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J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed Passes Away, State’s Political Future Unsure

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News by YKA staff:

mufti mohammad sayeed
Source: Reuters

Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passed away at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences Thursday (7th January). He was 79 and suffering from sepsis (an infection gone toxic that can turn fatal) and pneumonia. He was the top leader of the ruling People’s Democratic Party in the state, a rival of the National Conference.

His sudden death is likely to have a profound influence on the politics of the troubled state.

Mufti had managed to establish cordial relations with all the stakeholders in the state, allowing him to run the government in a largely smooth manner. He was known to have good contacts with New Delhi and even the Indian army whose writ runs in the state which remains under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

His daughter Mehbooba Mufti is likely to take charge following the demise of her father. However, the BJP, which is a partner of the PDP, is yet to make known its assent to her ascension.

From Obscure Lawyer To India’s Only Muslim Home Minister

From an obscure lawyer to becoming the only Muslim Home Minister the country has seen so far, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed carved a niche for himself in national and Jammu and Kashmir politics with the craftiness and unwavering focus of the avid bridge player he was.

In a political career spanning nearly six decades, Sayeed emerged as a rival power centre to the mighty Abdullahs of the NC, always playing his cards close to the chest, while making friends with parties following conflicting ideologies to suit his political agenda.

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. The PDP won 28 seats in the assembly elections whereas the BJP won 25 seats, with their alliance safely crossing the majority mark in the 87-member assembly.

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 Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. 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.

Born in Baba Mohalla of Bijbehara in Anantnag district on January 12, 1936, Sayeed had his early education at a local school and graduated from S P College, Srinagar. He went on to obtain a law degree and Master’s degree in Arab History from Aligarh Muslim University.

Sayeed cut his political teeth early, having 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.

Sayeed who took charge of the state on March 1 last year breathed his last this morning after remaining on ventilator for the past few days.
He was flown from Srinagar in a special plane on December 24 and admitted to the AIIMS. During hospitalisation his platelets had dropped dangerously, doctors said.

He is the second J&K Chief Minister to die in office, the first one being Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who died on September 8, 1982. Sayeed is survived by his wife, three daughters and a son.

Jammu and Kashmir government has declared a seven-day mourning and holiday today. Flags will be flown at half-mast.

The mortal remains of the Chief Minister would be flown to Srinagar where the body will be kept for people to pay homage. He is likely be buried in his ancestral village Bijbehera in South Kashmir, about 48 km from Srinagar.

Condoling the death of Sayeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it left a huge void in the nation and that the leader who provided a healing touch would be missed. “What stood out about Mufti Sahab was his statesmanship. In his long political journey he won many admirers across the political spectrum,” Modi said.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh will be flying to Srinagar to attend Sayeed’s funeral.

An Unclear Political Future For Jammu And Kashmir

Mehbooba Mufti, chief of People's Democratic Party (PDP), addresses a news conference in Srinagar June 28, 2008. Mehbooba announced the withdrawal of her party's support from the coalition government, over a decision to transfer forest land to a Hindu shrine trust in Indian-administered Kashmir. Authorities transferred nearly 100 acres (40 hectares) of forest land in Kashmir to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, a Hindu trust, to erect temporary shelters for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who annually trek to a cave shrine in the mountains.  REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli     (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR) - RTX7FJ1
Mehbooba Mufti. Source: REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

If Mehbooba Mufti takes over, as expected, she will be the first woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. “As far as PDP is concerned, we are unanimous that Mehbooba shall succeed Mufti Sahib,” senior PDP leader and Lok Sabha member Muzaffar Hussain Baig told reporters.

Although no one from the BJP has so far opposed Mehbooba’s elevation, a final decision on the issue will be taken by the party high command.

Mehbooba, who has assumed an image of a fiery leader, started her political career in 1996 by joining Congress along with her father. The 56-year-old is also president of the PDP. She won her first Assembly election as a Congress candidate from her home segment of Bijbehara.

The Budget session of the J&K assembly will convene on January 18. This means the BJP will have to make up its mind quickly if it is amenable to Mehbooba Mufti taking over as the next CM. The party had vacillated for a long time earlier when presented with the opportunity to form a government in the state.

A quick decision by the BJP will help the state recover soon from the loss of a wily and able politician who had managed the unthinkable – an alliance with the right-wing BJP in a Muslim majority state. With insurgency raising its head again in the state, the state government cannot stay in a state of limbo. At the same time, if Mehbooba takes over, the task will be cut out for her – to manage the alliance as well as her father did while working for the development of the state and in the final analysis, work with India and Pakistan to find a solution to the issue of Kashmir’s future.

(with inputs from PTI)

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