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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 12 New Delhi March 12, 2016

Political Legacy of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed

Saturday 12 March 2016

by Aijaz Ashraf Wani and Mehragud Din Bhat

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the founder of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP), passed away on January 7, 2016 at the age of 79. He was the 12th Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Born on January 12, 1936 in the Bijbehara town of district Anantnag he graduated from the S.P. College in Srinagar and went on to obtain a degree in Law as well as a post-graduate degree in Arab History from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had an illustrious political career spanning nearly six decades. It is said that his ambition was to get a government employment; however, it was some of his close friends who motivated him to practise law. He joined the Anantnag Bar Association and briefly practised as a lawyer at the Anantnag District Court. In the late 1950s he joined the group of prominent lawyer and National Conference leader P. L. Handoo and practised law with him.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed started his political career in the late 1950s when he joined the Democratic National Conference (DNC) led by G.M. Sadiq, along with D. P. Dhar, Syed Mir Qasim and G. L. Dogra. G.M. Sadiq, recognising the potential of the young lawyer, appointed him the district convener of the party—the first formal political post he held. In 1962, Sayeed was elected to the State Legislative Assembly from the Bijbehara constituency, retaining the seat in the 1967 elections as well. However, soon Sayeed fell out with the DNC and joined the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1965. After Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad lost support and was removed, and later arrested, in 1964, G. M. Sadiq became the Chief Minister and in 1965 merged the DNC with the Congress. Mufti Sayeed, who won the Bijbehara seat again, was appointed Deputy Chief Minister of what was now a Congress Government. In 1972, as a member of the Legislative Council, he became the Minister for Public Works in the State Government headed by Syed Mir Qasim who had succeeded Sadiq. In 1975, he was made the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) President after the Indira-Abdullah accord and Sheikh Abdullah’s return to power in 1975. He continued to hold the post of PCC chief in J&K for over a decade.

A shrewd organiser and administrator, Sayeed ensured that the Congress got a toehold in the Valley and even managed to carve pockets of good support.1 In the years that followed, he created a base for the Congress in the Valley. In 1986, he was appointed the Union Tourism Minister in the government headed by the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Sayeed became the Congress party’s stalwart and kept the party alive in Kashmir till he was disillusioned with the party. He resigned from the post and broke away from the NC’s alliance with the Congress following the Rajiv-Farooq Accord of 1987 as he believed he had been deprived of the post of the Chief Minister of J&K. Following his resignation from the Congress he joined the Jan Morcha led by V.P. Singh, who formed a short-lived minority government at the Centre in 1989. Sayeed became India’s first Muslim Home Minister after he won the Lok Sabha elections of that year as the Jan Morcha candidate from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh.

Mufti Sayeed’s tenure as the Home Minister was marred by controversies, with the State witnessing a sharp rise in militancy and cases of human rights violation increased. Soon after taking office as the Home Minister of India he faced a difficult task. Militants, who demanded the release of some militants, kidnapped his daughter, Rubaiya Sayeed. It was only after some militants were released that the militants freed his daughter. Many believed that this was a compromise with Indian national interest only because Mufti Sayeed wanted to save his daughter. This was surely the toughest period in his political career.

Mufti Sayeed is also accused both by the separatist groups as well as mainstream political parties like the NC of being the man who imposed draconian and most unpopular laws like the AFSPA in Kashmir. As Jammu and Kashmir’s insurgency took a graver turn, the government responded with brutal repression. Sayeed was a key player in crafting this response. On July 5, 1990, Sayeed implemented the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the State.2 The dreaded law gave sweeping powers to the security forces. It set off years of widespread crackdowns, detention and torture.3 As the Home Minister, Sayeed played a vital part in enforcing this bloody regime. Again he is accused of appointing the most infamous Governor in Kashmir during the turbulent times of the 1990s—Jagmohan. Under Jagmohan, Jammu and Kashmir entered a period of brutal repression. Two days after he took over, the Valley witnessed its first bloody massacre since the outbreak of militancy. Many protestors were killed in the Central Reserve Police Force firing in what is now remembered as the ‘GawKadal massacre’ followed by the ‘Hawal massacre’ and the ‘Bijbehara massacre’. To this day Kash-miris commemorate these massacres annually.

