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Mohammad Sayeed Malik
Mufti's fateful links
It is a strange coincidence that links almost every major twist and turn in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's four-decade long political career to his equation -- or non-equation -- with two Indian political dynasties -- the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the Sheikh Abdullah dynasty.
Indira Gandhi detected an aggressive streak in the Mufti in 1975 and chose him to lead the Congress party in Jammu and Kashmir under trying conditions. The Congress had to abdicate power that year to make way for Sheikh Abdullah's return to the national mainstream. The Mufti amply vindicated her confidence in him by virtually raising brick-by-brick the edifice of the Congress and building it up as a potent force, against very heavy odds.
It was no easy task to survive -- and give a fight -- to the mighty 'Sher-e-Kashmir' who was a ruthless opponent known for his autocratic temper. Sheikh Abdullah used to describe Congressmen as 'gandi nali ke keede (worms in the gutter).' The Mufti led the Congress in Kashmir from the front and saw it striking roots in inhospitable terrain dominated by a vicious political circle of secessionism and isolationism.
After the Sheikh's death in 1982, Dr Farooq Abdullah made no secret of his intense hatred for the Mufti, largely because of the latter's unconcealed contempt for the Abdullah family's incorrigible tendency to monopolise the local political spectrum. Egged on by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, the Mufti brought about the downfall of the Farooq-led National Conference government in July 1984. This development was accompanied by a split in the Abdullah family with Farooq's brother-in-law G M Shah breaking away along with his wife, Farooq's eldest sister.
When Rajiv came to the helm after Indira Gandhi's assassination he sought to rebuild bridges with Kashmir's ruling dynasty. Rajiv shifted the Mufti to Delhi to make things easy for Farooq in Kashmir. Delhi's 'cage' did not suit the Mufti who quit as tourism minister in 1987, left the Congress to join V P Singh's Jan Morcha which led to his elevation as Union home minister two years later.
Delhi's perception of the Abdullah dynasty's role in Kashmir determined the Mufti's political bearings at the national level both, when he was in the Congress and when he was out of it. His perception fully squared up with that of Indira Gandhi but clashed with that of Rajiv.
The same factor determined the nature of the Mufti's relationship with succeeding non-Congress regimes at the Centre. He resigned his Janata Dal Rajya Sabha seat when the then National Front government headed by H D Deve Gowda sought to 'appease' Farooq Abdullah. He rejoined the Congress under P V Narasimha Rao but this reunion turned out to be shortlived. When Sonia Gandhi took charge of the Congress he found himself left out in the cold.
Though he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Anantnag in 1996 on a Congress ticket and his daughter Mehbooba won the Bijbehara assembly seat on the party ticket they felt they were being ignored by the high command. The Mufti again suspected a pro-Farooq tilt behind this treatment. Right or wrong, he reacted in familiar style. The father and daughter resigned from the Congress in 1999, Mehbooba giving up her assembly seat half way through her six-year term, to float the People's Democratic Party.
As the Mufti's luck would have it, he became instrumental in not only wresting power from the second and third generation of the Abdullah dynasty but also went on to receive decisive support from the Nehru-Gandhi family in fulfilling his life's ambition to put the stamp of popular legitimacy to his leadership in Kashmir.
His sense of vindication as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir should give him far greater satisfaction than when he was elevated to the coveted post of home minister 12 years ago, a very great honour for a Kashmiri Muslim. Time alone will tell how his equation/non-equation in future with the two dynasties will influence the course of his political fortunes. But there is no running away for him from the destined linkage.
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