Mufti Mohammad Sayeed: A Stalwart of Jammu And Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was seen as a visionary leader, a political strategist who handled  sensitive political situations and  equations very aptly in a political career  spanning nearly six decades not only  at the state level but also at the national level.

Sayeed became the Chief Minister of the J&K for the first time in 2002 with just 16 seats in the State Assembly, in alliance with Congress. He returned to the top post for the second time  after bringing the PDP- Bharatiya Janata Party coalition in 2015.Sayeed  took oath on March 1, 2015.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the founder of the PDP, was born in the south Kashmir town of Bijbeharan in 1936 in a respected family of Muslim preachers .

Sayeed is an alumnus of SP College in Srinagar and Aligarh Muslim University from where he obtained a degree in Law and Arab History respectively. Sayeed started his electoral journey from his birth place in 1962 winning the seat under DNC and retaining it in 1967.
Sayeed ,a staunch Congressman for most of his political life and played a key role in establishing the Congress party in Kashmir against the tide of the regional National Conference that  under Kashmir’s legendary leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.

Sayeed joined hands with anti-corruption crusader V P Singh in 1989 Lok Sabha elections to rise to the post of Union Home Minister.

In 1972, he became a Cabinet Minster and also Congress party’s leader in the Legislative Council. In 1975 he was made the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and president of Pradesh Congress but lost the next two elections. He joined Rajiv Gandhi’s Government at the Centre in 1986 as Union Minister for Tourism. A year later, he resigned .

After the death of Sadiq in 1971, Sayeed joined the cabinet of chief minister Syed Mir Qasim. He was given the public works portfolio and attempted to take the benefits of development to rural Kashmir.

Like outgoing chief minister Farooq Abdullah, Sayeed was a keen golfer in his youth.

The high-points in the political journey of Sayeed, who would have turned 80 on January 12, was his being catapulted to the chair of free India’s first Muslim Home Minister in 1989 and, years later, becoming the Chief Minister of the restive state for a second time in 2015, heading a coalition with BJP, which had its first brush with power in the only Muslim-majority state.

Sayeed’s stint in the Home Ministry, at a time when militancy had begun to rear its ugly head in his home state, would, however, be most remembered for the kidnapping of his third daughter Rubaiya by JKLF. The militants demanded freeing five of their comrades in exchange for Rubaiya’s freedom and let her off only after their demand had been met.

The kidnapping and subsequent release of the militants, according to Sayeed’s rivals, projected India as a “soft state” for the first time.

Sayeed  joined the Democratic National Conference of G M Sadiq in the late 1950s.

Sadiq, recognising the potential of the young lawyer, appointed him as the District Convenor of the party. In 1962, Sayeed was elected to the state assembly from Bijbehara, the seat which he retained five years later. He was appointed a Deputy Minister by Sadiq, who by then had become Chief Minister.

However, he fell out with the party a few years later andHowever, he fell out with the party a few years later and joined the Indian National Congress, a courageous but risky decision at that time given the unstinted support of most Kashmiris to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who was in jail.

Considered an astute organiser and administrator, Sayeed ensured that Congress not only got a foothold in the Valley but created pockets of staunch support for the party. In 1972, he became a Cabinet Minster and also Congress party’s leader in the Legislative Council. He was made the state Congress president a couple of years later. As he rapidly grew in stature, Sayeed saw himself as the next Chief Minister of the state. However, all hopes he might have harboured of occupying the hot seat were dashed when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi entered into an accord with Abdullah and facilitated his return as chief minister after a hiatus of 11 years, much against the wishes of Congress workers in general and Sayeed in particular.

Not the one to give up easily, Sayeed engineered a coup of sorts ahead of the 1977 elections as Congress withdrew support to Abdullah’s government. The aim was to have a Congress Chief Minister – which would have been Sayeed – in place for elections to control the official machinery but Governor L K Jha brought the state under Governor’s rule.

It was the first time that Jammu and Kashmir was brought under Governor’s rule. Sayeed would later play a role in imposition of Governor’s rule on all five occasions during his epic political career.

The results of 1977 Assembly elections all but killed Sayeed’s dream of becoming the Chief Minister as Abdullah’s National Conference came to power with a thumping majority. Sayeed was a key player when Governor’s Rule was imposed for the second time in the state in 1986.

The National Conference and Abdullahs have privately held the wily man from south Kashmir responsible for the intra-party rebellion against and subsequent dismissal of Farooq Abdullah by Governor Jagmohan in 1984. The power tussle between Farooq and his brother-in-law G M Shah led to a permanent estrangement and also saw the latter becoming Chief Minister with Congress support.

However, Shah’s tenure also did not last long as Congress headed by Sayeed withdrew support to his government leading to imposition of Governor’s rule for the second time in 1986.

When militancy broke out in Kashmir and Sayeed became theWhen militancy broke out in Kashmir and Sayeed became the Union Home Minister, he appointed appointed Jagmohan as Governor despite protests by Farooq Abdullah, who resigned and the state came under Governor’s rule again in 1990.

While the state was brought under Governor’s Rule in 2002 and 2014 due to Sayeed taking time to thrash out coalition dispensations with Congress and BJP respectively, it was his manoeuvrings that saw a democratically elected government give way to administration by the Raj Bhawan in 2008. Sayeed’s PDP withdrew support to coalition government headed by Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad in July 2008 following widespread protests over the Amarnath land allotment row that pitted the people of Hindu-dominated Jammu region against the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. Sayeed’s stay in national politics was relatively short.

As Farooq Abdullah warmed up to Rajiv Gandhi in 1986 to ensure his return as Chief Minister ahead of the 1987 assembly elections, Sayeed was shifted to Delhi and appointed as the Union Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation. He quit as tourism minister in 1987 and later co-founded Jan Morcha with V P Singh, who had quit Congress over the Bofors scandal. In 1989, he won the Lok Sabha election from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh as a Janata Dal candidate and became Union Home Minister in V P Singh’s cabinet. Towards the end of P V Narsimha Rao’s tenure as Prime Minister, Sayeed returned to Congress fold with daughter Mehbooba Mufti. Sayeed won the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in 1998 general elections, while Mehbooba became Congress MLA in 1996.

With his dream of becoming Chief Minister of the state still unfulfilled, Sayeed parted ways with Congress and floated a regional outfit – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – in 1999. Some of the things associated with the PDP are considered exemplary of Sayeed’s political genius.

The green flag and pen-inkpot election symbol of the PDP were lifted straight from the Muslim United Front (MUF) – the Jamaat-e-Islami-led conglomerate of anti-National Conference, anti-Congress parties in 1987 assembly elections. Though MUF received wide public support in the Valley, it had only four seats to show. Its symbols found ready acceptance in the Valley as PDP made significant gains and won 16 seats in the 2002 assembly elections. Although way short of majority in the 87-member house, Sayeed managed to bargain with Congress and secure a three-year stint as the Chief Minister on rotational basis.

Sayeed was sworn in as the ninth chief minister of state on November 2, 2002 – fulfilling a long-standing dream. The wily politician, who enjoyed good relations across the political spectrum at national level, saw his PDP grow to 21 seats in 2008 Assembly elections but surprisingly decided to sit in the opposition.

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