Besides this, Mufti Sayeed is also criticised as being a part/the architect of an era of undemo-cratic regimes in Kashmir during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He was involved directly or indirectly with all these undemocratic regime changes, which were always orchestrated by the Congress.4

Sayeed next embarked upon an extraordinary project. Wrecked by years of violence, democracy in Jammu and Kashmir needed to be resusci-tated. In the early 1990s militancy had spread across cities, towns and villages. Politicians had fled the State and all political activity had ceased. It was in this troubled atmosphere that Sayeed set out to resurrect the democratic process for the 1996 Assembly elections. The years 1990-1996 were times of hibernation for mainstream politicians, including Sayeed, in Kashmir. It was in 1996 when the State managed to hold elections in Kashmir that the Mufti started making a comeback. Gradually but inexorably, the Mufti staged a political comeback. He returned to J&K politics after his reconci-liation with the Congress in 1996 following the disintegration of the Janata Dal into which the Jan Morcha had evolved. He won the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in 1998, but soon resigned from both his position and the Congress party to manage his newly formed regional party: the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). After a lifetime of working with national parties, he formed a regional party, ostensibly to “persuade the Government of India to initiate an unconditional dialogue with Kashmiris for resolution of the Kashmir problem”. This was the reason behind his floating a new political party.

It needs to be mentioned that there is a counter-narrative as far as the creation of the PDP is concerned. Many believe that the PDP was created by the Centre with a purpose. It should be pointed out that on the eve of the formation of the PDP the Central Government had also made up its mind to change its policy vis-à-vis Kashmir. It was realised that real peace can be earned not by relying exclusively on the military option but by seriously pursuing good governance. The focus of good governance centred on democratic governance, respect for human rights, transparent administration, economic development, and good neighbourly relations with Pakistan in response to the pressures of globalisation (which demanded soft borders), and ultimately the resolution of the Kashmir problem.

The National Conference was now a spent force having lost the public support owing to its willing cooperation with the Centre to crush the ‘azadi’ movement, and that too without making any bones about it. The changing scenario, therefore, demanded the propping up of a new political actor on a different but more attractive stage with new dialogues that would satisfy the popular urges. The policy-pundits and agencies found in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed the right person to play the newly-designed role. Not surprisingly, therefore, the election manifesto of the People’s Democratic Party centred on three main issues, namely, safe-guarding the life and property of the people from the marauding hands of renegades (Ikhwanis) and SOG who worked in collusion with the Army and para-military forces (mainly with the former), restoring ‘peace with honour’ by persuading the Central Government to initiate a dialogue process with Pakistan and the militants for which the opening up of the Muzaffarabad Road would act as a prelude, and giving a fillip to the economy and providing a source of assured livelihood to each family. However, the PDP carried the tag of being a party created by the agencies.

Whatever be the case, the fact remains that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led to a duopolistic political structure in J&K. The creation of the People’s Democratic Party in 1999 filled the vacuum of an Opposition party in the Kashmir Valley. Since dissent in the Valley had been pushed into separatism and militancy by the rigged elections, the National Conference was the only “mainstream” political force. And as there was nobody to exploit anti-incumbency from within the “mainstream” or “pro-India” parties, only the separatist groups, the Hurriyat Conference, benefited from the anti-incumbency against the Abdullahs. The PDP was created as an alternative force to channelise this anger within Kashmir.

The PDP under the leadership of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed fought the State Assembly elections for the first time in the year 2002. The party won 16 seats in its maiden attempt. It broke down the hegemony and one-party domi-nance of the National Conference and brought competition in the electoral politics of the State. The 2002 elections produced a fractured mandate and none of the parties was in a position to form the government. After hectic deliberations between the PDP and Congress, a coalition government was formed and it was headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed with an arrangement of rotational Chief Ministership—the Mufti getting the coveted post for the first three years.

