Mufti Sahib knew how to live with wounds, hide the pain and pursue his agenda unstoppably.
By Danish Iqbal
I didn’t have the fortune to see Mufti Sahib in my life as I was too young to be conscious of political people nonetheless Mufti Mohammad Sayed was the one who I could feel was a politician with an indomitable agenda pursued through the medium of politics. Mufti was of a different breed politics – one where one has an unflinching belief in the idea of change and transformation. Influenced early on as a part of his intellectual evolution by socialism during his years of education at Aligarh , Mufti realized through long and arduous thinking process – that politics can be anything but preaching of staunch idealism instead for him politics was an art of making a possibility sometimes even if that would mean through hard negotiations. He was a politician by passion, lawyer by training, trouble shooter in engagement and a farsighted thinker in dreaming of a peaceful, prosperous and self-reliant Jammu and Kashmir.
While the tallest among tall leaders surrendered before the complexity of India- Pakistan relationship , it was Mufti who always looked like an eternal optimist on the question. Of course he had the fair idea of history and understood India and Pakistan through the civilizational perspective and knew well about the limits of reconciliation but as a politician he would just leave that luxury for the abstruse academic debaters. He was after all a believer and a doer who saw possibilities when many of his colleagues would give up. It was this in utopian Mufti Mohammad Sayed which would never let him give up or give anyone up in his party on creating a just and lasting peace between India and Pakistan. Mufti was a contrarian to the core as he did not believe the common notion that India Pakistan conflict is a child of partition. He did not believe partition was solely responsible for the intractability of Kashmir conflict. He understood better than any first rank scholars the depth of Hindu-Muslim incompatibility and this is what made him conclude that biggest breakthroughs in conflicts can’t be found through an absolute solutions but a regular management of issues while accepting all the fragilities. He believed Kashmir could be used not only for creating peace in south Asia but could be made model for reference in solving rest of Muslim issues in the world. And the solution in his mind was through investment into a variety of sectors like education, culture and youth engagement. India Pakistan peace was Mufti’s ultimate dream for which he could put in any effort. That’s why people saw him motivating Atal Bihari Vajpeyi to open roads to Pakistan and making 2003-2005 the brightest patch in India-Pakistan peace history. Mufti could foresee the grand economic engagement with Europe through Pakistan decades before China would start it in the form of belt and road initiative. At a time when the certainty of B&RI as a part of CPEC is still under question keeping the strained US-China relationship in view, this part of the world probably would need a peacenik like Mufti Sahib who could champion the cause of economics before the big wide world.
Mufti Sahib’s departure on 7th of January 2016, left a gaping void as big in J&K’s administration as it left in his party and state of J&K’s politics at large. That day, the secretariat in Jammu wore a grim look as the elephant in the room had gone never to return. Mufti Sahib was equally best at governance as he was as politician. He was an ardent worker- read files like an efficient bureaucrat, took decisions like a statesmanship- with an unimaginable ease in a crystal clear fashion. The speed of his disposal, the long-sightedness in his actions with an inimitable smile on his face –Mufti Sahib’s gravitas would make bureaucrats often go gaga! His mantra in administration was simple and broadly based on three things – accessibility to government, timely resolution of issues and public delivery through every department. He clearly distinguished between aspirations and grievances. Grievances while he redressed through governance, aspirations he tried to fight through his tallest political stature in the country. Mufti Sahib was never weighed in by his status, never bothered about government protocol. Infact, in one of his first weeks after assuming office in 2015, he ordered the deputy commissioner and senior superintendent of police of Budgam not to come to the airport to receive him as was the protocol established thus disentangling a complex web of bureaucratic formalities. Mufti Sahib was light and simple , addicted to his job.
Mufti Sahib’s Persona
Mufti was an extra-ordinary human by all standards. I don’t think he was archetype Kashmiri but was rooted in Kashmiri socio-religious identity and a fearless one at that. He was a wanderer in real sense for whom narrow political divisions did not matter and he would think above all of them. He was a rootless universal whose passion was to uplift, empower, emancipate through institutions that for him were possible by the direct straightforward politics that he believed and pursued. His decision of allying with BJP was a well thought out decision. I don’t agree with the popular view that he undermined Modi or the power of rising Hindu right but I think he was willing to take that risk. While most of the top PDP brass was in shock at his decision, it was Mufti who was cool and composed – reflecting the demeanor of a fighter- readying to take up the most difficult challenge of his life. I think his eyes were wide open to the possibilities of such a decision but he prepared to take the shot. It was a statesmanly decision to engage with the country’s most extremist political party. Prime Minister Modi also moved a step forward and saw an opportunity in Mufti Sahib and allowed the government to function smoothly. As Mufti was beginning to realize his project- he fell ill and passed away. Leaving the giant sized project to pygmies compared to him. I think the weight was not tolerated and the project began to annihilate towards the end of coalition in 2018. Mufti’s absence left a deep void in J&K. State withered after his passing away and it was the absence of a leader of his stature which led the Prime Minister probably to think that there is no stakeholder left in Kashmir and what was eventually decided was what happened on the fateful august 5th, 2019. I have absolutely no doubt that Mufti’s decision did delay the August 5th by four years.
His Economic and Political Vision
Mufti was a great believer in the power of economics. I am not sure whether he had changed into a free market proponent but he did want to give fillip to local industries mainly related to horticulture and tourism. The high density orchard which he inaugurated in Kokernag was not just a piece of orchard for him but a clear break from government jobs to create an entrepreneurial state envisioned through the state’s fascinating sectors from horticulture to tourism, from dairy to sheep farming. At the core of his heart were young women who he wanted to have an unfettered access to modern life, economic independence. He was no reader of British feminist movements although his peer instincts made Mufti a sage like figure attaining knowledge and exposure by his deep lust for change. It was the feminist in Mufti which young women of state miss most about him
Mufti made an unprecedented outreach to Kashmiri Pandiths in the last thirty years. In Bombay where he had gone to meet them, he said to a large group of KPs, “ Wherever you have gone , you have made space for yourselves- so it’s not you who need us but we who need you !, the state is incomplete with your absence”. Thus in one line Mufti encapsulated his Kashmiriyat in him and the leader like spine to say in the most unequivocal words. He had infact laid out a comprehensive plan for their return but that was not to be as were most his dream projects. For all of us in the PDP family- Mufti Sahib was too much needed , too much admired , too much loved, to just become a mere memory yet. Rest in peace, Mufti Sahib.
The writer works in the media cell of J&K-PDP and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org