An Indian by conviction Mufti believed in softening of boundaries to help people reconnect with each other across divided Kashmir. But for separatist camp he was just another “Delhi’s man” in Kashmir, reports Mohammad Raafi
Eleven months after armed men attacked Indian Parliament on 13 December, 2001, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took oath as the chief minister of troubled Jammu and Kashmir. The elections that bought Mufti and Congress together in an alliance to rule Kashmir were held in the backdrop of strained Indo-Pak relations. Immediately after the attack on Indian Parliament, India mobilised its troops along Punjab and Kashmir borders. Pakistan retaliated by putting its forces on high-alert. Instead of toeing the official line on Pakistan Mufti surprised everybody by insisting a dialogue with the “hostile” neighbour. In his first term as J&K CM, Mufti oversaw some of the significant steps like opening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, trade and travel across LOC without passport and visas that helped bridge gap in Indo-Pak relations.
Political commentators say that these efforts made Mufti a “soft separatist” within some circles in mainland India and unionist politicians in Kashmir.
However, the separatists maintain that Mufti was an “Indian by conviction and had done no good for the Kashmir cause”.
The steps taken by Mufti viz-a-viz Kashmir were always “anti-people”. “He was in no way different from others,” says Hurriyat (m) spokesperson and Mirwaiz’s media advisor, Shahid-ul-Islam.
It was during the time of Mufti’s first stint as Chief Minister that the Hurriyat Conference was invited for talks with Government of India.
Mufti was seen as an architect behind the move and was believed to have taken these steps to “snub the pro-azadi leaders” in Kashmir who had been propagating tripartite dialogue.
“It did not affect us in any way. Azadi is a popular sentiment and such steps taken by whosoever cannot take away the credibility and popularity of pro-azadi leaders,” asserts Shahid. “This was a gimmick played by Mufti to choke the space of pro-azadi leaders politically and he failed miserably. That is why he had to keep Hurriyat leaders under continuous detention during these nine months”.
“Why did he need to keep Geelani Sahab under house detention through-out his second term and stop Mirwaiz from addressing people on Fridays on many occasions?” he questioned. “He didn’t even let us offer Eid prayers.”
Hurriyat (g) chairperson Syed Ali Geelani says that Mufti “was an Indian by heart and played every trick to demonise the cause of Kashmir”. “Mufti acted like Sheikh (Abdullah),” Geelani continues, “Initially he seemed to act like a true patriotic Kashmiri but was not different than other pro-Indian politicians.” “He couldn’t himself judge how Indians were using him in Kashmir for their interests.”
Mufti recalled as a “true democrat and statesman” by his contemporaries in Indian political system was seen as “Delhi’s main man in Kashmir”.
“There is no doubt in that. He was their (India’s) important man and they succeeded in using him to his fullest abilities,” says Geelani. “There is no question of shrinking the space of pro-Azadi leader. It is foolish,” maintains Geelani quoting holy verses as “how enemies shall play tricks, however, they win, but truth shall prevail”.
However, he also adds that Mufti acted like a “brutal occupier as CM”. “He couldn’t compete with us politically therefore he kept us detained in our homes. Had he succeeded in shrinking the space, there was no question of detaining us now”.
When contacted Muhammad Yaseen Malik, chairman JKLF – the outfit responsible for kidnapping of Mufti’s daughter Rubiya Sayeed in 1989 – refused to comment. Malik has earlier maintained that, “Mufti is India’s boy in Kashmir”.
Recently in a press conference during his hunger strike in Srinagar, Malik snubbed Mufti saying, “During his rule in his first stint as chief minister more lawlessness was witnessed. He played to the galleries to secure his position and her daughter’s position in the Indian political system.”
Denouncing his “healing-touch policy”, the separatist camp has maintained that it was a “hoax and on papers only”. “It didn’t yield anything. Rather under this hoax slogan, Mufti perpetuated mass killings and murders,” said a ZHurriyat (m) member and activist. “It was a well thought out slogan to gain sympathy and then kill.”
Like the “Battle of Ideas”, the “healing-touch policy” was to “fool people”. “Therefore it would be foolish to say that it served the interests of the general masses,” he said.
However, Shahid-ul-Islam maintained that history is the best judge. “Let history judge him like it did in the case of Shiekh Abdullah. People would call Sheikh the tallest leader of J&K. However, you and we all know how history has recorded him and how he is being recalled now.”
Interestingly Geelani was not allowed to offer even a single Friday congregational prayers in Mufti Sayeed’s second stint as Chief Minister. “You see, he played to separatist gallery by releasing Masarat Alam,” a Hurriyat activist said, “the second moment he was in jail and is not being released despite courts quashing his illegal detention”.
On the important occasions of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha, no major separatist leader was free. “This year, which even saw beef controversy, no one was allowed to offer Eid prayers,” he said. “See, how Mufti government clamped down on internet. He invited (PM) Modi here who talked about ‘digital India’ but himself made people suffer on this account.”