Even at the prime age of 79, late CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, worked 12 hours, met 23 delegations and toured 16 spots during his last tour of Srinagar. Saima Bhat reports
On December 22, 2015 (CM Mufti’s Last Tour), which was the second day of Chila-i-Kalan (harsh 40 days of winters) chief minister late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed started his day at 9.30 in the morning and toured 16 different spots in the Srinagar’s old city. Before calling it a day at 9.30 PM at Nehru Guesthouse, he had met at least 23 different delegations throughout the day.
Since March 2015, when the PDP-BJP coalition formed government in the state, late Mufti most often mentioned that he wants to ‘develop Shahr e khass (old city) in Srinagar.’ It was for the same development he visited the old city for 6 times in last ten months of his government. Believed to be ‘emotionally’ attached with this part of the state, focus on the city was his prime concern when he, in his last speech at an unscheduled public rally, said ‘Srinagar city is oldest and should be developed as a heritage city’.
“He had travelled immensely throughout the world and that is why he was aware of the tourism potential of heritage cities. Srinagar being the oldest city, he wished it to be developed as a heritage city and same were his thoughts for the Jammu city as well,” shares Muneer ul Islam, who served as director information for 5 months, in Mufti’s tenure.
Islam believes late Mufti had more memories of Srinagar city than his hometown Bijbehara. He had a desire that Srinagar city should have a place in the world tourism map just like old European cities are.
Walking down his memory lanes, Mufti on the last day of his extensive tour of Srinagar city, mentioned his college days when he was living as a tenet somewhere in the Aali Kadal area.
There was a time when many people in the old city had big business ventures but now, same people live in abject poverty. “He used to say these people are shy and they will never ask you for any help even if they don’t have anything to eat. No doubt they are mostly educated but they don’t have jobs. So they should be provided everything they want,” remembers Altaf Bukhari, who was accompanying Mufti throughout the day.
Starting his day in an energetic way from the Hazratbal Shrine, Mufti, accompanied by a few cabinet ministers and some officials from the different departments, while speaking to the caretakers of the shrine suddenly felt the absence of his daughter Mehbooba, who was away from the women restricted area. He repeatedly asked his ministers ‘Mehbooba should have been here’. Everybody took it casually but it seems like he was himself aware that he had ‘less time’ and that is why he wished his daughter to be ‘witness’ of his work and promises to the people.
Throughout the day, the late chief minister donning his long black coat kept on mentioning ‘urban poverty’ in the city. It is believed that he wanted rehabilitation of September 2014 flood victims on a fast track basis. Besides that, he was of the opinion that modern skills should be introduced for all artisans. “He was aware of the mass migration that has taken place in the city and he was focused on skill development as well,” says Bukhari.
“Mufti sahib was always concerned about the dying serenity of the old city. That old rich culture where life was altogether different than what it is today. And how the people themselves were keeping river Jhelum clean,” recalls Mufti Mehraj ud Din, Saddar mufti J&K, from what his father late Mufti Jalaluddin, ex-principal of Amar Singh college who retired in 1966, had once shared with him. Mufti Jalaluddin, an Arabic scholar is believed to be the mentor of late chief ministers, Syed Mir Qasim and Mufti Bahaudin.
Post-September 2014 floods, he had great concern for Jhelum as well. Mir Javed Jaffar, chief engineer flood and irrigation department, was also accompanying CM during his last tour. He repeatedly asked about the beautification of the embankments Jhelum. He was concerned for each minute thing and he even enquired about the empty iron rods erected on a bund in downtown to which Jaffar replied, “Sir, construction is still going on”.
Despite his earlier engagements with the Srinagar city, the late CM was believed to be the head of a ‘rural party’, which couldn’t manage to get a single seat in 2002 elections in Srinagar. To wash out that taboo, Mufti this time focused on the ‘development’ of Srinagar. He had instructed his private secretary to arrange a ‘tour of the city every month’. As per official sources, “Vertical colonies was his dream project, for which he wished to go for a public-private partnership. He was aware how people in old city are suffering because of small spaces.” In addition to that he had instructed his officers to start his speeches with ‘housing’ accommodation. “He was in pain to see people living in difficult situations.”
Sensing this pain late CM was himself involved in almost all developmental projects for Srinagar city. During his last tour, he was checking drawing himself besides asking the concerned officials vigorously for final dates when the projects will be ready for the general masses. He himself set some deadlines for the projects.
After Hazratbal shrine, Mufti inaugurated a community hall at historic Jamia Masjid, flyover at TRC, Khanqah- e- Muala shrine, Tomb of Gani Kashmiri at Rajouri Kadal, Imam Bara at Zadibal, Eidgah, Sports Stadia at Rajouri Kadal, Rudpora, Sangarmal City Centre, Basant Bagh Ghat.
When he was about to finish his day-long tour, Mufti seemed drained out, his lips were sealed with a white layer and he looked too weak to walk. But his daughter, then held his arms tight, and they were found walking arm-in-arm. Once he was done with his tour, he straightaway went to Nehru Guesthouse, where he attended some meetings as well.
But it was during this tour only that he developed a chest infection. Next day he was scheduled to meet the officials of LAWDA and SDA but they were cancelled as his health condition deteriorated. He was shifted to AIIMS where he breathed his last on January 6, 2016.
The hectic schedule of December 22, 2015, however, did not surprise his close aides, as it was Sayeed’s normal style of work. “From last 10 months, he worked tirelessly as if he knew he had less time. He assured follow-ups of all developmental works himself,” says Waheed Para, a political analyst in CM’s secretariat. He says that not only on Dec 22, but late CM worked like a ‘labourer’ for the last nine months “without even thinking of his health.”
Till his last tour, he was repeatedly stressed on the revival of nightlife, he wanted to give back the ‘lost’ era to Srinagarites.