A man on the other side


January 13, 2016

Kashmiri mourners carry the coffin of the late chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at his residence in Srinagar on Thursday (AFP)

When Mufti Mohammad Sayeed attended funerals of Kashmiri militants killed by security forces, many saw him as a supporter of separatism. Yet, if anyone understood the language of peace, it was him. On his death, Kashmir will miss its healer

When an individual turns violent, there is always the local mind healer or psychiatrist to deal with the problem. But, when it comes to the question of a large mass of people indulging in violence, it is always somebody with remarkable political ingenuity who can deal with such a situation. The uniqueness about the way such a person works around to curb violence and nudge the disgruntled elements towards thinking of a peaceful solution to their problems is something that is rarely noticed when it is actually happening.

It appears, in hindsight, that this was just the way it happened in the case of a man called Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti. When they went about attending the funerals of those militants who lost their lives in gun battles with the security forces more than a decade ago, it was generally presumed by all that they were supporting the separatists who were hand-in-glove with elements in the enemy camp, which in other words means, Pakistan.

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The suspicion remained for a long time until everyone realised that the father-daughter duo were playing a different game. The Mufti was building his regional outfit called the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after getting disillusioned with the Congress party which he worked for as an ordinary grass root level worker. He, obviously, had the gumption to build the Congress to a point where he could fight against even the most powerful of leaders of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah. The fight later on moved to fighting the Abdullah family, Farooq Abdullah and, now, Omar Abdullah.

Regardless of the caps he wore, either as a Congressman or as the PDP chief, the singular motto he appeared to adhere to was to carry all sections of the people with him. It was this characteristic in him that made him provide that ‘healing touch’ to the people besieged by insurgency that made the difference to the politics of the crucial border state which Pakistan has wanted to usurp in a do-or-die battle over many decades. By putting balm on the emotional wounds of the distraught families of those killed, the Mufti was also delivering a message to the security forces then that it would be worthwhile if they, too, preserved their ammunition.

The message was of non-violence. During the 2002-05 phase, when he was the chief minister, his policy complimented the one initiated by A B Vajpayee, the then prime minister who went about with his policy of peace with the neighbour despite being violated by the Kargil war. But, his effort to reach out to all sections of the people did not end once he had attained political power. He initiated administrative measures to ensure a reintegration programme and also initiated the devolution of powers to the hill councils for the Ladakh, Leh and Kargil regions.

Democratic institutions have a process of resolving political demands and curbing, if not  removing, unrest of any kind. It was such an approach that made him also curb militancy.

By opening the roads between the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir, trade improved and the overall result was that it reduced militancy to the minimum. It was a similar approach that made him bridge the gap between the separatists and the democratic process, again, in the run up to the assembly elections that brought him to power last year.

So, after playing a soft separatist line, again, the father-daughter duo gained the support of the people in the Kashmir valley region. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, secured a majority of the seats in the Jammu region. It was at this stage that the Mufti did something that shocked everyone. He joined hands with the BJP because it was his belief that with the two regions in two opposing camps would, perhaps, divide the state and cause problems that were best avoided given that geography did not favour the state or the nation.

It is true that he lost a lot of support because he had done the impossible in the history of political alliances in the country but it was clear that he looked more at preventing a division of the state and a polarised society rather than a short-term gain by aligning with either the Congress or the arch rival, the National Conference. Even on constantly telling the federal government that it was necessary to keep a

dialogue going with Pakistan, the Mufti’s effort was to maintain peace in his state and, thereby, the region.

So, today in his passing away if people are calling him a nationalist who has left behind a void and that he thought like a statesman, it is because of the above reasons. The question of continuing his legacy is, literally, in the hands of Mehbooba. The next few weeks will give us an indication of how things play out.

On their toes

It is a normal practice that when political leaders of a state go to meet somebody like the Prime Minister, they would invariably do what normal people do... carry a list of their grievances or

demands. But, in the case of Prime Minister Narendra Modi it is as different as he is in many ways on many issues. The leaders of his party, the BJP, from the southern state of Karnataka, have had varying types of experiences in their interaction with the Prime Minister.

Sometime last year, they had to sit like school students and raise their hands and explain certain things. And, the Prime Minister sat on an elevated platform just like the good old royalty used to do for three former chief ministers and members of parliament to make their points. It spoke of a certain culture that certainly did not appear democratic. But, this time there was a difference. Each of them were told to write down a couple of issues on which they wanted the PM to focus upon. They were also told to have their snacks and coffee before the Prime Minister arrived to meet up with them.

So, all of them enthusiastically did the filling up of the points of grievances and demands and waited. Soon, the Prime Minister arrived to pose his set of questions. Each of those questions were loaded ones that took the colour off the faces of the leaders. The questions ranged from why the party could not win the local elections to why they could not agitate within the state etc. The monologue from the Prime Minister was apparently unrelenting. He did not name anyone in particular but he said enough to make all the leaders squirm in their seats.

That is the style normally practiced by those who want to put their opponents on the defensive. But, here it appears to be a policy of putting your own people on the defensive by adapting an aggressive approach to dealing with problems. That’s what Modi had done to smash the Congress party. Obviously, Modi was making a style statement that went over the heads of the party leaders.

Tailpiece

It is a standard practice to read reports of less number of road accidents taking place in a year and a lesser number of people getting killed in these unfortunate incidents. Most cities in India are beginning to report a fall in number of accidents. That would appear to anyone as a very good sign of people becoming more careful or becoming very law abiding citizens. But, the fact is that not too many accidents appear to be happening because there is hardly any place for vehicles to move. So, the only positive effect of all the bumper-to-bumper traffic is that it, thankfully, saves lives. And dents on the vehicles become a part of life!