On 7 January 2016, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took his last breath. News feeds since then are full of eulogies for the supposed saint, nationalist and statesman.
Every paean takes me back to that fateful month of December in 1989 when Mufti's youngest daughter Rubaiya Sayeed was kidnapped by (Yasin Malik's) Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. The nation was held to ransom for the daughter of the Union Home Minister who had taken oath just a few days ago. Bypassing the elected state government led by Farooq Abdullah, Mufti misused his power and influence to engineer the release of five dreaded terrorists. Local population in the valley and friends were confident that Rubaiya was at home or at least in a safe house where she was safe and well taken care of, all the time. This drama of hostage rescue is the watershed event in Kashmir terrorism. Encouraged by weakness of the state and central administration, terrorism took hold in the valley. General population started to believe that 'Azadi from India' and 'Pakistan with Pandit women and without the men' is just around the corner. December 1989 and January 1990 was when lakhs of Kashmiri Hindus had to leave their homes to become refugees in their own country. For me and lakhs of Kashmiri Hindus that was the last time we saw home and for that we have Mufti to thank for.
1989 was not the first time when the ugly head of communal militancy reared its head in Kashmir Valley. Political experts maintain that Mufti orchestrated the infamous 1986 Anantnaag riots in which hysterical Muslim mobs took out violent processions, desecrated and destroyed more than 40 temples, and looted the helpless Hindu population. In Mufti's constituency Brijbehara alone, two temples were looted, ancient idols stolen and broken. Kashmiri Hindus should have anticipated what was to come.
One word that comes closest to describing Kashmiri politicians in general and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed in particular, is chameleon. No, it's not a kind word. I don't intend to be kind - the pain is still raw. I call him a chameleon because he switched loyalties like clothes, seizing opportunities to promote himself and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. With subsequent stints in Democratic National Conference, Congress, and Jan Morcha and later on by launching his own People's Democratic Party he bargained for more power and more influence with each stepping stone.
He first became Chief Minister in 2002, backed by Congress on a meagre strength of 16 in an 87 member strong State Assembly. In 2008 elections, he chose to stay in the opposition even with 21 seats and in 2015 he chose to form alliance with BJP on a strength of 28. Ambition is not a bad thing, manipulating masses for one's own end is objectionable. While in opposition he engineered coups; in 1977, twice in 1986, in 1990 and in 2008; ushering the Governors' rule every time. This marginalised the democratically elected parties and sowed seeds of discord in the electorate. He founded the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999 for which he used the electoral symbol of 'green flag and pen-inkpot' of the Muslim United Front (MUF) the Jamaat-e-Islami-led conglomerate of anti-India parties.
He kept everyone happy ... happily in the dark. To the central government he played the role of a 'Nationalist' who was trying to bring 'healing touch' to the battered communities through peace and dignity. But the modus operandi of this healing touch was far from nationalist. He was a firm believer in Kashmiris' right to 'self-rule'. Ceasefire on the Pakistan border, disbanding of instruments like Special Task Force and Special Operation Group of Police, scrapping of The Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) and release of political prisoners was all part of his arsenal. He facilitated bringing the separatists leaders (read Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) to a tri-partite political dialogue with India and Pakistan. He recommended free trade and travel between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied J&K. His latest preposterous proposal was that the people of Kashmir should be allowed to transact their business in the Indian as well as the Pakistani currency. Looking at these steps in totality - these were ploys to weaken the State influence in Law and Order issues and dilute the army control on borders. Making borders with Pakistan porous, Mufti's strategy was to pave the way for uninterrupted smuggling of currency, arms and drugs as well as infiltration of terrorists.
Kind obituaries are flooding in about the greatness of the man now dead. People are calling him a statesman and a visionary. He surrounded himself with wise people and those wise people (often Kashmiri Pandits) must undoubtedly believe in his secular and nationalist credentials. As a common person who never broke bread with him, I am entitled to judge his greatness by his impact and legacy. I will remember the man as someone who stepped on corpses for his political ambition. For this I cannot wish him peace in afterlife.
Cse Khoda rut karun, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, magar kari na zaahn. May the almighty look after you but I seriously doubt He will.