Big Baig

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The PDP leader and the former J-K Deputy Chief Minister is basking in a renewed political glory after alleging on the floor of J-K assembly that the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah figured in the CBI’s list of suspects in the Srinagar sex abuse scandal.  This raised a political storm which almost brought the state government down, with CM deciding to submit his resignation to the governor NN Vohra.
Even though, Omar has since resumed the office after Governor rejected his resignation and CBI issued him a clean-chit, Beig’s new-found limelight hasn’t gone away. The controversy surrounding his allegation, notwithstanding. In fact, Beig, for once, seems to have even overshadowed the flinty PDP president Mehbooba Muft, despite the latter’s theatrical mike stunt in the house.
But does the Assembly act that brought him back to the centre stage explain Beig’s politics?  The answer will probably be no. Whatever its fallout on Beig’s political standing, the assault on young Omar doesn’t help make sense of a complex, mercurial personality which has itself been a perennial subject of controversy. In Assembly, NC  brought a questionnaire about Beig’s own personal life, accusing him of liasons with some high profile women including the head of a country’s leading law firm. What is more, the party got the speaker Akber Lone to read it aloud in the house.   
In his brief, pre-meditated moment of belligerence, he may have gone for the NC’s jugular, but Muzaffar Beig the man and the politician isn’t easy to pin down..  His fitful political career has floundered in obscurity for many decades before suddenly taking off after the landmark 2002 win from Baramulla. Being episodic in his trysts with public life, Beigh hasn’t been much through the commonplace grind of politics. But this does not detract from Beigh’s distinct space in the state’s political landscape. A space that makes him invaluable for any party while removing the need for any demonstrative mass support.  
What makes Beigh further unique is that he belongs to a rare breed of politicians whose mass base comprises more of admirers rather than of followers. This is why he can get Baramulla – a separatist constituency and a traditional boycott spearhead – to break its voting taboo to secure his political win. In response, Beigh has played the role of an ideal political representative to the hilt, bringing a visible development to the constituency, building roads, bridges and connecting inaccessible areas.
But there has been a downside to this kind of politics. Questions have been raised about the Beigh’s status as a mass leader. With him it is the case of a leader going to people and winning their confidence rather than the people throwing up somebody through a local political churning. It is said that Beigh-people connect is essentially utilitarian in nature, based  on his development work on the ground his image as an honest politician. Beigh, even his worst critics will vouch is not corrupt.
Beyond this Beigh seems to have steered clear of personifying a pronounced political agenda. He may belong to a party which has successfully bridged its mainstream role with a soft separatist rhetoric and may even have been the author of PDP’s self-rule document but unlike his colleagues in the party Beigh has stayed short of wearing the slogans on his sleeve.  His approach has been generally `vaguish’ in nature which may be a deliberate ploy to give himself a more maneuvering space in a state overrun by diverse political ideologies and discourses.  
However, Beigh the man hasn’t been less exceptional. The story of his life has followed two spectacular trajectories: one as a leading lawyer and another as a major politician. But overriding both trajectories is the larger story of a boy from the abjectly modest background making it big by the sheer dint of his hard work and talent.
In November 2005, when Muzaffer Hussain Beig was appointed deputy chief minister of J&K, it seemed to be the climax of a long journey for the impoverished, intelligent boy from the nondescript, isolated village of Wahidina in Baramulla district. His dismissal  saw the first-ever public protests—including a complete shutdown in his constituency Barmulla —in support of a pro-India politician in a stridently separatist town in the two decades of strife.
Despite studying in a village primary school with no electricity—the village got its first power and water lines five years ago—Beig stood first in the entire state in the Class VIII board exams. He also topped the state in his matriculation examination and subsequently again in his graduation. His brilliant academic run continued in Delhi University , where he studied law: Beig came first in the combined university examination.
But academics were never his sole pursuit. He earned his spurs as a student leader in the North Kashmir town of Baramulla , where he attended college. After returning from Delhi , he plunged headlong into the local politics, fought the Baramulla Town Area Committee elections and became its vice-chairman. Soon afterwards, he was rescued from the tedium of small-town politics by the offer of a fellowship to do his masters in law at Harvard University . He was among the four candidates from across the world to be chosen that year.
After a brief stint at Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine , the largest corporate litigation firm in New York , Beig returned to politics in Valley. He fought the Assembly elections in Baramulla as an independent, a bold move considering that he was pitted against the National Conference, still helmed by Shiekh Abdullah. He lost to the NC candidate but garnered around 80,000 votes, far more than the Jamaat-I-Islami, which won only 55,000 votes.
Though he lost the election, the campaign and the manner in which he conducted it announced the arrival of a major star. People still remember his fiery two-hour election speech in the town’s main market where, armed with a briefcase full of documents supposed to prove “Shiekh’s scheming and self-aggrandising character”, he made a strong bid to undermine the legendary leader’s cult status in one of his main bastions.
Beig fought another election from the town in 1983, this time as vice-president of the People’s Conference, led by the future Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone. Beig lost again to the NC.
Appointed Advocate-General of the state in 1985, when Jagmohan was the governor, Beig resigned after Farooq Abdullah returned to power and moved to New Delhi , where he worked as a senior advocate in the Supreme Court. He returned to the Valley only in 1998, this time to fight the Parliamentary election from Baramulla, which he again lost to NC candidate Saifuddin Soz. Beig says he was persuaded to contest that election by his future bete noire in PDP Ghulam Hassan Mir, who revolted against the party when Beig was made deputy chief minister.
In 1999, Beig founded the People’s Democratic Party, together with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Ghulam Hassan Mir. “I was the second to sign the party constitution after Mufti Sahib and Mir Sahib signed after me,” Beig says. In October 2002, just three years after the PDP was launched, the unthinkable happened: The party was able to dislodge the NC as the dominant party in the Valley. “From nobodies, we suddenly became rulers,” Beig says.
The 53-year-old Beig quickly became the most articulate face of the new dispensation. He was the minister of Finance, Planning, Law and Parliamentary Affairs in the PDP period of the coalition government. When the Congress took over the government in November 2005, Beig not only retained his earlier portfolios (with additional charge of Tourism) but was also made deputy CM. It was his growing proximity to CM Ghulam Nabi Azad that triggered his removal from office. However, Beig returned as Deputy CM towards the end of PDP-Congress coalition rule and continued on the post till June 2008 when in the wake of Amarnath controversy PDP withdrew support to Congress.   
But a “very reluctant politician” that he is, Beig would love to call it quits “ at the very first opportunity”.   “ I will not stay in politics a second more,” he says. “ I dont want to be here (politics) all my life”.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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