Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Tauseef Mustaf/AFP

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Prakash Singh/AFP

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Rouf Bhat/AFP

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Getty Images

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K

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Photo: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP

MUFTI OBIT

Mufti: the leader who forged J&K's political middle-ground

Catch Team @catchnews

When Vishwanath Pratap Singh's Jan Morcha government fell in 1992, following the withdrawal of support by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the then home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was thrown into sudden political wilderness.

He rejoined the Congress for a while, but didn't enjoy the confidence of the party High Command. He returned to Jammu and Kashmir as a Congress leader and pushed his widowed daughter Mehbooba Mufti into politics. She fought the 1996 Assembly polls - the first to be held after the outbreak of militancy in 1989 - on a Congress ticket and won.

In 1999, the Mufti formed the People's Democratic Party, letting Mehbooba take centre stage while biding his time on the sidelines. But nobody set much store by the party with Mufti at its helm. He had no visible constituency, lacked charisma and was seen too pro-New Delhi to be accepted in Valley with its conflict-ridden politics steeped in separatism and sub-nationalism.

Power in the state

Three years on, however, Mufti headed a PDP-Congress coalition government. In the landmark 2002 Assembly polls, PDP won 16 seats, against all expectations. This upstaged the National Conference's (NC) decades-old dominance, which was reduced to 28 seats from an unprecedented 54 in 1996.

Though it was Mehbooba had made the electoral performance possible through her tireless grassroots campaign and an appeal to the Valley's endemic separatist sentiment, Mufti worked the networks in New Delhi to stitch up an alliance with the Congress to form the Valley's first democratically elected non-NC government in over 30 years.

In the following three years, as chief minister, Mufti incarnated a politician who hewed ever closer to Kashmiri sub-nationalism, while retaining his identity as a mainstream leader. In the process, he created a new politics which subsumed the state's mainstream-separatist divide. The clever blend which significantly expanded the party's political appeal soon came to be known as "soft-separatism".

Mufti made a redeeming difference to the governance, too, by ensuring a more effective delivery of government services: power supply improved, damaged infrastructure was restored and the notorious state task force of the J&K Police responsible for human rights excesses was reigned in.

His government ensured an uninterrupted electricity supply through the fasting month of Ramadhan which created a lot of goodwill in a place where at the time the supply had reduced to a trickle

A new politics

But Mufti's real achievement was in realising the wider possibilities of politics. He widened the scope of his political agenda to accommodate the broad features of the separatist objective. The party coined a vocabulary to simultaneously echo and replace the separatist discourse. It started talking about self-rule, demilitarisation, cross-LoC (Line of Control) mechanisms, etc, something separatists championed.

The party's self-rule document, released in the run up to the 2008 Assembly polls, calls for a drastic renegotiation of Kashmir's relations with New Delhi in a broader politico-economic framework involving Pakistan.

The document seeks a constitutional restructuring, dual currency, roll back of central laws applicable to the state, an elected governor, even the renaming of the titles of governor and the chief minister as sadar-i-riyasat (president) and the prime minister, respectively.

The centrepiece of the governance structure under self-rule is the cross-border institution of Regional Council of Greater Jammu and Kashmir. This council, the document says, will replace the existing Upper House of the Legislative Council and will have members from J&K and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as well as the nominees of the Government of India and Pakistan.

"Kashmir enjoys a special position in the India's Constitution as per the terms of the state's accession. We have a separate constitution and a separate flag," Mufti said in October 2008 while releasing the self-rule document. "We want this special status to be strengthened. We want that the President of India should have no authority to dissolve Kashmir assembly. We want an elected governor who is a state subject".

Besides, under Mufti, the party in no uncertain terms expressed its admiration for Pervez Musharraf's four-point proposals on the state. The then productive peace process between India and Pakistan came handy for him.

Unlike Farooq Abdullah, who opposed India-Pak talks before him, Mufti played along and supported the engagement. His party also spoke the terminology of the Musharraf's proposals - self-governance, demilitarisation, joint mechanism between the divided Kashmirs - in a clever ploy to be on the right side of history, should the then promising Indo-Pak engagement culminate into a breakthrough on the state.

Even though his occasional lurches towards trademark separatist rhetoric made New Delhi uncomfortable, the political brinkmanship helped PDP pander to its core vote bank in Kashmir so cleverly appropriated from the thrall of the separatists.

The alliance of necessity

But his ideologically antithetical alliance with the BJP didn't help his carefully contrived image. Forged out of a sense of necessity than conviction, the alliance severely circumscribed Mufti's ability to play his natural middle-of-the-ground politics.

He was forced to strictly limit himself within the confines of the mainstream politics. So, for once, he was unable to make the mandatory nods to the political conflict in the state and press the urgent need to resolve it. There was no aggressive talk of the competing formulae and the visions of a Kashmir solution. It was more about bijli, sadak, paani, naukri and the taraqqi (electricity, roads, water, jobs and development).

Over the past 10 months of this coalition, Mufti thus looked out of place - tame, passive and, as his founding colleague in PDP Muzaffar Hussain Beigh described it, "caged". He seemed withdrawn, haggard and not in command. His initial bid to stake out a larger role for himself hoping Modi to change into Vajpayee was rebuffed by BJP.

But tragically, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi echoed Vajpayee by making a dramatic stopover in Lahore to greet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Mufti was flown to AIIMS and admitted in the intensive care unit.

He did issue statements from the hospital hailing the Modi visit and also one condemning the Pathankot attack. And now he will not be there to witness the course of the future engagement between the two countries.

Catch Team

Catch Team @catchnews