Baptised By Fire

Sheikh Qayoom

sheikh qayoomMufti Muhammad Sayeed, the grand old man of Kashmir’s politics has left behind a political legacy which is not created by men born in royal families. Mufti in fact was a lower-middle-class village boy whose education was possible only because of his passion to rise in life. Fighters are not created by comfort and luxury, their baptism has to be by fire.

The man who fought death for 14 days in the Intensive care Unit (ICU) of AIIMS New Delhi, lost his last battle, but emerged a winner in more than one ways. Mufti’s political career that started in 1959, happened at a time when Kashmiris lived in awe of the legendary Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.

The young man from Bijbehara would one day become a potential threat to the political supremacy of the Sheikh and finally belittle that legacy to a level that the NC would have to seek help to remain in power. This is something no Kashmiri would believe when Mufti said Kashmir needed alternatives to the politics of the NC.

It was generally believed to be a ‘political blasphemy’ to challenge the political writ of the Sheikh. Even after Sheikh’s death, Dr Farooq Abdullah emerged with huge fund of public sympathy. Some even said the younger Abdullah was more approachable than his late father. To most Kashmiris Mufti was trying to create ground level cadre for a party that was once even labelled by a state police chief as extinct in Kashmir as smallpox, which had by 1975 been wiped out from India.

He had accepted to head the centrist Congress against which the late Sheikh had announced a ‘social boycott’. Mufti worked hard to give Congress a ground level cadre that the NC could one day blame it for stoking a communal tension in south Kashmir!

‘Smallpox’ had returned for the state administration, but more important than that, public demonstrations organized by the Congress could not be dispersed without opening fire.

Mufti-Sayeed

When the late Sheikh gave mandate to a middle rung NC leader against Mufti during one state assembly election, the middle rung leader from Anantnag told reporters, “Sheikh Sahib has reposed trust in men, but what excitement would be there fighting a Bacha”.

Sayeed had already passed his post graduation and also obtained a law degree from Aligarh Muslim University when the middle rung NC leader called him a ‘Bacha’.

Hardly did anyone believe in Kashmir that this ‘Bacha’ would one day become the home minister of India and perhaps the first and the last Muslim home minister.

He also became the chief minister of the state twice, but more important than that, Mufti proved Kashmir had space for both mainstream and separatist politics even when the latter does not necessarily have to be militant politics.

Mufti’s biggest ‘mistake’ before the people of Kashmir was aligning with the right wing BJP. He often tried to justify it saying if the diversity of the state had to be preserved; the PDP had no option other than form an alliance with the BJP.

Whether or not the decision was right, the fact remains the old man took a decision that was unimaginable till it happened. The PDP was believed to be somehow closer to the separatists, or that the separatists had a soft corner for the PDP in comparison to the rivals in the NC. He took the gamble like a good bridge player that he always had been. It did backfire in more than one ways. The much hyped promise of financial assistance for September 2014 flood affected did not happen. He lived under tremendous stress during the last 10 months in power. That perhaps was the reason whenever somebody met him, a worried Mufti would always ask one question, “What are the people saying?”

His larger political vision had convinced Mufti towards his end that the decision to align with the BJP had not gone down well with the people who had given him 28 seats in the last assembly elections.

The agenda of development and reconciliation also went haywire during this period, and believing that Mufti did not know it towards his end, would be being unfair to the shrewdest mainstream politician of the state.

As a human being, he was a friend who did not ignore his friends whether in power or out of it. He would call on old ailing friends even when politicians are known to dump friends when they become ill or lose eminence. Mufti remained a loyal friend to those he broke bread with.

He was perhaps one of the best dressed politicians in the state second only to Dr Farooq Abdullah whose sense of dress and etiquette owe itself to long years in England and upbringing in the echelons of power.

His political rivals loved and hated him at the same time. One thing that stood out is that nobody in politics could ignore him.

He has left a void in the politics of the state and even when people say his funeral procession did not match the great public mourning seen when the Sheikh died, was a left-handed compliment Mufti took to his grave.

(Sheikh Qayoom is IANS Srinagar head.)

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