Enters Mufti

A law graduate’s journey from small south Kashmir town to the highest power corridors in Delhi is scripted with twists and turns. Shams Irfan reviews the forgone era to understand the initial years of Mufti’s politics

Prime Ministers Nehru and Bakhshi while Indira Gandhi is standing besides her father.
Prime Ministers Nehru and Bakhshi while Indira Gandhi is standing beside her father.

In the late 1950s, when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was in jail for allegedly conspiring against the state (Kashmir Conspiracy Case), Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, an ambitious young law graduate from Aligarh Muslim University, took his first step into politics by becoming district convenor of Democratic National Conference (DNC) – a small political force of left-leaning politicians mostly defected from the NC that Bakhshi hijacked from Sheikh. This was an ambitious Mufti’s first formal post.

With Congress (I) ruling the state through Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, once a close confident of Sheikh and his deputy who helped Jawahar Lal Nehru topple Sheikh’s popular government in 1953, Mufti was fermenting his political course cautiously.

But, before Mufti could have stabled his feet in J&K’s tumultuous political waters, G M Sadiq led DNC was disintegrated within two years of its formation.

However, DNC created by Delhi to counter Sheikh’s NC, Mufti along with most of its members were accommodated in NC led by Bakshi.

“With Sheikh in jail, it (NC) was reduced to just an extension of Congress in J&K,” said an NC loyalist who faced Bakshi era wrath for his underground political activism against what he calls “puppet regime”.

In 1962, Mufti got a mandate to represent Bijbehara in the state assembly. He won unopposed. “Anybody and everybody was a leader as long as Sheikh’s Sahab was behind the bars,” says the NC loyalist who is in his late eighties now.

A year later, in May, after Nehru’s Congress lost three important parliamentary by-elections, Bakhshi, after serving as Prime Minister of Kashmir for eleven years was persuaded by Nehru to step down. After a brief stint of 140 days by Khwaja Shamsuddin Kath, the reigns of the state were finally passed on to Mufti’s DNC time friend G M Sadiq.

During this time, recalls Mohammad Sayeed Malik, a veteran journalist, and Mufti’s close friend, young Mufti focused his energies on developing contacts with people, particularly in south Kashmir.  “Unlike other politicians, Mufti’s biggest strength was that he was connected to the grass root level always,” recalls Malik. “He knew the strength lies with the people. Without staying in contact with one’s voters, long-term survival in politics is impossible.”

Cultivating his contacts that Mufti had developed by his long sojourns in peripheral areas of south Kashmir he retained his seat from Bijbehara in 1967. “This boosted his confidence and made him a popular figure in Kashmir,” claims Malik.

As a reward, Malik recalls, Mufti was made deputy minister by Sadiq in the same year. But despite Mufti’s long association with Sadiq – that goes back to their time together in DNC – he was close to Syed Mir Qasim. “Mufti’s political career matured around friends like Sadiq, Qasim, D P Dhar and G M Shah. But if you ask me whom he was close to, it was Qasim always,” claims Malik.

What helped Mufti achieve a meteoric rise in Kashmir politics during those troubled times was because of two things: first there was no Sheikh Abdullah around, and second, he always chose his friends well.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed

After Sadiq’s death in 1971, Congress passed on the command of politically sensitive Kashmir to Mufit’s close friend Qaism. And Qaism, within a year of taking over, made Mufti a cabinet minister.

The same year, in 1972, Mufti was nominated as Congress party’s leader in the state’s Legislative Council. “This nomination elevated Mufti’s political stature drastically. From that day onwards he became Delhi’s key man in Kashmir,” recalls Malik.

Being Indira Gandhi’s pointsman in Kashmir post-Nehru’s death in 1964, Mufti rose through ranks within the Congress.

In 1975 year Sheikh Abdullah came back from his political exile after in wake of Beig-Parthasarathy talks and was bestowed the leader of a Congress house. The new cabinet took the oath and Congress was pushed to margins – a situation that led Congress to withdraw its support that resulted in 1977 elections.

Mufti was made the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and president of Pradesh Congress. “During those days nobody dared to stand in front of Sheikh except Mufti,” claims Malik.

Despite being the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and president of Pradesh Congress, Mufti met Sheikh only once, that too briefly. “He was the only politicians in Kashmir who never bowed down before Sheikh’s mighty persona,” claims Malik.

With Sheikh reclaiming his political forte almost instantly after his arrival in Srinagar in 1975, Mufti stood firm and connected to the masses. “It was either Shiekh or Mufti. There was no other person in Kashmir politics who mattered as much as they did,” claims Malik.

Both Mufti and Sheikh stayed on the far ends of the political spectrum with former representing Congress’ integrationist politics, seen as an agenda against Kashmir’s special status by Sheikh, while latter represented a more Kashmir centric inclusive political ideology.

In the late 70s, anybody who represented the non-regional political party in Kashmir, in Mufti’s case Congress, was seen as an outsider. Sheikh used to call them “gutter worm”.

But, outsider or not, Mufti remained as integral to Kashmir’s politics as any other leader!


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