As a Chief Minister from 2002 to 2005 he proved to be extraordinary at both adminis-trative and political management. He launched his much-publicised “healing touch” policy by disbanding the counter-insurgency Special Operations Group (SOG). Besides disbanding the SOG, the Mufti took bold steps like doing away with the cumbersome security barricades, frisking, nocturnal raids, crackdowns and making the forces accountable. His “healing- touch” policy changed the security scenario in strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir. People of Kashmir would always remember the late leader for ending the reign of terror that was unleashed by the pro-government renegades during those days.5 However, his critics argue that he disbanded the SOG only to merge it into the Jammu and Kashmir Police and turned the whole police outfit into a counter-insurgency force.

It was during his tenure as the Chief Minister of the State that the political situation in Kashmir improved dramatically. Such words like “healing touch”, “peace with dignity” and “winning the hearts and minds” used by the Mufti were the idioms by which Mufti Sayeed tried to win the hearts and minds of the common Kashmiris.6 The Mufti also set in place an alternative politics in the Valley. This was his major success. The PDP under his leadership succeeded in channelising the anger and frustration of the separatist sympathisers into finding a political solution to the burning issues of Kashmir. In fact by appropriating issues like dialogue with Pakistan and the Hurriyat, human rights violations, cross-LoC trade etc., used by the separatist groups to mobilise the people, he was able to gain the support of the masses.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed proved to be an able administrator as well. At the core, he was a true nationalist but wanted to take a different route in dealing with sensitive issues. He was keen to be seen soft on the separatist forces within the Valley. He always advocated inclusion of separatist voices in any dialogue with New Delhi. This was done to reap the political dividend for the PDP which was seen as a viable alternative to the Hurriyat. It was during the Mufti’s first stint as the Chief Minister that the Hurriyat Conference was invited for talks with the Government of India. In March 2006 he took a few steps on the newly-renovated “Aman Sethu”. He was the first politician to step on the bridge that connects the two parts of Kashmir in Uri since the LoC had divided India and Pakistan.7 For the first time, Kashmiris could cross the border without a visa and passport. All they needed was a permit proclaiming that they are residents of Jammu and Kashmir. This paved the way for emotional reunions for thousands of families across the LoC.8

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed always advocated an unbroken dialogue with Pakistan and believed that trade relations, road and air links would form the basis of normalisation of relations with Pakistan. He was of the view that there was no readymade formula to solve the Kashmir issue and that opening the routes of communication would ensure the process of normalisation and peace in turmoil-hit Jammu and Kashmir.9 However, this never meant letting separatists or militants have a free run. During his tenure as the CM a record number of militant commanders were killed. He never allowed any issue to be used by separatists to get united. Sayeed insisted on zero-tolerance on human rights violations and civilian killings, but this unfortunately did not translate into practice.

During his first innings as the Chief Minister the State did witness economic development, the removal of encroachments and a much-needed facelift. His philosophy was to promote a vibrant and participatory democracy that would penetrate the very grassroots by empowering the political institutions of the State. He carefully positioned his party to be at the centre of the diplomatic thaw between New Delhi and Pakistan. One of the tallest mainstream leaders of Kashmir, he could sometimes be faulted for his soft separatist stance but it was the same Mufti who said: “It is secularism and democracy that binds us to India.”10 After ruling the State for three years from 2002 upto 2005 he passed the Chief Ministership to Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad as per the power-sharing formula. However, the PDP coalition with the Congress broke on a sour note when Mufti Sayeed’s party withdrew support after the Amaranth land transfer issue flared up in 2008. Although the ruling coalition ended prematurely following differences with the Congress over the allocation of land to the Amaranth shrine, Sayeed’s pro-people image loomed large over J&K.

Shortly after the Mufti withdrew support to the G.N. Azad-led coalition government, the State was due for another Assembly election. The Assembly elections took place in 2008; the PDP gained 21 seats in the Legislative Assembly, but could not form the government. The PDP remained in Opposition for six years upto the year 2014.

