Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is seen as someone who dared to stand against the all-powerful Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in the 1970s. Mufti despised Sheikh’s politics. Mufti believed that Kashmir’s future lay with India and no other country. In the past eleven months, however, Mufti hailed Sheikh for supporting accession with India and described him as "the tallest leader of his time".
Mufti defied Indira Gandhi, when she asked him to support Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah after Mirza Afzal Beg-Parthasarthi accord of 1974-75. In keeping with the accord, Sheikh replaced Congress chief minister Mir Qasim, which Mufti vehemently opposed. He also opposed the Rajiv Gandhi-Farooq Abdullah accord calling it disastrous.
In his long political career, which started in the 1950s, Mufti was always seen as Delhi’s man in Kashmir. But the politics Mufti peddled since 1999, when PDP was formed, gave his party deep inroads into the Kashmir Valley. In mid-2002, Mufti made PDP win 16 seats and formed a government in coalition with the Congress, stunning the grand old National Conference, which the PDP has now pushed to the margins.
In 2002, Mufti became chief minister of the PDP-Congress coalition government and the first thing he did was to order the massive demolition of illegal structures across the Kashmir Valley to enforce the writ of the state.
The PDP’s politics revolves around three years of Mufti’s rule from mid-2002 to mid-2005. In those three years, Mufti took administrative decisions like opening up the Mughal Road, which links the Valley with Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu; he called for talks with Pakistan; insisted on opening road links between Kashmir and PoK; created an aura around the battle of ideas and healing touch policies.
The PDP would describe the “battle of ideas” as the core of its ideology - it wanted to give space to every political thought to express itself, including the separatist thought. Separatists call PDP’s battle of ideas soft counter-insurgency. Mufti's finance minister had called for a common currency for Kashmir and PoK, and his advisors talked about having a joint council. The PDP’s self rule envisages a joint council and an upper house.
Mufti’s policies paid huge dividends to the PDP. In spite of National Conference’s consistent accusation that Mufti as Union home minister in 1990s extended the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to Jammu and Kashmir and that his PDP was responsible for the large scale killings of militants in south Kashmir during its three-year rule, the NC failed to stop PDP’s surge.
That is why before March 2015, when Mufti decided to have a coalition with the right-wing Bharatiya Janta Party, the 79-year-old leader was known among his admirers and foes in the mainstream political circles in Jammu and Kashmir for his political maturity and tactical silence. For separatists, he was someone they referred to as Indian by conviction.
After Omar Abdullah's dismal performance of six years, which saw its worst phase in 2010 when 112 teenagers were killed in police and security forces firing in six-month long protests, Mufti expected his party would form the government on its own in 2015. But the Modi wave halted Mufti’s run at Banihal tunnel. Even Omar Abdullah was shocked when he saw his party winning 12 seats and the PDP stopping at 28.
Soon after coming to power in March 2015, Mufti tried to implement his battle of ideas and released separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat. But this time he found the policy had no takers in New Delhi. He had to arrest Masarat Alam Bhat again. The hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani continues to be under house arrest and there continue to be curbs on the movement of other separatists. The separatists were the happiest when they saw the BJP tearing apart Mufti’s "battle of ideas" policy.
After his swearing-in, Mufti called for talks with Pakistan and thanked militants for smooth elections in J&K, which was seen by New Delhi as a betrayal and he was described as a pro-Pakistan chief minister. Nothing could have been more bizarre than this. Even his advocacy for “dialogue with Pakistan for the larger good of Jammu and Kashmir” was rejected by the NDA government at the highest level when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address in Srinagar on November 7, said he doesn’t need advice on Kashmir.
Mufti’s close aides say that even though he had allied with the BJP after contesting the Assembly elections against it - a move that went against the popular opinion in Kashmir - Mufti chose the alliance as he believed in the integration of the state. He didn’t want to go against the mandate given by the people of Jammu to the BJP. They say it was a conscious decision.
His death did not see a long procession in the streets of Srinagar. The quiet funeral procession, especially in the capital city, is apparently seen as a reflection of the latent anger of the people against the PDP’s decision of going with the BJP.
The late chief minister's close aide and political advisor Amitabh Mattoo, says that, in these eleven months, New Delhi didn’t treat Mufti the way it should have treated an “outstanding leader”. “He was an outstanding leader. He should have been treated the way you treat an outstanding leader. His death is not a loss to Jammu and Kashmir, but to the country,” says Mattoo, who adds that Mufti was a true, secular democrat. He calls him Pandit, Peer and Padshah. That is why Mufti chose Dara Shikoh Bagh, built in the 1640 AD by Dara Shikoh, eldest son of emperor Shah Jahan, as his resting place.