit to sit at a platform wherein Pakistan was thanked for peaceful elections.
His first term as CM from 2003 to 2006 coincided with a Pakistan-backed ceasefire. This period is termed by some people as a golden period. Mufti was credited for bringing a positive change in Kashmir. People say that during his tenure development took place and human rights violations reduced considerably.
Things did improve during that time, but not due to Mufti’s endeavours. They happened because of external factors. For example, hostility on LoC ceased after Pakistan announced ceasefire in 2003. Parvez Musharaf reduced infiltration of Kashmiri militants from Pakistan-administered Kashmir to this side to zero. As a result the militants already present here didn’t receive any reinforcement from across the border. They were hunted down and killed. With no militancy, there was no reason to harass people. This happened across Kashmir, especially in the border areas. Bunkers were removed, as their presence was no more needed.
Mufti is also credited for opening cross-LoC trade and Muzaffarabad-Srinagar road. I remember when he went to Kaman post, he was himself waving the flag. From the Pakistan side there was the Deputy Commissioner of Muzafarabad doing the same. The important thing to notice is that he owned all those confidence building measures and these were later sold to Kashmiris as a solution to the Kashmir dispute, which was not the case.
Mufti was very hospitable. Whenever he would call a gathering of the reporters he would throw a bash – there would be wazwan and what not. He would treat them nicely.
In my opinion, after 2002 elections Mufti became a sort of Kashmiri nationalist.
Mufti had a rural-urban bias. When he was campaigning in 2002 elections, he highlighted human rights violations, NC’s oppression, Ikhwani terror, etc. And when in power they played the rural-urban card to consolidate the constituencies. The PDP realized that most of its seats were from rural areas. South Kashmir gave them 15 seats while as North Kashmir gave them two. They didn’t win any seat in Srinagar. This forced PDP to play the rural-urban card, which has now backfired. Not more than 2000 people were in his funeral. The PDP is still a south Kashmir party.
—The journalist requested not to be named
It was very difficult to photograph Mufti Sayeed, especially after the formation of the coalition government. Unlike Farooq Abdullah, Abdul Ghani Bhat or others, who are very camera conscious, Mufti least bothered about his poses. He would give poses of a man in deep thought, sombre mood and remorseful airs. His media interaction was limited. In my opinion he was wary of the media.
Soon after he joined hands with BJP, he would often wrap his hands around his face whenever we would point camera towards him. I don’t know why.
—Abid Bhat works with Aljazeera.com, BBC.com, India Today and Outlook
In my decade long experience as a cartoonist in leading Kashmiri dailies, I enjoyed making Mufti Sayeed’s caricatures. I would closely observe his facial expressions and changing facial contours. I consider Mufti’s face one of the easiest to sketch.
Though most of my Mufti’s caricatures were critical of his policies, they received overwhelming positive response from netizens. I drew his first caricature after he formed a coalition government with the BJP. Mufti’s tie-up with BJP gave me lots of themes to mock at him. But I cherish the memory of drawing his caricature after his death. As a cartoonist, I would miss Mufti Sayeed.
—Mir Suhail works with Rising Kashmir