During the 2014 Assembly elections his party again provided a stiff challenge to the two age-old parties—the National Conference and Indian National Congress. The PDP got 28 seats increasing its tally from 21. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections 2014 again produced a fractured mandate in which no political party could get absolute majority to form the government on its own. In terms of election results, the PDP emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats followed by the BJP with 25 seats. The National Conference got 15 seats and its coalition partner (Congress) won 12 seats. In the backdrop of this political scenario it was indeed a challenge to form a government which in view of the numbers had to be a coalition government. There were choices for the PDP to form the government either with the Congress, or with the National Conference (NC) with the support of the independent MLAs or to choose the BJP as its alliance partner.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed again proved his mettle and created history—positive or negative—when he managed to forge an alliance between the BJP and PDP. The new coalition government was formed in J&K on March 1, 2015 with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed sworn in as the Chief Minister. Soon after he came to power in alliance with the BJP he had referred to the coalition as a “meeting of north pole and south pole”. Even before he had tied up with the BJP he knew the challenges since both the BJP and PDP are diametrically opposite to each other in their viewpoints on Kashmir.11 Right from the beginning of his political career, Sayeed was known to make unconventional political moves—the step he took in March last year when the PDP decided to share power with the BJP in India’s only Muslim-majority State was the latest.12 However, it did not turn out to the Mufti’s liking. In the last ten months, the government has seen many ups and downs. There have been too many controversies. All these controversies took place because both the parties are ideologically opposed to each other. Political commentators believe that due to the PDP’s decision to join hands with the BJP the party is losing ground in the Valley. The past few months have been difficult for the party as an ailing Sayeed showed little signs of recovery. Despite his failing health, he managed 23 trips to Srinagar during this time. His admirers say that such was his commitment and love for the State that he died while working even in his last days.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was seen as a crafty politician and was known as the clever man from south Kashmir who was often seen as a unifier and reconciler of differences.13 The Mufti would see the Opposition as a political rival, rather than an enemy; this was something new in J&K where political vengeance was an extension of regime change. His sense of accommodating political rivals gave new sophistication to the unionist politics. He would ensure that officers were not victimised for their closeness to the Opposition.14 And more importantly, he did not indulge in corruption and accumulation of wealth, that have marked the history of J&K politics. An Indian by conviction, the Mufti believed in softening of boundaries to help the people reconnect with each other across divided Kashmir. But for the separatist camp he was just another “Delhi’s Man” in Kashmir. Political commentators say that these efforts made the Mufti a “soft separatist” within some circles in mainland India and unionist politicians in Kashmir. However, the separatists maintain that the Mufti was an “Indian by conviction and had done no good for the Kashmir cause”.15

For positive or negative reasons, the fact remains that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has carved an important space in the politics of not only J&K but India as well. You may hate him or love him but you cannot ignore him.


1. Kashmirhttp://www.livemint.com/Politics/YsESmmRqqSe-FiwluLAAg7J/Mufti-Mohammad-Sayeed-An-astute-politician-who-switched-side.html

2. http://www.newsgram.com/5-controversies-in-the-political-career-of-mufti-mohammed-sayeed/

3. http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/the-collaborator-mufti-mohammed-sayeed

4. Legacy of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed http://www.rising kashmir.com/news/legacy-of-mufti-mohammad-sayeed/

5. www.greater kashmir.com/news/kashmir/story/206385.html

6. Legacy of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed http://www.rising kashmir.com/news/legacy-of-mufti-mohammad-sayeed/

7. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/mufti-mohammad-sayeed-his-own-journey/

8. http://m.dailyhunt.in/news/india/english/asian-tribune-epaper-atribune/jk-chief-minister-mufti-muhammad-sayeed-passed-away-newsid-48197314

9. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/mufti-mohammad-sayeeds-5-point-legacy/1/564589.html

10. http://www.risingkashmir.com/article/mufti-interrupted/

11. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/mufti-mohammad-sayeeds-5-point-legacy/1/564589.html

12. Kashmir http://www.livemint.com/Politics/YsESmmRqq SeFiwluLAAg7J/Mufti-Mohammad-Sayeed-An-astute-politician-who-switched-sid.html

13. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/mufti-mohammad-sayeeds-5-point-legacy/1/564589.html

14. http://www.kashmirlife.net/deconstructing-mufti-issue-43-vol-07-93910/

15. http://www.kashmirlife.net/a-soft-separatist-issue-43-vol-07-93911/

Dr Aijaz Ashraf Wani is a Senior Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar. Mehragud Din Bhat is a Ph.D Scholar in the same Department of the University of Kashmir.

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