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Giant killer from a troubled state

Jammu and Kashmir's (J&K) new chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's political career epitomises the English saying that "consistency is the virtue of lesser minds."

If any Indian politician worth the name has been inconsistent—even erratic—it has been Sayeed. Yet, he has thrived on it, so to say.

The man, who carries the stigma of having indirectly helped militancy in the Valley of Kashmir by releasing several jailed terrorists in exchange for his daughter's release who had been kidnapped by the terrorists, is going to run J&K for the next three years.

The stigma is particularly strong as he struck the bargain with the terrorists while he was India's federal home minister, responsible for law and order, in VP Singh's government in 1990. He was also the first (and, so far, the last) Muslim federal home minister in the history of independent India.

Sayeed, who comes from a family of traditional clerics in Bijbehara town of South Kashmir, had a checkered political career, frequently changing parties over the last five decades.

He joined National Conference in 1950, and in 1959 became a member of the Democratic National Conference. At 26 he became member of J&K legislative assembly of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in 1962, representing Bijbehara constituency. He remained an MLA (member of legislative assembly) till 1972.

From 1972 to 1977 he was an MLC (member of legislative council) in J&K. Sayeed was deputy minister of agriculture and cooperation in GM Sadiq government, and minister of works and urban development in Mir Qasim government in J&K.

On the merger of his party with Congress, he became a Congressman in 1965. He went on to become the state president of the party in 1975, and held that position till 1987.

An avowed adversary of the powerful Abdullah dynasty, he withdrew Congress support to Sheikh Abdullah's (previous chief minister Farooque Abdullah's father) government in 1977, and staked his own claim on the basis of Congress Party's overwhelming majority.

However, Sheikh Abdullah precipitated governor's rule, which brought Sayeed into a sharper confrontation with the Sheikh. He took on the dynasty once again in 1984, forcing Farooq Abdullah out of power by supporting National Conference rebels under GM Shah's leadership. 

Farooq Abdullah sees him as the man responsible for the dismissal of his government in 1984 and 1990. This time round, Sayeed chased the Abdullahs from their stronghold, the Ganderbal constituency.

In Ganderbal the third generation of Abdullahs – Omar Abdullah, chief ministerial candidate and NC president – was defeated by PDP. It is not for nothing that Sayeed has got the reputation of a giant killer.

In 1989, Sayeed left Congress to join Janata Dal of VP Singh. Winning his Muzaffarnagar parliamentary seat in 1989, he became the federal home minister. One of the mistakes he committed in this period was his approval of Jagmohan as the governor of J&K. 

Jagmohan turned out to be an anti-Muslim, Hindu hardliner, who with his antipathy for Muslims, contributed to the aggravation of the Kashmir situation. He did not desist from firing upon even funeral processions.

Jagmohan, instead of finding a solution to the Kashmir issue, adopted strong repressive measures. He is also reported to have advised Kashmiri Pandit leaders to go out of the valley for "sometime," so that he could crack down heavily on the Muslim population without worrying about hitting Kashmiri Pandits. Since then the Pandits have never been able to return, nor have Jagmohn's repressive measures solved the problem.

Although Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came third in terms of winning assembly seats, pushing behind NC and Congress, his candidates won some of the most strategic seats that could have a bearing on the future of insurgency.

Sayeed always had grassroots contacts. In 1999, he launched PDP as an alternative to the NC, which had joined the coalition led by the anti-Muslim BJP at Centre.

His daughter, Mehbooba, emerged as an important leader in her own right over the last few years. With two Muftis putting their heads together to solve the Valley's problems, there is some hope for relief coming to the people hurt by militants and the military.

To begin with, he has started working for withdrawal of special operations group from the Valley as they are notorious for their human rights breaches. He has also said a firm "no" to the draconian POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) within J&K.

With his grassroots contacts and a more favourable image as a pro-Kashmiri leader, he should be able to wean the people from militancy. Hopefully.

¯ MG News desk

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